Though many Nigerians showed gratitude to God for the President’s safe return to the country on Friday, March 10, 2017, after spending 49 days on medical vacation, they said it was still important for the citizens to know the cost of the President’s medical treatment abroad.
The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership, Human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), and the Campaign for Democracy, among others, said it had become imperative to release the President’s medical bill in the UK because his administration rode to power on the pedestal of transparency, anti-corruption promise and change and therefore could not afford to hide such information from the public.
Buhari had written the Senate that he would embark on medical vacation for 10 days, between January 23 and February 6, 2017 and that Vice President Yemi Osinbajo would act on his behalf.
However, a second letter written to the Senate on February 5 informed the lawmakers of the President’s wish to extend his leave indefinitely. The letter had stated that the extension was to enable him to complete and receive the results of a series of medical tests.
On his return, while addressing top government officials at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, Buhari confirmed that he had been very ill, saying, “I couldn’t recall being so sick since I was a young man, including in the military with its up and down.”
Although the President said he felt better, he gave an indication that he would need to do further follow-ups on his health in few weeks time.
“I am feeling much better now; there may, however, be need to have further follow-ups within some weeks,” he said.
In June 2016, the President had embarked on his second vacation during which he saw an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist for a persistent ear infection.
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, had said Buhari spent less than £50,000 (N20.5m) on the treatment of an ear infection in the UK, but didn’t state the exact cost.
He said, “The disclosure on Prof. Farooq Kperogi’s wall that President Muhammadu Buhari’s ear treatment in the United Kingdom cost a whopping £6m must have shocked many of the respected scholar’s followers.
“I’m prepared to share documents with Farooq, one of the brightest ever produced from the Bayero University, Kano, that the whole treatment, including a follow-up visit by a specialist to Nigeria didn’t cost £50,000.
“For the records, the administration advanced a higher sum, but the President’s doctor returned the balance to the treasury.”
There are speculations that Buhari might have spent between £200 and £250 per hour for medical services in the UK.
Having failed to release his medical bill to the public one week after he returned to Nigeria, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project said Nigerians have the right to know how much of their money was spent on the President’s treatment abroad as guaranteed by the Freedom of Information Act.
Executive Director, SERAP, Mr. Adetokunbo Mumuni, said, “Pursuant to the FOI Act, which was signed into law in 2011, every Nigerian has a right to know from any public office holder any information they think they must have. So, the Presidency should provide categorical answer to the question as Buhari’s medical bill abroad. This is a democracy and in democracy, there can be no opaqueness, everything must be clear and open.”
President, Campaign for Democracy, Bako Usman, said the President as the face of the All Progressives Congress-led government should be transparent with the use of public funds, especially as the party had attained power on the basis of its promise to bring positive change to the country.
Usman said, “Whenever you are presiding over a set of people, irrespective of how large or little they are, there is nothing as good as having a very prudent housekeeping. That will add value to your credibility and transparency as regards the leadership role you are playing over such people. With the change mantra, we expect things to be done differently and more transparently. We expect more openness in governance.
“So the President should make available the cost of his medical treatment abroad. Someone advocating for a corrupt free society is supposed to be open. This government’s ‘Change Begins With Me’ campaign will be appreciated by the citizens if the President is open and transparent.
“It started as a vacation for 10 days and then extended to two weeks, three weeks and eventually to about 50 days. Nigerians have a right to know much the president spent and he should give Nigerians such information and let there be transparency and openness as regards whatever the administration is doing.”
Also, the Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership noted that the President was under obligation to disclose the expenses incurred on his medical vacation if the money did not come from his purse.
The organisation’s Executive Chairman, Mr. Debo Adeniran, said, “If the money with which the President treated himself abroad did not come from his purse, then he is under obligation to disclose to Nigerians how much he spent from our money on his health care.
“As the results of the tests he had are out and the treatment has been done, there is no reason why the President should not tell us what was wrong with him and how much was spent on him. I believe that the President will not want to dent his image with this. When his aides said he was hale and hearty, he came back to say that he was indeed very ill. And he has said many things different from what his lieutenants want us to believe.
“We want to know how much he has spent except if the money came directly from his pocket. If it was from the purse of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, then he is under obligation to disclose the cost of his treatment to Nigerians.”
Human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), said “while the President cannot be compelled to disclose the nature of his illness, if public funds are spent (on his health care), Nigerians are entitled to know how much was spent. Nigerians should know how much has been spent on the medical expenses incurred by the President in the United Kingdom since according to him; he has had the best of medical treatment.”
