COVID 19: Why Are The Rich No More Travelling?

504 views | Dan Amor | April 13, 2020

In his seminal poem, ‘An Essay On Man’ (1734), Alexander Pope, easily the most celebrated poet of eighteenth century England, ventures into a poetic realization of a disturbing irony. In the poem whose most ambitious epistle is the first, Pope clearly states that his primary task is to describe man’s place in the “universal system” and to “vindicate the ways of God to man”. In his prefatory remark, Pope more categorically justifies his intention to examine “man in the abstract, his Nature and his State, since, to prove any moral duty, to enforce any moral precept, or to examine the perfection of imperfection of any creature whatsoever, it is necessary first to know what condition and relation it is placed in, and what is the proper end and purpose of its being.” His stated purpose of the poem further problematizes any critical reading of the first epistle. According to his own conclusions, man’s limited intellect can comprehend only a small portion of God’s order and likewise can have knowledge of only half-truths. It seems therefore the height of hubris to justify God’s ways to man since even his philosophical conclusions make this impossible. As a mere component part of God’s design and a member of the hierarchical middle state, Pope cannot perceive the greater part of God’s logic since he (as man) exists within God’s design, hence the poetic irony.
Though the product of Pope’s philosophical ambitions is a rather incoherent epistle, his ‘An Essay On Man’ demonstrates his masterful application of the heroic couplet. Despite Pope’s fatalistic world view, his poem goes to town about man’s limited knowledge of the day after, and the waywardness of chance. In spite of all our toils and ambitions, we have no knowledge of what would happen the next minute. Had Nigerian leaders a scintilla of knowledge that a time such as we are in would come when they can no longer jet out with their families for medical treatment abroad, they would have established some of the best medical facilities in the world here in the country in anticipation of that time. In fact, there are so many dimensions to the Nigerian dilemma. But one of the most disturbing is the manner and frequency with which wealthy and privileged Nigerians are dying in foreign countries. There is hardly no week that passes without reports of one or two rich Nigerians that are dead in any country overseas. Without mentioning names, the list is unending.
Yet, before the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic, it was becoming increasingly embarrassing how public officials in Nigeria, their spouses, children, siblings and even house-helps, etcetera, fly abroad for medical treatment and holidays. With the commonest ailments such as headache, mild fever, back pain, dysentery, childbearing, and so on, our government functionaries and members of their families would see reason to travel abroad for medical attention. This, I believe, marks the beginning of the barrenness of the health sector of our national economy and the concomitant neglect of the health needs of millions of Nigerians especially the poor and downtrodden. Time was when teaching hospitals in Nigeria held a very strong attraction. In fact, up until the mid-1970s, Nigerian teaching hospitals were among the best in the world. Even the University College Hospital (UCH) in Ibadan was rated the fourth best teaching hospital in the whole of the Commonwealth nations. That was when Nigerian teaching hospitals were referred to as “Centres of Excellence”. Not anymore! Following the advent of military politicians and political soldiers at the centre stage of our body politic, our health sector, like any other aspect of our public life, became soulless. And all the things which our public health centres once possessed which held the bumpkin in awe and thrall are either atrophying or are decaying.
 Almost all the teaching hospitals are desolate versions of their old selves: most of the street lights only illuminate darkness; the roads within the complexes, once well paved, are now riddled with potholes and embarrassing craters, while the theatres are now rooms where deaths are confirmed and death certificates issued. The affection which the health sector once held, even for the better-heeled in the society, has evaporated into thin air. In the place of a pride in our teaching hospitals is now, at best, a sense of indifference and complacency. They are now centres of embarrassment. There are, indeed, several incidents which have conspired to pose a blot on the chequered existence of the health sector in Nigeria. Equipments are no longer functioning or non-existent while staff are no longer dedicated to their duties as atmosphere is not very friendly. In many wards, health officials have to work without vital equipment, drug trolleys and materials. In most cases, patients are required to buy their own drugs, plasters, syringes and dressings. Whenever the hospitals provide, one dressing pack is used for two or more patients instead of one thereby spreading the ailments. If the atmosphere in the wards is not conducive, the specialized services for which the teaching hospitals used to be known, too, have become virtually non-existent. For instance, for some two decades now, most of the centres have been unable to treat kidney complaints or carry out radiotherapy on their patients. This is because the renal dialysis equipment and the radiotherapy machines are out of order.
Due largely to their tendency to loot public treasury, government officials often use medical excuse as a ploy to siphon money into their private accounts in foreign banks. Most lamentable is the fact that they do not seem to copy any good thing from those countries they effortlessly gallivant to in the name of medical treatment. Even as it has become evident that when they are in real or severe health crisis, some of them die abroad thereby incurring very high cost in terms of hospital bills and air transportation of their remains back home, our leaders and the rich in the society have refused to learn. They do not want to be swayed by the reality that the huge financial resources that are being carted away abroad can conveniently provide all the medical needs of the nation and create employment for our teeming graduates who are endlessly pounding the streets of our cities in search of jobs that are not in sight. In fact, due to their inherent selfishness, pride and abiding contempt for anything sourced locally, our public officials and the rich in our midst are comfortable with the philosophy of creating islands of affluence and elitism in a society steeped so much in misery. It is pathetic and shameful that whereas there is no record of any foreign dignitary that has died in Nigeria seeking medical attention, our big men have made it a habit of dying in foreign lands running after what they have more than enough to provide here at home.
 In 2007, the then presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua was campaigning all over the country with a German doctor by his side. He won the election and died after about three years in the saddle without establishing in Nigeria one of those health facilities he sought abroad. Similarly, President Muhammadu Buhari spent more than ninety days in London in 2017 on medical tourism. He went with his retinue of staff and a presidential jet which was parked attracting demurrage in thousands of British pounds as long as his stay lasted. Now, more than three years after his return to the country, Buhari cannot think of replicating those facilities with which he was treated abroad here in Nigeria. Even up until today, Nigerians are yet to be told the cost implications of President Buhari’s frequent medical trips abroad. Despite recent revelation that local Nigerian medical experts tower ahead of their foreign colleagues, our men of means and power still gallivant the world for medical attention. Most regrettable is the fact that some of the best medical hands in those countries are Nigerians who were driven out of our shores because of the harsh and murderous sociopolitical environment created by the ruling class.  But it would have been more honorable for them to die here than dying abroad. Also, despite their penchant for secrecy, our officials and rich men do not know that foreign security agents could use the ‘treatment’ procedures to extract vital official information from patients on “danger list”.
There must be a halt to this jamboree of medical travels abroad by our public officials and the wealthy because it is symptomatic of a nation that has lost its fundamentals and values. If we create those facilities they seek after abroad here locally, it would help develop medical tourism in the country which can attract nationals of the West African sub-region and boost our economy. The UCH, Ibadan was a rallying point for medical tourism in the 1950s and early 1960s because the then Premier of Western Region, Chief Obafemi Awolowo banned his cabinet members and their families from seeking medical attention abroad. This made government officials to put in their best efforts to the centre. That feat can be repeated now that the world has really advanced technologically. Yet due largely to the ephemerality of the human knowledge, our men and women of wealth and power did not know that a tiny virus could puncture their inordinate drive to jet out of the country with the slightest excuse. A topmost politician and head of an arm of the National Assembly was recently reported to have hosted more than 300 Nigerians to a sumptuous birthday party in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates. This was shortly before the Covid 19 pandemic. If they think they have the power and financial muscle to walk on water without sinking, why are they no longer traveling abroad? What a big shame!
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*Amor is an Abuja-based journalist and public affairs analyst.

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