At 60, Nigeria, big brother Nigeria, the giant of Africa, the world's most populous black nation, Africa's largest economy, Africa's mouthpiece and potential black power-, the 5th largest producer of oil in the world and the world's largest black democracy should roll out the red carpet and beat the drums in ecstatic frenzy and unrestrained surrender.
However, for an encumbered journey, it may have to sing her birthday song in whispers for the absence of the enabling pillars of courage.
At 60, and for all that nature has endowed us with, Nigerians should be standing in hilarious acknowledgment of and in gratitude for the rare privilege of being Nigerians but this is a subject of tense debate.
Life indeed is a story. Everybody has a story. Every nation has a story. Nigeria has a story. Ours has been like the story told at midnight to the summersaulting waves of the oceans simulating reality, amounting to a mere gesticulation of the blind. It has been the story of feasts and celebrations and large living in dwindling fortunes long descended into the valleys of somnolent poverty. It has indeed been a banquet in borrowed robes, having great appetite for the very best of foreign goods and services, producing insignificant little.
We are a nation of great dreams, great expectations and great possibilities. We are a people of a great heritage with a wholesome foundational ideology laid by our fathers, a vision that saw strength in our diversity, unity in our separateness and greatness in our division.
Though we yet stand, the nation has had her flying feathers plucked out and the eagle in us has become a domestic fowl. In summary, we have progressively stepped down from the ivory tower of a nation of zest and substance where the dollar once exchanged for 50k to a new era where the same dollar goes for N400; a nation where it took just being a Nigerian to live and work and vote and be voted for anywhere in Nigeria and a nation where as a medical doctor, you were dignified and respected and imbued with great value. We are a nation where the young doctor had access to exclusive conditions of service which included a special salary scale, a brand new car, a driver and a full complement of domestic staff and now are in an obscure era where being a doctor has become a nightmare. We are a nation that was the treatment destination for the prince of Saudi Arabia and his family many years ago but have depreciated to a country where every person of meaning or financial substance prefers to go abroad for treatment The doctor in Nigeria seems to believe that the only place he has worth is anywhere outside Nigeria, no matter where.
It has not all been bad news however. We are only going through the phases of national development like all other nations. Our experience may be peculiar, our path may be unique but that is the reality of life. No two persons tell the same story and no two nations share the same history. But certainly, certainly, we have a peculiar history.
We have made our mistakes as a nation. Success is not in not falling, but in rising when we fall. We learn more by failing but it takes wisdom to convert failure into a springboard of success. It takes wisdom to come out of a failure better and stronger. It takes wisdom to learn from our mistakes.
As we mark our 60th anniversary, I pray for wisdom for our leaders and I pray for wisdom for Nigerians. It is no longer a speculation that the Nigerian health system is very weak. The experience of the COVID- I 9 pandemic brought this to the high table. Now we know, it behooves us to demonstrate wisdom. But beyond wisdom, we need courage to address the weakness and reinvigorate the health sector.
In the last 10 years, Nigeria has spent an average of one billion dollars (400 Billion naira) annually on foreign medical treatment. This comes to a total average of ten billion dollars (approximately 4 trillion naira) in this space of time. Over this period, in wisdom, courage and discipline, this cost would have given us the best healthcare system in the world. Instead, the foreign exchange drain is worsening and our healthcare system continues to struggle.
Healthcare is a great pillar of the economy and a major indicator of national growth and stability. A healthy people translate into a productive people which ramps up to a wealthy nation. Healthcare is a fundamental human right. Only a functional and sustainable health insurance that covers everybody in society will guarantee this. It is the only way all citizens can have access to affordable quality healthcare when they need it without regard to their socioeconomic circumstances. In 2005, when Nigeria joined the league of health insurance nations, it set 2015 as the deadline for all Nigerians to be covered (Universal Health Coverage). If that target had been met, our health system would have been a reversal of its present status. Universal health coverage is not a standalone phenomenon. It is an omnibus consisting of adequate budgetary allocation, effective regulation, healthcare management, social welfare, utilities, cost of living, standard of living, third party equities and services, etc.
2030 is the new promise for attaining universal health coverage in Nigeria. Now we know that this is a date with destiny, I call on all Nigerians to rise in support of the government for this program and rewrite our healthcare history and change our healthcare experience as a nation.
Despite all, we have good reason to celebrate. Healthcare workers have remained resilient, managing the huge human and materials gaps in the system. More than ever before, government is aware and has given its word of commitment to revamping the system. Of particular interest is that government recognizes that the Nigerian health system is essentially private sector driven. Majority of Nigerians depend on the private sector and bailing out this sector carries the solution to the country's healthcare needs. Our private health sector has championed the campaign for quality and standard and efficiency and corporate governance in our country and remains the pride of our healthcare system. With necessary intervention through Public Private Partnership (PPP), the sector will blossom in exponential dimensions and drastically bridge the gap between us and the global community.
Inundated by endless demands on it and yet with grossly limited available resources, the Nigerian government at all tiers have continued to exert themselves in the health system the much it has done. We commend them as much as we appreciate the difficult terrain in which they operate, but, more needs to be done in this critically essential sector. In a special way, we congratulate the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria, Major General Mohammadu Buhari (RTD.), on the feat he achieved by the eradication of Wild Polio from Nigeria. We congratulate the Hon. Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire and his team on the bold initiatives they have been taking in trying to reposition the health system including the effort to give force to the Basic Healthcare Provision Health Fund (BHCPF), his support for the N 100 billion CBN intervention loan to the health sector, etc. The remarkable performance Nigeria demonstrated during the Ebola scourge and the courage and commitment of healthcare providers in supporting government in the fight against the Covid- I 9 pandemic cannot be minimized. Today, we have five-star healthcare facilities in the private sector with cutting-edge technology and professional competences in super specialties for breathtaking interventions in orthopaedics, transplant surgeries, cancer care, etc., as are known anywhere in the world.
At 60, we renew ourselves with the eternal principles of faith in ourselves, faith in our-nation and faith in God. At 60, we are emboldened by the immense natural endowments and the human resources that remain globally competitive, standing up to their peers any-where in pride and in dignity. At 60, we celebrate, knowing that the time will come and that time should be now, when our governments and Nigerians especially stakeholders in health-care will come together, reason together and work together in synergy to reform and transform our healthcare system and reverse medical tourism from Nigeria to Nigeria.
We join all Nigerians of faith to stand in solidarity for Nigeria at 60 in acknowledgement of its achievements in health sector despite the gaps and the promise of tomorrow. At 60 therefore, we celebrate the determination of Nigerian healthcare workers and their patients; we celebrate the courage, the uncommon patience and resilience of Nigerians; we celebrate our governments for the much they have done and we celebrate hope.
Congratulations Nigeria at 60.
Long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria
Long live the Association of General and Private Medical Practitioners of Nigeria (AGPMPN).
Amb. Dr. Ugwu Iyke Odo, MD, FAGP, DMP. MB.BS, PGD-FM, MBA, MSC.
Dr. Ned Okor. MD, FAGP, MB.BS, PGD-FM