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Ngige and Ogbeh show that the Nigerian government has an alternative facts problem

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Ngige and Ogbeh show that the Nigerian government has an alternative facts problem

Nigeria’s Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, who was appointed – alongside his colleagues – after passing a six-month long integrity and competence test, shocked everyone when he disclosed in an interview that he has no problem with the exodus of health professionals from the country owing to poor working conditions and rewards. Chris Ngige insisted that Nigeria has more than enough doctors and the mass departure represents no problem.

Really?

Was Ngige being deliberately dishonest or just plain ignorant? Obtainable facts show, clearly, that Nigeria’s health sector is in a full-blown crisis precisely because of the problem the Minister is downplaying.

The chairman of the Nigerian Medical Association, Lagos chapter, Dr. Olumuyiwa Odusote, told the media at an event in 2017 that more than 40,000 of the 75,000 registered Nigerian doctors were practising abroad, while 70 per cent in the country were thinking of picking jobs outside. He said that the huge doctor-to-patient ratio meant that new patients had to wait over two hours to see a doctor, with the situation likely worse in rural areas considering that, in the same year, Kebbi state expressed concern over its failure to recruit doctors after two years of running adverts.

That’s a crisis and those are clear fact.

Yet the Minister bizarrely chose to tie himself in knots in a conflict with observable data. It underlines the long held suspicion that officials of the Nigerian government either exist in an alternative reality from citizens of the country, or have a data problem.

Like Ngige, the Minister of Agriculture, Audu Ogbeh, famous for claiming that Nigerians purchase pizza from the West using airplanes, has had his own altercations with clear facts, with the most recent being his declaration that 90% of consumed rice in the country is locally produced. This claim was followed by a report from the US Department of Agriculture that Nigeria’s ‘official’ rice import is expected to rise by 13 percent, making it the second largest importer in the world.

It is important to make the distinction between ‘official’ and ‘unofficial’ given that the administration’s failure to implement a ban on imported rice through high tariffs, despite the incapacity of local production to meet demand, has only succeeded in fuelling smuggling and a thriving black market which has enriched border countries like the Republic of Benin. The head of the Nigeria Customs Service, Hamid Ali, has decried this policy and all but affirmed its failure to halt the import of rice into the country.

Minister Audu Ogbeh, in an attempt to defend this failure, decided to creatively make up alternative facts and confidently announce them.

In the same vein, reacting to questions on the herdsmen crisis which led to the death of thousands across the country, the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, said the unchecked migration of herdsmen into the country cannot be halted as they come from everywhere, including Mauritius. Never mind the fact that Mauritius is an ocean island nation, located over 6000kms away – and a strengthened border does a good job of regulating migration, as seen in neighboring countries.

If you think this is a problem limited to just the APC, or the Buhari-led administration, then you would be mistaken. Former President, Goodluck Jonathan, once mocked data indicating the level of poverty recorded in the country under his watch because, according to him, more people purchased private jets, therefore the country was prospering.

This is a serious problem as it demonstrates either of two things: those elected/appointed to solve complex problems are too ignorant to understand the root cause and nature of the problems, or too concerned with scoring political points by winning media narratives through obvious lies and obfuscation of facts, instead of solving problems. Whichever way, it is doesn’t bode well for ordinary Nigerians who bear the brunt of this recklessness.

Something must give.

Peter Adeshina is a journalist who reports politics, policy and governance.

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