Nigeria’s president, Muhammadu Buhari began his tenure with a London medical trip to treat an ear infection. He is ending the tenure with a London trip to treat teeth problem.
Buhari came into office in May 2015 a sick man who hid the reality of his debilitating health from voters and hence denied them the opportunity to make rational choice decisions.
In a country where vigour; physical and mental vitality are not official requirements for holding public office, the nation’s eighty-one-year-old leader has spent almost a year of his eight years in office attending to his flailing health.
Last week, the presidency announced without any embarrassment or shame that the president would remain in London for an additional week, at the behest of his Dentist.
“The specialist requires to see the President in another five days for a procedure already commenced,” Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, announced in a statement.
Buhari had joined other world leaders to attend the coronation of King Charles III on May 6, 2023.
On 21st February, 2015 at the Chatham House in London while campaigning for the office of president of Nigeria, Mr. Buhari queried, “What is the difference between me and those who elected us to represent them; absolutely nothing. Why should a Nigerian President not fly with other Nigerian public? Why do I need to embark on foreign trip as a president with a huge crowd with public funds? Why do I need to go for foreign medical trip if we cannot make our hospitals functional? Why do we need to send our children to school abroad if we cannot develop our university to compete with foreign ones?”
In April 2016, months after his first medical trip to London, Buhari condemned the use of Nigerian resources on international medical expenses.
“While this administration will not deny anyone of his or her fundamental human rights, we will certainly not encourage expending Nigerian hard-earned resources on any government official seeking medical care abroad, when such can be handled in Nigeria,” Buhari said, according to a statement from the Health Ministry at the time.
Yet, in an inconsistent and hypocritical repudiation of his promise, on February 5, 2016, eight months after assuming office, the President went on his first medical trip to London, the United Kingdom, spending six days.
His second medical trip followed four months later on June 6, 2016. He spent 10 days treating an undisclosed ear infection after which he rested for three extra days before returning to Abuja on June 19, 2016.
That year, Osahon Enabulele, current president of the World Medical Association, said it was a “national shame” that Buhari went to the UK for treatment when Nigeria had more than 250 ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialists, as well as a National Ear Centre.
Buhari, he urged, should lead by example by using Nigerian doctors and facilities, and ensure government officials do not go abroad on “frivolous” medical trips, he added.
The UK had more than 3,000 Nigerian-trained doctors, and the US more than 5,000, Dr. Enabule said, accusing the government of failing to address the brain drain by improving working conditions and health centres.
On January 19, 2017, Buhari departed on his second longest medical trip. He returned to Abuja on March 10, 2017, spending 50 days away.
In May of the same year, barely two months after his last trip, the President, departed for London, noted a national daily, “for his longest medical pilgrimage lasting 104 days.”
Public protests at the president’s unbridled medical tourism overseas at tax payers’ expense likely put a temporary stop to Buhari’s trip as the President would not visit London for another medical check-up until a year later in May 2018 when he spent four days on “medical review.”
In late March 2021, Buhari departed for London again for a “routine medical check-up” that lasted 15 days.
His trip came amid a labour crisis in the health sector, which saw members of the Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors commencing an indefinite strike over unpaid allowances.
On March 6, 2022, the President jetted out to London for a medical trip, which lasted 12 days.
On October 31, 2022, the President departed Owerri, the Imo State capital, for London on another medical check-up lasting about two weeks. He returned to the country on November 13, 2022.
For a president that loves to go to London to be treated for the most microscopic infection, Buhari never deemed it fit to build a top of the range public hospital in the country to meet his needs and those of other citizens who do not have the luxury of their infections being treated at top medical facilities overseas at government expense.
“Buhari’s cost of numerous medical trips abroad is taking its toll on Nigeria’s already dying economy,” Adetutu Balogun noted on Twitter in May 2018 in reaction to a New York Times report denouncing the president for his insensitivity and opportunism in embarking on persistent medical tourism to the United Kingdom.
“During campaigns in 2015, Buhari specifically promised to end medical tourism in Nigeria by building world class hospitals. But today, Buhari has become the biggest medical tourist anywhere in the world,” Uche Emmanuel tweeted on May 11, 2023.
