Dr. Samuel Bayo ArowolajuTuesday, October 25, 2005
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ike the great disasters that are currently plaguing nations all over the world, Nigeria had its share this week. The plane, according to reports, carrying about 117 people disintegrated on impact with swampy earth near Lissa about 20 miles North of Lagos shortly after leaving the Murtala Mohammed Airport Ikeja, Lagos at about 8.45 p.m. for Abuja. The cause of the crash has not been determined but there are reports of the usual lackadaisical response of rescue team. As if that was not enough, Nigeria lost her First Lady, Mrs. Stella Obasanjo. The wife of President Olusegun Obasanjo was taken away by the cruel cold hands of death in what was described as complications from surgery in Spain. Details are still sketchy and conflicting at this time of going to press.

Stella Obasanjo with Laura Bush (Left)

Let me through this medium express my profound and unqualified sympathy and condolence to Present Olusegun Obasanjo, his immediate family and relations and the entire Nigerian communities at home and abroad for these untimely deaths. President Obasanjo unsurprisingly demonstrated being a man with a heart of stone that I used to know him to be when he set his personal grief aside and directed the search and rescue operations for the plane crash. I commend his spirit of selflessness in spite of his personal grief and in this time of national loss.

To those who might have seen the hands of God in these tragedies and want to put the whole blame at the feet of God, I say please hold your breath and leave God alone. As much as I will not to be the 'devil's advocate' I will say also that we should leave Mr. Lucifer alone. Before we know it, we might be blaming the unseen forces for other peoples' carelessness, incompetence or both.

As much as I will not want to use the occasion of the personal and national tragedy of the President to raise issues with him, yet I feel there is a time and purpose for everything under the sun. The plane crash may be a purely accident caused by a mechanical fault that is very unpredictable. Yet, I have lost so much faith in the leadership of Nigeria at all levels of government and private sectors that it may be very unnecessary trying to convince me that nothing can happen in Nigeria today without the fault or selfish designs or motives of some groups or individuals. I am not sure I can trust most Nigerians in leadership positions in both private and public sectors of not being able to compromise the lives of fellow Nigerians for profit motives. It is possible in Nigeria to procrastinate regular, necessary and sufficient maintenance services of cars, buses, trailers and aircrafts if it is going to save them some extra money as gains or profits. All they need to say is: "We can manage it for this trip first; maybe later". Many will buy unserviceable vehicles or aircrafts with the price of new to line their pockets or unduly enrich themselves.

Even where money has been duly allocated for those maintenance services, the service manager may want to cut corners to make his own money. After all he knows how his boss got his own wealth - through corrupt means. That is when you hear them saying: "Emi na oo wa runpa ke"; literarily meaning: "I have also not come to be a pauper! That is the extent of decadence that the country has degenerated into. If the national airlines have to have their regular maintenance services at hangers in Europe and Middle East, what makes local services available to the private airlines? If regular and necessary maintenances are not available locally, what makes it sure that spare parts will be available? These situations where important parts are not available and maintenance not easily accessible will make effective and efficient operations risky and doubtful and therefore make those airlines as good as operators of flying coffins.

Let us not deceive ourselves, most car owners in Nigeria don't believe that their cars need regular maintenance until the cars stop running. Most people don't care about the age or mileage of their cars as long as it can keep moving on the road. That is why you still have to "wash" a 1990 "Tokunbo" car in 2005. The reality we have to face is that as it is with cars on the road so it is with aircrafts in the air. How many private operators of airlines in Nigeria can afford brand new airplanes? As many car owners don't care about the mileages on their "Tokunbo" cars so the airline operators don't care about the flying hours of their "Tokunbo" airplanes. Unfortunately Nigeria is a country where corruption can easily make a camel pass through the eye of a needle. The government has lost its regulatory powers to corruption, god-fathers, sycophants, bootlickers and praise singers. A country where a well known American journalist whom the passport officer may not even understand his American accent could easily obtain a passport with his name, passport photograph and signature is surely where anything goes.

