In his book, Gravity’s Rainbow, Thomas Pynchon added a thought-provoking quote: “If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about answers.” Getting citizens to look at the wrong places has been a key operating principle for governments around the world disinterested in true accountability nor doing right by their citizens. Trying to get at a problem without asking the right questions is like trying to diagnose pregnancy by asking if a mosquito recently bit a lady. Unfortunately, Nigerians flirt with such irrelevant questioning.
Last week, Nigerian cyberspace was inundated with reports that President Buhari had magnanimously approved the treatment of former Vice President Alex Ekwueme abroad. Buhari’s mouthpiece announced the approval covered the cost of airlifting Ekwueme to an unspecified country and related treatment costs. The way the announcement was made, one would have thought it was something as spectacular as the Christmas holiday beginning early or the harmattan being banned from cracking lips.
As expected, a debate ensued on different news sites and social media networks. On one hand were worshippers of Buhari who regard him as the best thing since the invention of suya. These ones extolled the magnanimity of the president in coming to the aid of Ekwueme, effectively spinning this as one of his administration’s achievements. Across the fence were neutral critics and diehard haters of Buhari. While some in this group argued that this approval was being unnecessarily politicised since medical treatment abroad is a legal entitlement of past top leaders, some others theorised that the announcement was a step towards the 2019 elections.
While I feel this announcement, like several others by this administration, bordered heavily on unnecessary propaganda, I think the debaters merely wasted their time in barking up the wrong tree. The real debate should have been about Section 5, Subsection 2, of Remuneration of Former Presidents and Heads of State Act 1999, which specifies:
“Treatment abroad for former Vice-Presidents and their immediate family and where necessary at Federal Government expense”.
This clause, alongside several other wasteful political benefits, is the right tree to bark at, not some phantom debate about politicisation and patronage.
Looking at the highlighted clause, an underlying assumption is that the Nigerian healthcare system would be unable to handle some ailments. This is national shamelessness cum elitist selfishness codified in national law. One could be tempted to ask if only VIPs and their family members are entitled to being flown abroad for treatment but before presumptuousness kicks in, the questioner realises that inequality is a codified reality in Nigerian society.
The Nigerian healthcare sector is in shambles with a myriad of strong-willed cysts. An inconclusive list of monsters would include lack of sufficient facilities bolstered by dilapidation of existing ones, lack of sufficient personnel bolstered by large scale emigration of existing personnel, lack of sufficient drugs and disposables bolstered by corrupt disappearance of available ones, infighting between medical personal over superiority, appalling working conditions and treatment of common Nigerians as filthy animals by medical personnel. This list is saddening but sadder is the fact that very little is being done to fix this.
Honestly, why should the political controllers bother about fixing the healthcare system? They have zero incentive since they do not require our downtrodden hospitals. Even Buhari was okay with spending over 150 days in total this year sipping tea in London. The political elite can either fly themselves overseas with monies stolen from the leaking national purse, or legally appropriate free treatment. Whichever route is chosen, Nigeria pays for a service unavailable to Mama Ekaette who lives down the road. This is the reality of Nigeria in 2017.
Nigerians argue whether Ekwueme and others need the president’s approval to be shipped abroad but fail to question why that provision for overseas treatment should even exist. Imagine a past American or British leader being sent to another country for treatment using national funds. Some would argue that those countries are far advanced compared to Nigeria and so would not require treatment abroad. If this is so, how about Saudi Arabia which housed Nigeria’s president in 2009? Are the Saudis as developed as the US? Even if we were to accept the technological superiority of developed countries, are Nigerians not tired of being citizens of a stagnant “third world country”? Is being undeveloped our birth-right or we have sold our shame for a plate of tribal cum religious porridge?
Debating about approvals and politicisation is as helpful as going from Abuja to Sokoto by sea. As long as we keep ourselves engrossed in ruses painted as debates, the political class would continue to get away with legalising inequalities. As Thomas Pynchon said, as long as they can keep us asking the wrong questions, they would have nothing to worry about.
Image Credit: dailymail.co.uk