I wish to congratulate Nigerians on the attainment of 60 years of independence. This is indeed a milestone worthy not only of celebration, but also cerebration. I was asked to contribute this piece, reflecting our feelings towards the nation and how far we had gone at this time. Perhaps I should not have been asked, because one cannot help but be brutally frank about some issues, especially seeing that Nigeria is very dear to me as a Nation, but the boat of nationhood is being violently rocked as we speak.
The question remains however, how far have we gone as a nation? I will tackle this question on the political front as well as the health front.
We are yet to achieve political stability in our nation. The drums of sub-nationalism are sounding loudly everywhere, particularly in the southern and middle belt parts of the country. This has been fueled to a large extent by the rampant Nepotism, regionalism and corruption that bedevils our nation, and is compounded by the insecurity which plagues our land. How does one explain a situation in which all the armed forces are headed by northern Muslims, (forget Olonisakin) the first seven people in the hierarchy of customs department are northern Muslims, and the head of all three arms of government are northern Muslims?
The insecurity in itself is a manifestation of unemployment, failed economic policies, failed educational policies and the collapse of the industrial business sector. Just the other day, my wife and I were reflecting on the collapse of the textile industry in Kaduna. Two of our kids were born in Kaduna. In the eighties, there were not less than six vibrant textile companies in Kaduna including Arewa textiles, Kaduna Textiles Limited, United Nigeria Textiles Limited (UNTL), Nortex and others. Each of these companies employed no less than 50,000 people, all working shifts and churning out cheap textile products. Multiply this by six and you had 300,000 youths off the streets, gainfully employed in the textile industry and contributing to the Gross Domestic Product of the nation. This does not include elements of the value chain of textile production such as cotton farmers, ginneries, transport workers, middlemen, distributors and retailers. The industry was huge. Almost overnight however, the whole thing collapsed, such that as we speak, all the companies are locked and shuttered. One wonders what happened to the young men employed in those days? I expect many of them ended up joining Boko Haram, ISWA, kidnap gangs, car snatchers and so on. Attempts made to revive these industries came to naught, because the actors in the industry who were supposed to utilize these grants ended up embezzling them!
Let me say one or two things about the political system itself. We simply cannot afford this system, given the jumbo salaries which the members of the house have awarded themselves, for sitting ten times a year and being on ‘break’ for more than half the year. The amount of corruption in the chambers is mind boggling, and brown envelopes are exchanged freely over and under the table. ‘Oversight functions’ is a well-known euphemism for blackmail. This cannot continue. There are many parastatals that cannot justify their existence but who get votes from the increasingly lean ‘national cake’, while important and necessary infrastructural projects suffer. What we need at this time is to curtail the over-bloated bureaucracy of governance. Legislators should meet on a part time basis only, and receive no more than sitting allowances. Many parastatals should be rationalized out of existence.
It is a shame that under the present administration, calls for ‘independence’ by subnational groups from ‘Independent’ Nigeria are becoming more strident. The Oodua peoples group appeals to the Okun Yorubas in Kwara, Kogi and Niger states. And the Biafra liberation group have been suppressed but they have not gone away. If the South West goes, this country splinters, God knows into how many groups. This is why the wanton recklessness of people in temporary power who have no regard for Federal character, even in the Federal character commission itself, needs to be seen for the danger it poses. We only need to peek at neighbouring Sudan to see what happens when a group attempts to Lord it over others in the same country. A tipping point will come. A word is enough for the wise.
The health sector must willy nilly suffer the consequences of these maladies. There was a time in the sixties when UCH Ibadan was one of the best hospitals in the commonwealth. At the moment, it is but one of several badly maintained hospitals. The poor state of the health sector is a direct consequence of a dire lack of political will. If we as a people are willing, we can develop our health sector. At the moment, our doctors are making a beeline for foreign shores because of a lack of opportunity back home, poor renumeration and poor working conditions. Nigeria has become a net exporter of doctors to the diaspora. While one can be proud that Nigerian doctors generally do well abroad, and have taken up positions of high responsibility in those climes, it is still a crying shame that our talents are being utilized for other people. Our leaders do not appear to have a sense of shame, and they continue to go on health related jamborees to US, Britain, Germany, India and even neighbouring Ghana.
Let me say one or two things about the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) of which I was a board member until the board was dissolved by President Buhari. At the moment it is not living up to it’s billing. Only 3% of the population, mostly people in the civil service or parastatals, are enrolled as we speak. If the scheme must work, any Nigerian should be able to walk into the nearest hospital and get registered. The so-called Health Management Organisations, (HMOs) are nothing but glorified middlemen, and should be discarded. A reasonable premium should be charged of all Nigerians. This can be tiered if necessary, with well spelt out packages. At this point, an electronic health card is issued which will grant the patient access to health care in designated primary care centers. Negotiated and agreed compensation needs to be worked out with the hospitals that give the care.
The role of tertiary hospitals in the NHIS has to be interrogated. At the moment, the tertiary hospitals are responsible for 80 percent of the enrollees, when indeed the right thing is for all the enrollees to register in the private hospital or primary care facility closest to them, as is the case in the UK NHS. Cases that cannot be handled at that level should then be referred to the tertiary hospitals to access advanced care.
In summary, Nigeria may be 60 years old but it is still crawling like a baby. The very survival of the nation as a single entity is now under serious doubt. Urgent attention needs to be paid to the reckless centrifugal forces unleashed by selfish tribal jingoists who, for largely selfish reasons, are pushing the buttons of nepotism, bigotry and ethnic cleansing. I hate to see this great nation break up. I pray that God will help us to pull back from the brink.