Human rights lawyer Mr Femi Falana (SAN) was apparently referring to the December 31, 1983 coup speech that brought the then Major-General Muhammadu Buhari to power when he (Falana) said the country’s hospitals had become mere consulting clinics under President Buhari. The soldiers had alleged, while giving reasons why they overthrew the corrupt and inept Alhaji Shehu Shagari administration, among other things, that the country’s hospitals then had become “mere consulting clinics.”
They were right.
At that time, virtually all sectors of the economy were in a shambles; many public hospitals, including the teaching hospitals, had become shadows of their original shapes. There were no equipment, no medicaments; even many medical personnel – doctors and nurses – had started leaving the country in droves for greener pastures abroad.
Falana spoke in Lagos at the 14th Annual Beko Ransome-Kuti Memorial Lecture organised by the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR). The lecture, titled, “Activist’s participation in politics; a myth or a reality?” was delivered by Prof. Lai Olurode. Mrs Yemisi Ransome-Kuti, cousin to Fela Ransome-Kuti and founder of the Nigerian Network of Non-Governmental Organisations , was also in attendance.
Falana said, “When this same President, as a military Head of State, came in 1983, December 31, and said our hospitals had been reduced to consulting clinics; it was a confirmation of the struggle of the Nigerian doctors. So, Beko and others thought he meant well and after six months, there was no improvement, they went on strike that paralysed the medical sector.”
It was thus an auspicious occasion for the senior advocate to lash out at the Federal Government over the dilapidated healthcare in the country. First, Beko, as the social critic and human rights activist that he was, never relented in criticising the then Buhari regime over the poor state of our hospitals and the health sector generally. This made the government to detain him for about six months. He was released only after the Buhari government was overthrown by General Ibrahim Babangida’s regime in 1985.
Falana drove the second point of the auspiciousness of his claim that the hospitals are now worst under the Buhari administration thus: “But one thing that is important is this – because we must link events – the man who said hospitals were consulting clinics in 1983 is the President today, those hospitals have become mortuaries. Hence, he flies abroad for treatment at public expense.”
We share Mr. Falana’s frustrations with the state of our hospitals and healthcare matters generally. It is true that many public hospitals in the country, whether they belong to the Federal Government or state governments are in bad shape. They are largely underfunded and under-equipped even as many of them do not have the requisite number of doctors. But it is difficult to say they have become mortuaries under the Buhari administration. Things had been bad long before President Buhari took over. As a matter of fact, it was worse than the 1983 experience.
The immediate past Goodluck Jonathan administration was as corrupt and inept as the Shagari administration. So, virtually everything was grounded when President Buhari took over in 2015. Perhaps a more correct assessment of the situation is to look at what has happened between then and now, that is five years down the line. Some achievements have been recorded, with some of the federal and state public hospitals recording some feats. The National Hospital in Abuja which successfully separated twins joined at the chest, abdomen and liver on November 14, last year, is a good example. Also, some public hospitals in Lagos State are proving their worth in service delivery. It may not be at the level we expect, but then, it is wrong to give the impression that things have become irredeemably bad in all the public hospitals in Buhari’s time.
It definitely can be better. So, the Buhari government should see Mr Falana’s criticism as another wake-up call and not an opportunity to sing its own praise or query his comment. On the whole, the state of health care is still a scandal. That the president himself has been going abroad for medical treatment since assuming office shows his lack of confidence in our hospitals. This singular factor is enough to make him resolute to do a lot to improve the hospitals so he can leave them better than he met them.