A civil society group, Human Rights Writers Association Of Nigeria, HURIWA, has berated President Muhammadu Buhari for his failure to stop the members of his inner caucus from embarking on medical trips abroad, despite the ban on international flights still being in place.
HURIWA also lamented Buhari’s lack of political will to set up a panel to investigate the allegations of corruption at the State House clinic.
According to the rights group, the President Muhammadu Buhari government has shown no interest in investing massively in reviving the moribund health sector despite the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic.
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The group pointed out that annual budgetary allocation of the State House Clinic is a lot more than what is allocated to each of the 16 major teaching hospitals across the country with over a total of N13.59 billion having reportedly been budgeted for it since the administration came into being.
“A breakdown of the total budgetary provisions within this period showed that N3.94 billion, N3.87 billion and N3.20 billion were budgeted in 2015, 2016 and 2017, respectively. While in 2018, 2019 and 2020, the budgetary provisions dropped to N1.03 billion, N823.44 million and N723 million respectively,” HURIWA said in a statement to newsmen on Tuesday by its National Coordinator, Emmanuel Onwubiko.
“Despite these huge allocations it receives, the Clinic has left more to be desired as those the facility is meant to serve are still spending millions of taxpayers’ money to seek treatment in other private facilities within and outside the country on health matters that could be well managed here in the country, yet no panel of investigation has been set up to investigate the scandals and allegations of corruptions oozing out from there, even as a bulk of the allegation had come from members of the first family.
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“In 2017, the wife of the President; Aisha Buhari had attacked the management of the State House Clinic over poor equipment and non-availability of drugs. This attack by the Wife of the President had followed the earlier criticism by her daughter; Zahra Buhari, who took to one of her social media accounts to criticise the Permanent Secretary of the State House; Jalal Arabi, for his inability to provide even Paracetamol tablets to the clinic despite a budget of N3 billion for the provision of drugs to the hospital.
“Although in October 2017, the House of Representatives said it would investigate the “deplorable condition” of the State House Clinic but till date the outcome of that inquiry remains unknown.
“Again, President Buhari in the build up to his election in 2015, had on his campaign trail, itemized the abolition of medical tourism as one of his key objectives in government.
“Although his administration officials vowed to put an end to the practice, Buhari has been Nigeria’s most prominent medical tourist. He has visited the United Kingdom for at least five medical trips since becoming president, including an extended stay of more than five months in 2017.
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“According to the calculations made in one of the editions of Saturday Punch Newspaper, in the first three years of his first tenure from May 2015 to May 2019, President Buhari was outside the country for a combined 404 days (one year and 39 days) in 33 countries.
“In 2016, President Buhari spent a total of 17 days in a London hospital treating an undisclosed ailment. Shortly after that, in 2017, he reportedly spent a total of 152 days in London on medical vacation when he became inaccessible, except for a few politicians. He equally made frequent trips to the UK on ‘private visits’ believed to be for medical reasons. On May 8, 2018, he again embarked on a six-day medical vacation to London.
“More worrisome is that the medical treatments of the President are still an official secret as Nigerians are not told how much of their cash has been deployed for the medical treatments of the President for months.
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“Apart from the Nigerian President, his son; Yusuf, in December 2017 was flown to Germany after suffering injuries from a bike accident in Abuja. These trips were embarked upon despite a huge sum of above N10bn allocation to the State House Clinic from 2015 to 2018.
“In a recent development, the Wife of the President; Aisha Buhari, and a Nephew and close confidant of the President defied the lockdown and the shutdown of airports to gallivant all over UK and Dubai for the so called medical tourism.
“In addition, if he is spending his money how is it that the Presidency is being quoted by newspapers to be saying Mamman Daura is not ill and the phone conversations are being shown to Nigerians through the instrumentality of the publicly funded media office of the President?
“That of the first lady is more shocking because she was said to have neck pains and that was the reason for deploying a presidential jet to jet off to Dubai for weeks at public costs.
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“HURIWA is pleased and indeed happy that God was on our side to have stopped an unforeseeable air disaster from ever happening following the reported incidents with the homebound Presidential jet in connection with the weather, but to convey the idea that the First Lady had to fly out to treat neck pain is to tell the World that the Nigerian health sector has totally collapsed. This is sad and unfortunate,” he said.
The human rights group demanded that “This penchant of government officials and those close to the corridors of power jetting abroad to receive medical care for undisclosed ailments even as the rest of the population relies on an underfunded and overworked public healthcare system has been the bane of our health sector and the economy has been worse hit for it.
“The problems associated with the poor healthcare system also indict the governors of the 36 states because in those states, there are virtually no functional health centres to care for the residents. However, the pathetic situation afflicting the State House Clinic is even more disturbing.
“The expenditures of the released budgetary funds for the State House Clinic over the years must be investigated in addition to a comprehensive audit of the spending on the State House Clinic and the health sector in the country.
“It is unjustifiable that the State House Clinic would be guzzling billions of taxpayers’ money and those the facility is meant to serve would still be spending millions to seek treatment in other private facilities within and outside the country.
“If the N13bn budgetary allocations over the years have been actually used for the State House Clinic, the situation would have been different and same applied to the general health sector in the country.
“Therefore, the failure of President Muhammadu Buhari in setting up a panel to investigate the scandals that is happening at the State House Clinic is a deviation from the cardinal trails of a government who rode to power on the mantra of integrity.
“This is because clearly there are issues of corruption as alleged by Aisha Buhari, which is the simple explanation for the frequent medical tourism by the first family and their cronies.
“Whether the Presidential Officials are persons of integrity is a big question, but how would one classify the integrity of a government that has been in place for five years but till date the President and other government officials embark on several trips abroad; many of them enveloped to look like official travels when in fact they are for medical reasons?
“We demand to know what the $3.4bn World Bank loan on COVID-19 has been used for. We condemn the fact that till date the COVID-19 pandemic, which allegedly claimed the life of the powerful former Chief of Staff to the President; Abba Kyari and other top political office holders is not strong enough to assist in confronting not only the State House Corruption, but also compelling the government to invest massively in reviving the moribund health sector.
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“We are strongly disappointed that General Sani Abacha who is abused as a thief could build several Federal Medical Centres and his wife built the National Hospital in Abuja but yet this government has been in power for five years and has built no single tertiary Medical Centre of repute in any part of Nigeria but the officials frequent foreign jurisdictions for medical treatments. This is a monumental shame on this government.
“This is perhaps the time to declare a state of emergency to transform the nation’s health facilities to bring them up to speed with the 21st century.
“As such, the time for the government to champion the complete overhaul of the health sector by instituting and implementing the necessary reforms to transform the sector.”