A labour and civil society coalition group, the Alliance for the Survival of COVID-19 and Beyond (ASCAB), says President Mohammadu Buhari’s constant visits to the United Kingdom for medical check-ups violate Nigeria’s National Health Act, and is a reflection of the parlous state of healthcare in the country.
In a statement on Wednesday, the chairman of the group, Femi Falana (SAN), said it is contradictory for the president to go abroad for medicare when billions of naira are allocated to the health sector every year, apart from the huge amount of money credited to the Presidential Clinic in Aso Rock.
“The President of Nigeria visiting the United Kingdom for healthcare 60 years after independence is a shame. It confirms that Nigeria cannot guarantee the health of her president even when the country can boast of a rainbow of experts and teaching hospitals that have been left to rot away,” he said.
The group said if the country cannot secure the well-being of her president, how can it take care of the health of ordinary people on the streets.
ASCAB attributed the deaths of two prominent human rights activists, Yinka Odumakin and Innocent Chukwuma, to the parlous state of Nigerian healthcare, saying that the two, like millions of Nigerians in rural and urban areas, would have lived if the country’s leaders had funded and equipped hospitals for prompt diagnosis and treatment.
It said, “The total neglect of public healthcare in Nigeria has seen millions of people lose their lives from preventable deaths. While many people die in millions every year, armed and defenceless people, rich and poor suffer from the tragic neglect of Nigerian health sector by the Federal and state governments.”
ASCAB said President Buhari’s action violates the constitution of the country as his medical treatment and check-up in the United Kingdom have not been recommended by a medical board approved by the Minister of Health in line with Section 46 of the National Health Act.
“The section states ‘Without prejudice to the right of any Nigerian to seek medical check-up, investigation or treatment anywhere within and outside Nigeria, no public officer of the government of the Federation or any part thereof shall be sponsored for medical check-up, investigation or treatment abroad at public expense except in exceptional cases on the recommendation and referral by the medical board and which recommendation or referral shall be duly approved by the Minister or the Commissioner of Health of the state as the case may be’,” the statement read.
ASCAB also said Buhari leaving the country at a time doctors were declaring national strike shows his disdain for the health sector, knowing that he and his family, like many top government officials depend, on foreign hospitals for the healthcare at public expense.
The coalition then expressed its full support for the strike embarked upon by National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) and the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN), saying that the demands of the medical and judicial workers were driven by patriotism and the need to protect the integrity of the country.
It lamented that access to justice is increasingly becoming the right of the rich and the privileged, warning that denial of justice and the monopoly of liberty by the rich has the potential of spurring violence across the country.
ASCAB also cited Section 123 of the Constitution which provides for judicial autonomy. It cited two separate suits filed by the Judicial Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) and Olisa Agbakoba SAN, where the Federal High Court declared that the judicial arm of the government is entitled to financial independence.
“As the judgments were ignored, President Buhari issued Executive Order 10 of 2019 to actualize the provisions of the Constitution on financial autonomy for the judiciary. Since both judgments and the Presidential Executive 10 have been ignored, the JUSUN has commenced another industrial action.
“ASCAB supports the strike and calls on all the governments involved to meet the demands of the JUSUN,” it said.