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Alas, We Ran From Golden Palaces To Hospitals We Did Not Build By Jonathan Abang-Ugbal

March 26, 2020

It is without doubt that in time, when the accounts of men is etched in the cosmos, most of our elites would be reserved an infamous part because alas! we ran from the golden palaces to seek shelter in the hospitals we never built!



Political leaders in Nigeria from time immemorial especially in the fourth republic, developed a penchant for misfiring on issues that affect all Nigerians. From power to education, infrastructure, health and the topical COVID-19 pandemic of which as at the time of putting pen to paper, the country has recorded 51 cases with more suspected.

It seems Nigerians have over the years developed some form of thick skin around between the ear lobes and the brain that some information about the activities of these lootocrats that occupy and bring to the lowest of ebbs, exalted offices in Nigeria which can lead to revolutions in other climes are treated as stale folklores.

The distrust and disgust between the rulers and the ruled (Yes, ruled) over the COVID-19 issue began with a Presidential spokesman reeling out false figures about Malaria on his Twitter handle in a rather feeble attempt to chide the media for giving prominence to a pandemic that is spreading at a frightening pace.

The Director General of the World Health Organisation on Monday gave some perspective to this when he averred that: “More than 300,000 cases of COVID19 have now been reported to WHO, from almost every country in the world. The pandemic is accelerating. It took 67 days from the 1st reported case to reach the first 100,000 cases, 11 days for the second 100,000 and just 4 days for the third 100,000.”

In fact as I type this, we have hit the fourth 100,000 cases globally and are fast approaching the fifth 100,000 cases. Yet, the actions of our government can be best described as that of one who is awoken from a deep slumber after days of soaking in high proof alcohol.

How best do you describe the fact that a task force on a pandemic is a government secretary who has no medical background? Asides the junior health minister and maybe two or three others, all are poli-thieve-cians as Nigerians will prefer them to be known. As a matter of fact, there is no record of any member of that task force that has handled medical emergencies. Yet, we have an academy of science headed by Ekanem Braide, a professor of parasitology/epidemiology whose role as a member of the national committee that achieved the laudable feat of guinea worm eradication in Nigeria. Too bad!

Perhaps, the most annoying thing is the fact that despite earmarking over N200 billion for capital expenditure in the health sector since 2015, this pandemic has shown how we keep misfiring on our priorities as a country.

This is a third world country where the sum meant to renovate the offices of 469 legislooters is more than what is budgeted for the repairs of federal roads. Clearly, there is a problem with the developmental paradigm at play in Nigeria. That is what we have successfully done, paid more attention to office spaces than public infrastructure that will save us in times of need.

The reports of the de facto president, (oh, I meant the Chief of Staff to Mr. President) Abba Kyari testing positive and plans to move him to Lagos as well as claims that one of the ventilators at the Gwagwalada Specialist Hospital moved to the Intensive Care Unit of the State House Clinic begs the question, what exactly have the billions budgeted for the clinic been used for?

The grinding to a halt of activities at the Presidency also shows a dangerous dynamic at play! What exactly have the billions sunk into ICT achieved if Mr. President cannot convene an executive meeting via skype, WhatsApp or even a conference call? Will Nigeria shut down over COVID-19? 

Our unpreparedness is just too visible and cannot be wished away. Listening to the health minister tell a broadcaster that there are only two facilities in Nigeria that have the bio safety level certification to test for coronavirus is a shame of monumental proportions. It is indeed proven in the haste by Governors to set up isolation centers. These leaves many wondering whether the rhetoric of caring about Nigerians by politicians should be taken with a pinch of salt.

Ah! Clearly COVID-19 has come to jolt us into action. We are now taking health seriously, or at least we lie to the media that we are doing so.

Sometime in 2017, the House of Representatives had quickly resolved to investigate the claims made by Aisha Buhari that the Aso Rock clinic was ill equipped while forgetting that its own medical center was the epitome of dysfunction - a shame of monumental proportions which a leading Nigerian national daily exposed.

For an umpteen number of times, we have taunted poli-thieve-cians for abandoning the multi billion Naira ‘world class’ hospitals they claim to have built for foreign medical facilities. The current President has been the cheerleader for that group and his pipers did play different tunes justifying his actions. Little did they know that a time will come when home will be better - at this point, I wish COVID-19 were here to stay and force us to shift attention to the deplorable state of our health infrastructure.

Tales of Nigerians purchasing gloves for themselves or relatives in public health facilities are common folklore these days. Where you find dedicated staff, the infrastructure is lacking and where you find white elephants, the system is rotten and frustrates you. It is only in Nigeria that a Governor will ignore a hard to reach area and build a health center in an urban area for the optics! Tueh!

From Ikang and Archibong town to Ekok, Becheve, Gamboru Ngala, Malumfatori, Jibia, Idiroko and what have you, public health infrastructures scream for attention: from abandoned or poorly constructed classrooms, utilities, hospitals, clinics, housing estates etc, the list is endless. But, a drive to the GRA’s reveal palaces adorned with gold with the Lords of those households of the same kith and kin with the rest of us who cant afford two triangular meals a day. 

If focus is shifted to the individuals, we have successfully built some of the biggest temples of worship but not camps for those in need of shelter. Also, the bourgeoisie (in Marxist’s context please) have invested in their hotels, mansions and other capital intensive business ventures while majority of the proletariat hailed them forgetting that health of mind and body, the ability to breathe was what connected us all and the institutions that aid our health were left to suffer.

The sad part is that, we are not ready to learn. While Boss Mustapha’s statement that any Government facility can be converted for use to curb the pandemic, the sad truth is that there is no effort to equip for the future just now.

Let us stop and reflect on this moment in the life of our dear nation. Did we not learn anything from the Ebola virus disease epidemic of 2014? 

It is without doubt that in time, when the accounts of men is etched in the cosmos, most of our elites would be reserved an infamous part because alas! we ran from the golden palaces to seek shelter in the hospitals we never built!

Jonathan Abang-Ugbal, a journalist, writes in from Calabar. He tweets via @naijajonathan