Ngige’s Solecism And The Rest Of Us By Daniel Bott

The wrath of 200 million angry Nigerians burned like acid against Dr. Chris Ngige, the Minister of Labour and Employment, for his foolishness on Channels TV yesterday. As soon as he made the comment, I knew he would be our punching bag for a couple of days. I have not given him my own uppercut yet. But Nigerians have beaten him and removed his front teeth already, so what am I hitting again?

But I suspect that all he will get is this e-flogging. I do not think that Buhari will sack or caution him. I suspect that Buhari will wait for Bulama and Mike Asukwuo to make a cartoon so he can look at and have a hearty laugh. If only Buhari would reflect on this issue, he should be crying.

All 200 million of us are being attended to by 35,000 doctors. So one doctor sees 5,700 Nigerians. No wonder patients have to wait for 4 hours to see a doctor in public health facilities. According to the registrar of the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria, there are supposed to be about 72,000 doctors in the country but 37,000 no longer practice in Nigeria. It is estimated that about 20,000 practice in the UK, the US, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Australia and other sane countries. If only Buhari knew, perhaps it will wipe the smile clean off his face.

I read a report by NOI Polls about immigration of Nigerian doctors and it’s a very disturbing report. It is a fairly bulky report but let me highlight a few things. Since the unforced error by Ngige, it has become common knowledge that WHO recommends 1 doctor to 600 people, but we have 1 doctor to 5,700 people, based on our current population. The report says that Nigeria needs an additional 268,333 doctors (add to the 35,000 we have) to achieve the WHO recommendation. But we have a borderline illiterate minister who thinks that we have enough. Don’t forget that the Minister of Health himself said not all doctors should dream of being specialists. He said some can go and be tailors, or fishermen. Two doctors in Mr. President’s cabinet, feeding him dog food about the state of health infrastructure. 

“With which mouth” will the health minister advocate to the Federal Executive Council to increase funding for pre-service or postgraduate medical education, when he has asked them to go and be apprentice fishermen in Bayelsa? “With which mouth” will Ngige, as the minister of labour and employment, ask the president to employ more doctors, when he has said we have a net surplus and exporting them for forex is in order? But ignorance is bliss. Mr. President doesn’t know that his ministers are a scam. So, Asukwuo’s jokes are still hilarious.

The NoI Survey report also states that 88% of Nigerian doctors are currently seeking work opportunities abroad. Last year, the Association of Resident Doctors (ARD) in Abuja claimed that 12 doctors leave Nigeria every week. That is over 600 annually. And the number is rising! Ngige doesn’t think this is an emergency. And I dare say that this is enough to take away the smile of the president’s face. Life is sweet like saccharin when you can enjoy UK healthcare.

It costs Nigeria N3,800,000 to train one medical doctor. So, when 37,000 (or more) of them leave the country after acquiring medical education, the country would have lost N140 billion. But Ngige has asked us not to worry because these doctors send us dollars. Yet he hasn’t told us how much is the cost of the lives of women and children we lose daily due to the lack of doctors in our hospitals. Perhaps the USD that our “abroadian” doctors send can bring back to life those who have died. Everyday, 160 women die from pregnancy related causes. Everyday 2,700 children who are less than 5 years old die of preventable causes. By the time you finish reading this (in say, 5 minutes), 10 children would have died from a preventable cause. But the minister thinks getting forex is a nobler cause than having adequate human resource for health. I guess the president won’t be smiling now. If only he knew these deathly stats.

Nigeria with a population of 200 million has only 200 psychiatrists, about 1000 gynaecologists, 350 orthopaedic surgeons, 200 Ear/Nose/Throat specialists. As more doctors graduate from postgrad training to add to the number, some are writing PLAB and getting ready to migrate to UK. It is a sinkhole.

Several LGAs, especially in the north do not have a single medical doctor; some have only a corper doctor who performs a Caesarean Section with torchlight. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Primary Healthcare facilities in Nigeria are manned by Environmental Health Technicians! I know this for a fact. Countless patients die “on the queue” while waiting for a surgery or just a diagnostic procedure. But the political elite can procure these services from India and Germany, then speak with distinguished detachment about the state of health in the country, and then laugh a thunderous guffaw at Asukwuo’s cartoons.

To me Ngige’s faux pasis diagnostic of a bigger, more sinister pathology: the irresponsible detachment and denial of our national problems by those whose job it is to bring succour to Nigerians who are at different stages of dying. It is easy to understand why the budget for health is never more than 5 – 6% of the national budget. It is easy to understand why a professor of gynaecology who happens to be the health minister, thinks that young doctors should go and be tailors and fishermen.

Ngige has revealed to us why Nigeria is unlikely to do well with people like him around the decisionmaker-in-chief.

Mr. President has an opportunity to break free from these political journeymen and semi professionals who have no aptitude for politics, no head for management, no skill for communication and no respect for profession.

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