The Ugly Side of Medical Tourism by Martins Agbonlahor

The Nigerian president, General Muhammadu Buhari arrived recently at one of London’s premier hospitals looking gaunt, his cheek, furrowed. He was on one of his medical tourisms. I saw him being spirited away by goggle-clad security agents, their ID badges, turned the other way. A colleague who was also present waved at him. He essayed a smile or something close to it. And in a blink of an eyelid, he was gone.

I empathised with the General as a rational being, but that empathy soon petered out into London’s misty cloud when I reflected on the huge amount of tax payers’ money obscenely frittered away in these incessant medical trips, when we could wisely use the millions in constructing our own health clinics and providing workable infrastructures for our citizens. But General Buhari, in his cavalier attitude would not even give a flitting thought to erecting these hospitals in Nigeria even though we have the natural and human resources that would aid their construction.

I have thought this over and over again: is it that the General does not trust Nigerian doctors in spite of their skills and expertise? Interestingly too, is the fact that it is these same doctors of ours here in the United Kingdom – victims of brain drain, human capital flight, and of course, Nigeria’s degeneracy – that attend to General Buhari anytime he junkets here for treatment. How abashed must he be to see these Nigerian doctors he so vilified and underrated putting his atrophying cells and body tissues back to life on the operating table!

General Buhari first came to public attention on December 31, 1983, when he and his fellow marauders overthrew the legitimately elected government of late Alhaji Shehu Shagari. He had opined in a national broadcast, that Nigerian hospitals were ‘mere consulting clinics,’ a ploy to buy his way into our hearts. Even at that, he engaged in several subterfuges and shenanigans to undermine or sabotage the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) as well as its parallel body: the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), whose members were frequently invited for ‘a chat,’ a euphemism for ‘gruelling interrogations, mental torture or detention.’ In fact, the General, being such a snowflake, showed his intense hatred for Nigerian doctors that he rose up one eerie morning in February 1985, and proscribed both medical bodies with diktat.

Thirty-six years later, Buhari’s maladministration and lack of foresight have made our hospitals not just ‘mere consulting clinics,’ but worse than mortuaries, so much so that not even one functioning stethoscope is to be found in most hospitals. This is Buhari’s Nigeria of today – and instead of his regime fixing the nation’s state of health, he and his cronies are taking Nigeria further down the drain by ferrying chunks of our petrodollars for foreign cures. Even his party’s National Chairman, a certain Bola Tinubu, diagnosed with an ‘undisclosed disease,’ was himself flown to (you guessed it) – the United Kingdom, for ‘state-of-the-art’ treatment, his body, dumped like a bag of beans in one these hospitals.

It is utter madness for a president to facilitate the underdevelopment of his own country by indulging in all tactics to milk her dry. Medical tourism and the colossal waste of state funds accompanying it is enough to cripple the fabric of any state. It must stop. And while Nigerian ‘law makers’ are paid millions of dollars just for warming seats, don’t be deceived to think these foreign trips are self-paid. They aren’t. It is our taxpayers’ money that’s being depleted – and our own generation, the so-called ‘leaders of tomorrow,’ is the worst for it. This is a clarion call that must be heeded because our people are dying in their thousands from potions and concoctions delivered by ‘Obo’ronmila’ (witch doctors), illiterate road-side ‘pharmacists’ and itinerant herbalists cashing in on the dire health situation in the country.

Curiously too, while these ‘law makers’ are transporting their sick bodies all over Europe, leaving our hospitals dry and derelict, their wives and mistresses enjoy state sponsored maternity tourism overseas, where they give birth to European and American citizens and obtain their passports, to show to ordinary Nigerians like us that ‘they’ve arrived.’ Grab a copy of our newspaper and you’ll see its pages inundated with sickening celebration of oversea births and all whatnots. What kind of people are we?  

A nation’s sanity is gauged by two indices: health and security. Buhari has failed woefully in both, showing a cowardly avoidance of responsibility in the former and a skewed sense of duty in the latter. Even as insecurity envelopes the entire country with maiming and killings orchestrated by armed bandits and ragtag vigilantes, there has not been a formal declaration from the Presidency as to the whereabouts of Abubakar Shekau, the leader of the dreaded Boko Haram sect. What we hear are mere anecdotal reports, beer-parlour talks, and infodemics of misleading tittle-tattle: ‘he is dead,’ ‘no, he’s wounded in battle,’ ‘no, he flew away,’ ‘no, his body has been eaten by wild beasts,’ and so on and so forth. It beggars belief that a band of ragtag idiots can so hold our country to ransom throughout the years – and yet, our armed forces are said to be the best trained in the entire continent. I really can’t get it.    

As General Buhari’s second term draws to an end, he must endeavour to move the country in the right direction. His administration must address the orgies of killings going on in the country. These expatriate doctors attending to him in UK hospitals would really want to come back home and help with their rich expertise, but Buhari’s administration must create an enabling environment where these guys’ transferable skills can easily be harnessed. Nigeria must rise from the ashes like the phoenix if she must live up to its hyped reputation as ‘the giant of Africa.’ The buck stops with General Buhari and his politicians.

Martins Agbonlahor is a criminologist, journalist and author based in Manchester. His recent novel: Another Poor Cow – the Dangers of Tradition in Rural Nigeria, is available in Amazon and all online bookstores.   

Photo credit:  By Bayo Omoboriowo – This image was made available by Official Photographer of President Muhammadu Buhari, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=95324008

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