Mrs. Stella Obasanjo, the late Nigerian First Lady, was said to have died from complications from surgery in Spain. May her soul rest in peace. Mrs. Obasanjo was said to have flown out hail and hearty for ordinary cosmetic surgery because Obasanjo and his government wanted the best for her. Mrs. Obasanjo went overseas because Obasanjo and his government did not have any trust and confidence in the medical facilities in Nigeria. Or else why did Mrs. Obasanjo had to go to Spain and not to Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital in Zaria or Lagos University Teaching Hospital, Lagos or University of Nigeria Nssuka Teaching Hospital or University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan? University College Ibadan (later University of Ibadan) was established in 1948. It is note worthy that the first sets of medical students graduated from UCH Ibadan in 1960. Tragically that was the year Nigeria had her flag independence. Yet, our politicians from all levels of government; in military uniforms or mufti (agbada or babariga) will still have to go to overseas for all medical check ups and treatments. This is not only the shame but also the tragedy of a nation.

I want to respect the privacy of the family and loved ones of some departed Nigerians. I will therefore not list or mention those many known military or civil leaders who have died in overseas' hospitals just in the last decade. They all went because they wanted better treatment which the national hospitals could not provide but came back in coffins. Some of them were in positions of power that could direct or influence improved medical services in Nigeria. It has become unfortunately fashionable for most of our leaders to be having routine annual medical "check ups" in foreign countries, most of which are opportunities to service or enrich not just their bodies but their foreign bank accounts with monies stolen from people who have no access to portable water to drink or from parents whose children are without chairs to seat in classrooms, some which are located under trees. We can all still remember that the governor of Bayelsa State in Nigeria, Diepreye Solomon Peter Alamieyeseigha told the people of his state that he was going for a medical treatment abroad only to end up the Scotland Yard Police cell and later the real prison cell for money laundering. The governor has become the epitome of corruption among the rulers of Nigeria past and present.

Nigeria may have the scarcity of good and incorruptible leaders both military and civil BUT I make bold to say that Nigeria is graciously blessed with abundance of skillful, seasoned, qualified professionals of all fields of human endeavor across all the tribes and tongues of Nigeria. Men and women, who are recognized, appreciated and celebrated the world over. Let me not go too far to give an example that is proudly very close and recent. Dr. Funmi Olapade a Chicago, US based Nigerian medical doctor who was recently awarded the MacArthur Genius Award. Dr. Olapade graduated from University College Hospital Ibadan, Nigeria. She is Ekiti by birth, Oyo by education and Oke-Igbo by marriage. Dr. Olapade is just one among many Nigerian professionals who are in foreign countries not because they do not love their country but because their country does not recognize and appreciate them. While many talents are wasting away all over Nigeria and in foreign lands the inept leaders annually celebrates their ineptitudes with their useless awards to fellow executive robbers in the name of national awards.

If honors are given to those honors are due, why will people like Dr. Olapade be in the cold biting wintry wind of the windy city of Chicago. If she can have the necessary and sufficient facilities to use her God given talents in Ado Ekiti or any where in Nigeria, I know she would have preferred to stay and serve. It is not only in the fields of medicine that we have brains that have been drained or indirectly rejected and discarded by Nigerian rouges and Vagabonds In Power (V.I.P.) because they do not have value or appreciation for intellectualism and professionalism. I remember when that brute of a man Sanni Abacha was Army Chief of Staff of the Nigerian Army, he refused to promote or commission young serving university graduates who had returned to their posts from study leave programs. His excuse was that "army work is not in the book." If the head of the Nigerian Army could reason like that in the 19th century, one can image the greatest disaster and misfortune that was the lot of the same country when such a nut became her president. Truly, Nigeria has been having the misfortune of scarcity of good leaders.

If President Obasanjo is not the father of a child who can still not walk at 45 years of age, he would not have relied on another person's child to fetch him water to drink. If Obasanjo has not presided over one of the richest but sadly and ironically one of the poorest country in the world due to corruption from the past and present leaders, our local Teaching Hospitals would have been equipped enough to save lives without the uncertainties of living them in the hands of unknown doctors abroad. If our Teaching Hospital Hospitals have been staffed and functional facilities available, most of our doctors abroad will stay home and treat their fellow compatriots with more caution and passion, thereby reducing the need of flying patients overseas and bringing them home in caskets. If just one Teaching Hospital per region has been designated a center of medical excellence and so equipped with drugs and equipments, we will reduce unwanted and avoidable deaths of fellow Nigerians.

