Our ‘husband’ goes AWOL again!

Our ‘husband’ has gone AWOL again! He has done so times without number. According to some reports, he has spent one-third of his tenure on AWOL. For your information, AWOL means “Away Without Official Leave.” It is the same as “French leave.” As we speak, he is on another AWOL! Who, then, does not know who our ‘husband’ is? Because his destination is London, many suspect he has gone for his usual medical tourism again. No one knows what aileth him; in the same way no one knows anything concrete about his certificates. No one also knows how much our ‘husband’s” treatment has cost us as a nation. This is a highly-guarded State secret. If by any means you lay hands on any document in that respect, it is sure to be labelled “classified document.” Publish it and be damned! No one knows how many more trips abroad our ‘husband’ will still make and, therefore, we cannot by any means determine the extent or ending of this haemorrhage on the country’s treasury. To embark on his latest French leave, our ‘husband’ refused to meet the constitutional requirement of informing the National Assembly and transmitting power to his deputy. This impunity tellingly states that our ‘husband’ is not just above the law, he is the law itself. Welcome to the age of the French Bourbon kings! L’etat cest moi! I am the state and the state is me! This is the age of despotism! The reason our ‘husband’ did not transmit power to his fawning deputy is obvious: It is not the bombastic “Mr. President can rule from anywhere” excuse of court jesters; it is because even in his fawning state, the deputy still towers head and shoulders above our ‘husband.’ So, they are afraid he might shake up one or two things like he did in the past. The cabal wants nothing that will disturb the ongoing total paralysis. Boko Haram’s audacity continues unchecked. The herdsmen have returned with renewed vigour since after the elections. Kidnappings have overwhelmed the security forces. Banditry goes rampant. Sundry crimes of stealing, rape, communal clashes, rival cult wars, homicides, suicides, and ritual killings have become the order of the day. Rather than this near-total abdication of government, it would have been better if it were our ‘husband’ that abdicates! Pray, when our ‘husband’ returns, let us crown him King Nero the Second. Neither biblical Jonah nor Rome’s King Nero slept this much while their estate burned!

 

In ‘defence’ of Ngige, Adewole…

Minister of Labour and ex-governor of Anambra State, Dr. Chris Ngige, recently stirred the hornets’ nest with his statement that Nigeria has medical doctors’ surplus to requirement. Trust Ngige, he did not allow the salvos greeting his controversial statement intimidate or silence him. He insisted he knew his onions and stood his ground. Ngige might be diminutive in stature, he has massive ego. He fought gallantly against the Uba brothers, the godfathers who had helped him steal Anambra governor’s seat. Many would have chickened out of the fight – not Ngige! Many would have gone down quietly – not Ngige! Many would have gone into the dustbins of history, never able to raise their heads again – not Ngige! By the time the court sacked Ngige, he had become the darling of the people, as a result of his sterling performance in office. Many were those who wished he had been left alone to continue with the good job.

Ngige has a soulmate in the Minister of Health, Isaac Adewole, who was also quoted as saying that not everyone who trained as medical doctors would practise as one. He is damn right! Senate President Bukola Saraki is an example of a trained medical doctor who, perhaps, never held a stethoscope. He ran a bank – and it ran aground. He was presidential aide and later became two-term governor. He, from there, went to the Senate. Instead of returning to the stethoscope after losing re-election, some reports have it that he has been appointed an ambassador of sorts by some agency. Ngige himself is another example. Adewole was quoted as saying his own tailor – they prefer to be called ‘fashion designers’ – trained as a medical doctor but is today one of the best tailors around. Adewole feels no qualms patronising this medical doctor-turned tailor. He carries no moral burden, either.

There are two main reasons why someone may train as a medical doctor only to become an accomplished tailor. One is if they were compelled by parental pressure to read a course they had no love or passion for. The late Fela Anikulapo-Kuti said his parents wanted him to follow in the footsteps of his other siblings and study Medicine, but he chose Music school instead. We have also heard stories of kids from well-to-do homes who reluctantly read the course their parents chose for them and, thereafter, dropped the certificates on their parents’ lap and went after their passion. There are so many of such stories out there and, usually, they are stories that emanate from affluent homes. Children of such homes, compelled by parents to read so-called prestigious courses, may choose to rebel like Fela did or patiently please their parents before going after their passion. Many children whose lawyer- or doctor-parents compelled to read Medicine or Law are making waves in Nollywood today. That is understandable.