In November 2022, Omoyele Sowore the presidential candidate of the African Action Congress (AAC), bashed President Muhammadu Buhari for junketing to London, United Kingdom while his government failed to build any standard hospital in Nigeria for over seven years in office.
Sowore, while addressing Nigerian pharmacists on Thursday at the 95th annual pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria held in Jos, Plateau State, said that the Buhari-led government failed Nigerians in the healthcare sector.
According to Sowore, although Buhari knew from the beginning of his administration that he needed a world class standard hospital for medical services, he rather chose to patronise the UK, leaving over 200 million Nigerians to languish in the country with a dilapidated, non-functional healthcare system.
Buhari’s preference for overseas treatments is at variance with that of his deputy. Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, who in June 2022, underwent surgery to repair a stress fracture sustained to his right leg at the Duchess Hospital in Lagos.
Osinbajo went on to state that not only did he undergo Orthopaedic surgery in one of the Duchess Hospital’s “state-of-the-art theatres”, he spent a whole week on admission post-surgery in what he described as “perhaps one of the most comfortable hospital accommodations anywhere in the world.”
According to him, “The Duchess International Hospital has proved to be world-class, both in the quality of its medical personnel and its management, and it is living up to its mission to reverse medical tourism by delivering the highest standards of care using the most advanced technology and treatments to give the fastest, most convenient access to the best medical expertise available anywhere in the world.”
There are indeed world class hospitals in Nigeria, A special report by BusinessDay, mirroring over 20 of the best hospitals in Lagos taking the business of healthcare to global heights, shows that local options are available.
Lagos, for instance, has not only experienced entry of new facilities, internationally known brands such as Evercare also dived in, just as the physical and operational expansion of familiar brands like Lagoon Hospitals, St Nicholas, Reddington, and Eko Hospitals went on.
Abuja also possesses very efficient health facilities, including Cedarcrest Hospital, where Buhari’s son was treated after he was involved in a motorbike accident in January 2018.
In March 2018, first lady, Aisha Buhari praised the 90-bed hospital sited in Abuja’s Apo District for saving her son’s life after the crash.
Aisha Buhari emphasised the importance of keeping health care delivery ready for emergencies as had befallen her son, citing controversial comments she had made about poor state of facilities at the State House Clinic.
The comments, she said, were to keep hospitals ready in the event that “something happened to anyone.”
“And it happened to my son. He almost lost his life, but this hospital saved him,” the first lady said.
“Even after he was flown abroad for further medical attention, they (hospitals and surgeons abroad) did not do anything for him. They asked where the accident happened, where the surgery took place, I said Nigeria. They said excellent.
“I believe in making Nigeria a better place. I don’t believe in spending our resources abroad. We have all it takes to have a hospital like this,” she said.
The president obviously does not share the sentiments of his wife about the reliability and capacity of health facilities in the country. His love affair with expensive foreign medical treatments at the detriment of the development of local health infrastructure smacks of rascality and incompetence to Inibehe Effiong, a Human Rights Lawyer.
“In the whole of Nigeria, there is no single dentist or dental hospital to treat Buhari of whatever dental ailment or challenge he has. He had to spend additional one week in UK with taxpayers’ money to see his dentist. He couldn’t build a single hospital in 8 years for his needs,” he noted.
“Buhari is a perfect example of how a country that’s blessed with human and capital resources can be ruined by a parasitic and incompetent leadership. This is a man that vowed to bring about change. Eight years later, we are wondering why he became such a terrible curse on Nigeria.
“A scandalous part of this display of rascality, is the shamelessness that typifies Buhari’s pathetic chain of failed promises. When the history of Nigeria would be told in generations to come, Buhari will be remembered for his atrocious detachment from the problems of Nigeria.”
Eight years after, it is obvious that the president cares little about the opinion of Nigerians to his unending medical tourism abroad.
He has spent billions of naira taking care of himself while thousands of Nigerians die from malaria and typhoid fever because Nigeria’s public hospitals do not work and private hospitals are too expensive.
Mr. president cares only about himself.