When I shared the sad news of the death of Mrs. Stella Obasanjo in Spain with an American friend immediately the news broke out, this is what she has to say:

"Yes, I picked up on her being in Spain as well and wondered why. Why would she travel to Spain for medical attention? I am beginning to feel the same way about the corruption there as you do. I am learning so much more about the people and am learning just how wonderful and talented they are...why are the living conditions the way they are? It is a tragedy. I wish everyday there was something I can do. Wouldn't it be great if I was able to walk into the President's office and tell him they way things are going to be from now on? Wouldn't it be great if then we saw some actual change and the country then became something amazing? Wouldn't it be great if someone actually had the power to do this so that all this nonsense could and would go away? It's the kind of stuff that keeps me up at night...I want to make everything right!!!"

As Carie, my friend asked; why should our First Lady travel to Spain for any medical attention? The more ridiculous it will be if it is truly for cosmetic surgery; as clinics in Ilupeju, Ikeja or Ogba all in Lagos should have been able to handle this if our leaders have not conditioned us to the underdeveloped third world country they want us to be for their own selfish aggrandizements. This is not to judge her. It was her choice and what she wanted. It is about our country and leaders not being there to cater for the needs of their people. The condition of living in Nigeria today including virtually everything is a tragedy, the type that could and should keep every sane lovers of Nigeria up at night. Like Carie every lovers of Nigeria should want to make everything right!!!!!

Does it mean therefore that our leaders are our own enemies because they do not seem to want to make anything right? The National Assemblies will not legislate against going for medical check ups and treatments abroad because it is an opportunity to go shopping and banking. The President will not want to propose a legislation to do the same thing because he will not want to offend or step on the toes of his kingmakers if he himself does not have an account overseas to service. It still amazes me today what morality Obasanjo has in pursuing the wealth of the dead Abacha while that of the living Ibrahim Babagangida is being defended by Obasanjo himself at every opportunity. Anyway, my father used to tell me long time ago that dead dogs don't bark. Maybe unlike the living ones like the one called IBB.

Carie's question: "Why would she (Obasanjo's wife) travel to Spain for medical attention" should be on the lips of all Nigerians including her husband today. The answer should be no reason at all, if our local hospitals were adequately taken care of as they should be by the past and present leaders. If a tenth of all the monies illegally deposited in the private banks of our leaders today, at home and abroad are invested in one Teaching Hospital in each region, there will never be the need to take any Nigerian abroad for medical treatment. It is no longer a secret except an open secret that Americans are privately today going to Cuba for medical treatment because it is comparable in standards and qualities but far cheaper in dollar and cents and better than those at home. If we have not had scarcity of good leaders since independence Spain should be bringing patients to Nigeria for medical treatments and not the other way.

My friend though an American is more Nigerian than many of our Nigerian leaders because of her patriotic wishes and expectations for the good of the greatest number of Nigerians. She is more concerned that many are undeservedly suffering in Nigeria than many governors, local government chairmen, commissioners, ministers and political parasites who parade themselves as political advisers are. When there was still conflicting news about the survivors of the plane crash, Carie was online prayerfully searching for news of survivors. Who knows, many of our cheaters who call themselves leaders were still sleeping from hangovers from drinks and parties of the previous night.

President Olusegun Obasanjo should not allow his wife to die in vain. The greatest memorial Obasanjo and his friends in the National Assemblies should give to his late wife today is to propose a Bill to the National Assemblies banning routine medical check ups and treatments overseas by government officials. Instead, he should designate six University Teaching Hospitals, one in each of six regional zones in the country, as Centers of Excellence. The Bill should also make all the unbudgeted windfall dollars realized from the current unexpected oil boom available for this project. If there is no better name for this Bill, I suggest that it should be called Stella Obasanjo Medical Bill For Medical Excellence.

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Copyright - 2005 Dr. Samuel Bayo Arowolaju