On a day that President Muhammadu Buhari came to Lagos to commission projects that are largely work-in-progress, our labour minister decided to have his own foot-in-the-mouth moment.
Getting to work earlier than normal ostensibly to avoid the expected traffic due to the president’s visit, which eventually did not materialize, at least that aspect of the visit was better managed than what we were used to as Lagos residents, Chris Nwabueze Ngige, 66, a University of Nigeria, Nsukka-trained medical doctor said publicly on Channels Television that doctors leaving Nigeria is no big deal as he was taught by Indian teachers while in secondary school. He added that those going abroad will surely come back to establish hospitals in Nigeria and so why bother? I did a double take to be sure I heard well as this is a person charged with addressing labour issues under the outgoing government.
Well, maybe we might not blame Ngige too much. He retired as a deputy director from the federal ministry of health in 1998 having practiced medicine at the national assembly and state house clinics, we need to understand that not only had he left medicine, the profession also had left him. He is more of a politician now and no longer a doctor, as only God knows when last he handled a stethoscope. Otherwise, Ngige the doctor ought to know that on most basic health indices, our country is not doing well at all. We have one of the worst infant mortality rates in the world, just as our maternal mortality figures are not good while our average life expectancy rate of 54.5 years is actually the lowest in West Africa with that of men put at 53.7 and women at an average of 55.4 years according to data from the World Health Organisation (WHO). Only God knows when last our labour minister read any health literature.
Last year, I wrote how our doctors are disappearing from Nigeria ostensibly to seek greener pastures outside the country. It got so bad that some sets now hold their reunion ceremonies outside Nigeria since many more are outside. We have states that have less than 100 doctors in their employment; yes you read that well, less than 100 doctors. Doctors that are not enough underserve our burgeoning population and the result is that death remains inevitable as people present themselves in hospitals when the diseases afflicting them are already at advanced stage. Yet, a doctor in government boldly declared that it’s no big deal that our doctors are leaving. In 2001, African health ministers gathered in Abuja and signed a declaration that 10 percent of their countries’ annual budget will be devoted to health, Nigeria only budgeted more than five percent once since that declaration was signed. With doctors like Ngige in government, it is doubtful if this can be remedied soon.
It begs the question, what do our leaders in government read if at all they are reading? Continually we deride a theoretical basis as foundation to our problems and always too willing to condemn those with such approach to our myriad of challenges. It also makes one wonder the quality of advice our leaders, especially the president, get before making decisions. This takes me to the president’s visit to inaugurate as it were, work-in-progress projects. Truly, insecurities afflict us all, leaders and followers. And that’s why a governor who abandoned his predecessor’s projects will be too eager to showcase projects he know they are not ready for use as he knows his successor might jettison them too. While I cannot say anything about the Ayinke House extension having stopped making babies for a long time now, I can say categorically that the Oshodi interchange and the Airport road are not totally completed as I pass them regularly. But that’s the way we roll.
Laudable projects these are, but has Governor Akinwunmi Ambode ever paused and asked what could have happened if he had continued with the railway project his predecessor, Babatunde Fashola, started? And as good as 800 buses are, how far will they go in solving the intractable transportation problems of Lagos? What about our inner city roads that are constantly begging for attention? Our expectations are so minimal and that’s why some of us are killing Ambode with kindness going by the deluge of praises over these projects. I felt inwardly pleased that Lagosians did not give an inch especially on social media as praise singers went to town forcing them to review their adulation when confronted with realities on the ground. So, did the president’s advance team too pass these projects as completed? Or the need to throw jabs at the Tinubu political camp was so compelling that such was considered immaterial? Or maybe as a cynical colleague puts it, the audition for a ministerial position is important more than citizens’ welfare.