Without being innocuous, Saturday PUNCH had in line with the FOI Act sent a letter to the Presidency requesting it to provide for public consumption Buhari’s medical bills incurred in the UK.
When contacted, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, preached patience while promising to get the cost for Saturday PUNCH. That had yet to be done as of the time of filing this report.
Efforts made to get the information from the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, also failed.
The minister did not respond to calls made to his mobile line and also refused to reply text messages sent to him on the issue.
Despite the huge budgetary allocation to the State House Medical Centre, most past and present leaders have favoured medical facilities in London, the United Kingdom; Germany, Saudi Arabia, United States and Spain, among others over their Nigerian counterparts.
They often don’t make the cost of such medical treatments abroad available to the public.
This has been described as an embarrassing trend and many Nigerians are criticising President Buhari for joining the bandwagon. Wondering why the President would prefer to be treated abroad, online commentators accused the President of doing the opposite of what he promised to fight once elected into office.
An online reader who was simply identified as HRM1, said, “All I see here is hypocrisy from the leaders. There is one rule for the rich and mighty and another for the poor. Foreign travel for health care was banned by the government but officials still run to the UK at the slightest headache. It will take a miracle of truly gargantuan proportions for Nigeria to become a great nation.”
Another online reader named Don-Teddy, said, “What murderous politicians and leaders we have in our country. Indians are over 1.2 billion in population, what could be our leaders excuse for not attending to our health sector if not share wickedness.
“The most annoying part is our role during elections, we the masses are very gullible and can easily forget the excruciating pains and suffering we had to go through under their leadership just because of some peanuts. May God deliver us all.”
Omo Naija, UK, another reader, said, “Hypocrisy is when Buhari bans medical tourism and he himself is guilty of the same offence. He needs to be sanctioned by the poor masses he deceived.”
A public health physician and radio host, Dr. Laz Ude Eze, wrote an open letter to the President on February 17 decrying the rotten state of Nigeria’s health system and questioned Buhari’s recent trip to the UK for medical vacation.
Figures obtained from the Budget Office of the Federation revealed that a total budgetary allocation of N7.49bn was given to the State House Medical Centre in nine years covering 2009 and 2017, despite being shunned by past and present leaders of the country.
An analysis of the allocation to the medical centre of the state house showed that the highest amount allocated to the facility during the period came in 2016, when the sum of N2.83bn was budgeted to the hospital.
A breakdown of the N2.83bn allocated in 2016 showed that the sum of N2.8bn was captured for capital expenditure items while the balance of N22.5m was meant for recurrent expenditure.
Further analysis of the N2.8bn provided for capital expenditure revealed that the purchase of health/medical equipment was expected to gulp a total sum of N1.59bn in 2016.
In the same vein, the sum of N180.6m was budgeted for the rehabilitation/repairs of hospital and health centres while N107.26m was earmarked for construction of emergency/accidental building.
Similarly, the Federal Government also made a budgetary allocation of N180.5m for the procurement of drugs and medical supplies for the state house in the 2016 fiscal period.
In the 2017 fiscal period, the budgetary allocation for the medical centre was put at N331.7m made up entirely of recurrent expenditure with no allocation for capital projects.
However, while a block sum was allocated to the state house medical centre in 2016 and 2017, no such block allocation was made for the centre prior to the 2016 fiscal periods.
For instance, analysis of the budget document between 2009 and 2015 showed that some provisions were made under the budgetary allocation of the state house to equip the medical centre.
Items budgeted for in 2015 included the purchase of cardiac monitors at a cost of N48.41m, laboratory equipment at N10.25m, surgical instruments at N36m, and the upgrade of physiotherapy equipment at the cost of N10.39m.
“The President going abroad for medical treatments is completely unnecessary after spending so much on the Aso Villa clinic,” a former Chairman, Nigeria Medical Association, Akwa Ibom Chapter, Dr. John Udoabang, said.
The issue of Presidents not using the State House Medical Centre facility was raised with the Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Special Duties, Nasir Daura, when he led members of his committee to inspect facilities at the centre recently.
He said although it was slow, the nation would get there.
Daura said, “We are working towards that. I think 2016 when this same question was raised, it is as a result of the President’s desire to be treated or those that run the government to be treated and catered for within Nigeria by our own professionals using equipment of world’s standard.
“This is why this place was created and the idea is to try to get to attain that standard that we so desire. We are coming along. For me, it is a bit slow but we are getting there eventually.”