by Wobia Akani
It would appear that Nigerian politicians have entered the era of banning all that can be banned.
Only a few days ago, Gov. Fashola of Lagos State banned all public officials from granting media interviews without prior clearance from designated quarters. Soon after, the Minister of Health, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu was in the news banning Nigerians from seeking medical treatment abroad for ailments that can be handled by medical centres in Nigeria.
While the first ban is a restriction on the right to freedom of speech of public officials in Lagos State, it is something I would rather not concern myself with because it does not necessarily prevent the media from getting information when they need to. Nigerian journalists are very resourceful, and with the right inducement, the information sought will be obtained.
But the Minister of Health’s ban on foreign medical trips? Is he now an immigration officer and was he was one of those recently employed by the axed immigration boss? I am tempted to laugh in some foreign language but I fear that I will be banned from doing so too considering that there are so many Nigerian languages in which I can laugh. Before the ban is put in place — assuming but not conceding that the Federal Government can impose such a ban — has the government put in place an optimally functional health sector to cater to the health needs of every Nigerian? And how does the government intend to implement this ban?
In a country where teaching hospitals which are supposed to be referral centres are ill equipped, does the government actually expect a rational thinking Nigerian with the wherewithal not to seek optimal care in a place where he is sure of getting it? And by rational thinking Nigerian, I do not refer to the looters who spirit away public funds and squander it on their every headache which may well be just an ache caused by calculating money laundering routes. I mean men and women who have honestly laboured for and earned their money.
While it is arguable that we do have some of the best trained hands in our medical arsenal, infrastructure, drug control and remuneration remain a bane in the health sector. It is said that to whom much is given, much is expected. Conversely, to whom little is given, only a miracle should be expected. Many times, the hospitals are full and there are no beds to allocate to patients. Equipment such as Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and Computerized Tomography (CT) scan machines are available only in a few referral centres in Nigeria which could mean having to refer a patient from one tertiary hospital to another, perhaps in a different town. Now, there is no guarantee that on getting to the referral centre, the machine would be up and running. There also exists the uncertainty of power supply, and yes, there are times when almighty PHCN plagues the hospitals or the standby generators just will not work. And in all of this, time is definitely not on the patient’s side.
Now, even when these facilities are available in privately owned clinics which are closer and easily accessible, doctors in government owned hospitals cannot be seen to be diverting patients to their private clinics as this is against the ethics of their profession. These doctors are left with the option of discharging the patient to go home, hoping that the patient would have the good sense to try elsewhere.
In view of all this, would I bother to waste my time going round in circles? No! I would be on the first flight out to a place where I would be certain to get the necessary attention with the facilities readily available. If one must die, it should not be for lack of trying. Time is a very critical factor in health issues and I would consider the cost money well spent.
The Minister talked about the National Health Bill which is still going through legislation. Even when that comes into effect, it is of no import if there are no facilities on ground. So can someone kindly tell the Minister that Nigerians need to stay alive while the politicking is still on going? The expectation of Nigerians is that the government should focus on its political and social objectives of providing adequate medical and health facilities rather than clamping down on cross border movement and telling us where we can or cannot get medical help. Besides, last I checked the constitution still stated that no Nigerian should be refused exit from Nigeria save for in circumstances of the exceptions stated therein.
That is one leg of the argument. The other bit of it touches on how the federal government intends to implement this ban. Would Nigerians now be subjected to medical tests before they are granted visas? I cannot see any country realistically agreeing not to grant Nigerians medical visas (where they specifically apply for that) considering that the applicant is going to spend money in the country whose visa he seeks. That would be tantamount to the visa officer denying his country revenue. After all, it is not their fault that we have failed to make our system work.
Then again, what is the proposed punishment or sanction for flouting this ban? Does the ban have legal backing? How does the government propose to punish a dying man who is merely grasping at an opportunity to stay alive? Prohibitions without sanctions are a nullity in law. I would advice the honourable minister to concentrate on his job, and let the immigration agencies do theirs.