By Hamilton Odunze
A few days ago, while speaking with newsmen in Awka, Dr. Chris Ngige said that President Buhari is healthier and stronger than 80 percent of Nigerians.
Ngige used his experience as a medical doctor to back up his statement: “I can tell you authoritatively as a medical doctor of over three decades standing that Mr. President is physically and mentally healthy.
He is healthier than 80 percent of Nigerians.” If Dr. Ngige’s statement was aimed at convincing Nigerians that President Buhari is fit to lead the country for another four years, it was ill-conceived.
In civilized and advanced democracies, public officials make statements that are not consistent with human or democratic values; they talk it back as soon as possible. They either clarify or retract the statement. However, Nigeria is different. Public officials do not owe Nigerians an explanation for anything, whether it is taking public funds for private use or making statements that not only undermine democracy but also undermine the intelligence of Nigerians. Unfortunately, Dr. Chris Ngige is adhering to this status quo.
It has been almost a week and Dr. Ngige has not retracted his statement, clarified his assertion, nor apologized to Nigerians. As such, he has left his statement open for public interpretation and scrutiny. Frankly speaking, Dr. Ngige, an esteemed medical doctor, urged Nigerians to support President Buhari because he is likely to outlive 80 percent of the country’s citizens. This is sad. Dr. Ngige’s statement is unintelligent and inane on so many levels.
Before I get to the numbers and mathematical implications, let me first say that Dr. Ngige’s statement underscores the insensitivity and carelessness that characterizes the Buhari administration. Sadly, it also underscores the impunity with which politicians and public officials malign and insult the intelligence of Nigerians. For example, President Buhari told the world that the youth of Nigeria are lazy during his visit to the United States a few months ago. The president never apologized or retracted his statement. Although Nigerians reacted appropriately by calling him out on his statement, many dismissed it as coming from a 75-year-old man who spent the better part of his life as a soldier.
However, Dr. Chris Ngige’s statement is exasperating and cannot be equally dismissed. It requires a well-articulated response. So, let me use numbers to give proper perspective to the significance of his statement. According to World Population Review, 197 million people live in Nigeria. Dr. Ngige’s statement suggests that Buhari is healthier and stronger than 158 million Nigerians, even after his two prolonged hospitalizations that almost resulted in constitutional crisis. Even worse is that the bulk of those 158 million people are children and youth. If this is true, then Nigeria is indeed a sick and unhealthy country. In fact, the country would be worse off than ever thought.
As Chris Ngige claims to be a doctor with more than three decades of experience, does he really understand health care problems in Nigeria? Does he really understand why Nigerians are unhealthy, as he claims? I ask these questions because his statement, more than anything, mocks Nigerians for something that the Buhari administration has failed to do. Buhari’s administration has failed to properly tackle health care problems in Nigeria.
In a recent World Health Organization (WHO) report, Nigeria was ranked 187 out of 190 countries in overall health, ranking only above the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic (CAR), and Myanmar. The most severe decline in Nigeria’s health care system happened during Buhari’s administration, yet Dr. Chris Ngige had the audacity to state that Buhari is healthier and stronger than 80 percent of Nigerians. There are two major reasons why the nation is ranked so low on the global health care index. First is the comprehensive, sustained decay of health care infrastructure in Nigeria. Hospitals are not equipped to meet new health care challenges nor the complexity of new diseases.
The second reason is widespread poverty. More than 85 percent of Nigerians live under the global poverty line of one dollar a day. I would assume that Dr. Ngige is perceptive enough to make the connection between health care and poverty. Nigerians are not able to afford good health care, which is why Nigerian doctors and nurses are fleeing the country to find the proverbial greener pastures abroad. This has resulted in an unacceptable doctor-patient ratio of one doctor to 7,000 patients. For Nigeria to make a dent in improving its health care system, an addition of 150,000 doctors must be made.
The Buhari administration has done absolutely nothing to improve the health care situation in Nigeria. With three decades of medical experience, how has Dr. Ngige helped to improve health care in Nigeria? I am inclined to believe that neither Dr. Chris Ngige nor President Buhari have an incentive to do all they can to improve health care in Nigeria. They belong to the one percent of Nigerians who can afford treatments abroad. In fact, this is why Buhari is alive and still the President of Nigeria. Dr. Chris Ngige asking Nigerians to support Buhari because he is healthier and stronger than eighty percent of the nation is not only appalling but is also inhumane and against the Hippocratic oath he took as a doctor.