There is, however, the other side, which is really very sad: Those who read Medicine but were forced by circumstances beyond their control to become tailor or whatever. It is not that they had the passion to become a tailor and sew the best suits for Adewole and his likes; it is because circumstances beyond their control compelled them. It will be interesting to know which of the two schools Adewole’s medical doctor-turned tailor belongs. We have heard so many such stories of na death make crayfish bend, many Okada and Keke Marwa riders are graduates who have taken to the job because they could not find gainful employment. The other time a company advertised for the position of a driver, one of those who applied was reportedly a Ph.D holder! Many Uber and kabu-kabu drivers are graduates. The unemployment scourge means Nigerian graduates fall over one another to do all manner of menial jobs; like the situation their Ghanaian counterparts found themselves in the 1970s.

So, while we can celebrate the few who are running away from “enforced labour” in search of fulfilment in the areas of their passion, we must “cry, the beloved country” for the multitudes who are trying to eke out a living. They suffer all manner of indignities to keep body and soul together. While their colleagues from privileged backgrounds have rich families to fall back upon and who give them a head-start in the areas of their passion, the less privileged who cannot practise in their chosen field struggle to fit into alien environments. They, thus, suffer double jeopardy. They cannot find the jobs they trained for. In addition, they go into “make-do” arrangements they are not trained for, with no helping hand in sight. This situation indicts, rather than justifies Ngige, Adewole and their likes. It is an aberration we do not deserve. It is an awkward situation we should reverse, rather than applaud and recommend.

Available statistics show that Nigeria has 45,000 medical doctors to a supposed population of 170/200 million; meaning one doctor to about 6,000. The WHO recommendation is one doctor to 600. On this basis alone, critics are justified to bash Ngige and Adewole. But if you study the figures critically, you will uncover Ngige’s and Adewole’s riddles. Number one: Interrogate the country’s touted population figure. We have never known how many we are in this country. The census, like our elections, has always been brazenly rigged. Nigeria is the only country in the world where the desert area is more populated than the forest area. So, the likelihood is that our population is nowhere near 170/200 million.

The assumption that every Nigerian seeks orthodox medical attention is also false. A vast number of Nigerians know nothing about orthodox medicine; they have lived and continue to live their life that way. It is like the millions outside the banking system who transact business all the same. Those outside the ambit of orthodox medicine either rely on traditional medicine or patronise alfas and pastors for spiritual healing. There are religious groups that discourage patronage of any form of healing outside spiritual healing. Then, of course, we have the affluent Nigerians who do not patronise our hospitals, but fly abroad for the treatment of any ailment. Among such is our president, Muhammadu Buhari, who is in London as we speak on what many believe to be another round of medical tourism. When Agriculture Minister, Audu Ogbe, regaled us some time ago about Nigerians who order pizza from London, he failed to also tell us of the nouveau riche who check their blood pressure abroad! In the middle are the Nigerians who patronise Nigerian doctors here at home. Unfortunately, we don’t have their number and so may not be able to say categorically the country’s doctor to patient ratio.

Are you beginning to see the point? Available statistics show that we graduate 3,000 doctors annually. You will think that is paltry, if you work with the nebulous population of 170/200 million Nigerians, but the truth of the matter is that we cannot even absorb this number. There are no jobs for them here, whether in the public or private sector and no efforts are being made in that direction. We don’t even have enough space for house officers to do the compulsory one-year training. So, graduate-doctors have to wait two or more years – they queue – before they can even do houseman-ship! After this, they go straight into the unemployment market after NYSC. What Ngige is saying stealthily is that it is better for such surplus-to-requirements or surplus-to-available-facilities medical doctors to brain drain abroad. It is the lesser of two evils and it comes with a lot of mouth-watering benefits. One: They will carry their wahala elsewhere and we will not be adding their number to the rising figure of the unemployed here. Two: They will work in wholesome environments abroad and acquire more skill and capabilities. Three: They will earn good money abroad, take care of themselves and their immediate families as well as send forex home to mitigate the evil effects of a comatose economy. In 2017, $22 billion was repatriated home by Nigerians abroad. That was 16.4 per cent higher than the 2016 figure. Assuredly, the 2018 and 2019 figures will be higher than the 2017 figure. This is (1) evidence of the rising prosperity of Nigerians living and working abroad, (2) increase in the population of Nigerians brain-draining abroad; and (3), rise in demand from home as the economy gets worse here. Apart from crude oil, “Western Union Money Transfer” is the next largest foreign exchange earner for Nigerians. After this explanation, only the dumb will not understand where Ngige is coming from.

 

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I always enjoy your column in Sunday Tribune. May God continue to increase you in wisdom! I just had the time to read “Ambode’s last days in office”

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