OP-ED: Open letter to President Buhari, By Olasupo Abideen Opeyemi

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On April 1, 2001, heads of states of African Union countries met and pledged to commit, at least, 15% of their annual national budgets to the public health sector. While the duo of Rwanda and South Africa have attained this praiseworthy target, it’s disappointing and dissatisfying that the purported Giant of Africa is nowhere within sight. Instead of progressing we have only continued to stagnate.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari

Dear Mr President,

I am writing you with a heavy heart as a conscious, patriotic and progressive youth, I could not help but register my dissatisfaction with my country’s plight alongside a volley of plea to your administration to rescue us from this dire situation.

Excuse the curtness of my manners, the intensity of my pain has almost robbed me entirely of formality. My passionate plea is not for a personal gain but for a revision of the government’s position on issues around health, poverty and education – the individual components forming the fulcrum around which our collective development as a nation revolve.

Sir, I read the disapproving remarks you made at the 58th general conference of the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) concerning the unpleasant effects of various strike actions embarked upon by the country’s health professionals on the nation’s health. With a commensurate level of concern – and perhaps more, I have found myself under the onus of speaking on this trend with a view to achieving an impressive turnaround in events.

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By the same token, a flush of reassurance stole my heart when I read your solemn promise, alongside the Senate President, to release the 1% Consolidated Revenue Fund to cater for health needs – in line with the National Health Act of 2014. This is a remarkable development. There is, however, still far more to be done to make this administration the true, long-awaited group of heroes.

Sir, I will always remember to say that nothing has been more pleasant about the present administration than your unconditional devotion to always protect the interest of the citizenry. On many occasions, Your Excellency, you have reiterated your unfaltering devotion to putting your country first. Sir, I am a fan of your confession for being for everyone, and, today, Your Excellency, I seek to invoke that spirit of selflessness and dedication to the common man’s good to seek your favour pro bono publico.

Mr. President, it is always gladdening to know that Nigeria has a huge population of a hundred and eighty million people – conservatively. Unfortunately, this feeling of national pride is not without an admixture of an aching sore. The country’s high death toll owing to the gross inadequacy of our health sector is the source of this enormous pain.

In a statistic that will shake the cruelest heart, sir, the 2006 UNICEF State of the World’s Children Report revealed that about 580,000 mothers die from pregnancy-related causes – annually, while close to 750,000 children are buried amid bitter tears before their fifth birthday.

It is also a thing of national shame that our dear country loses $1bn to medical tourism every year whilst forfeiting its thousands of well-trained medical professionals who continually search for greener pastures in other countries ― no thanks to the inadequate funding for the country’s health sector. It is exceedingly disturbing that the country has set aside only a paltry ₦1,500 per person as budget to be spent for our health needs.

As if it never happened, sir, the country seems to have totally forgotten about the Abuja Declaration. Since there are piles of documents that struggle for your presidential attention, may I be honoured to remind you of the promise our dear country made some seventeen years ago. On April 1, 2001, heads of states of African Union countries met and pledged to commit, at least, 15% of their annual national budgets to the public health sector.

While the duo of Rwanda and South Africa have attained this praiseworthy target, it’s disappointing and dissatisfying that the purported Giant of Africa is nowhere within sight. Instead of progressing we have only continued to stagnate. In fact, the situation has gone from bad to worse with the 2018 budget having a ridiculous 3.95 as percent allocation to the public health sector. As a consequence of this, for years, we have depended on foreign aid to tackle diseases such as HIV and Polio.

If this deviation from a sealed pact has been ongoing for years unaddressed, I believe it is now time to hold firmly to that pledge. Now, is the time for the country to shift focus to its deteriorating health sector. And this will never be possible until the country retraces its position toward the Abuja Declaration that stipulates the allocation of 15% of the annual budget to the nation’s health-related concerns. Finally, a right step in the right direction is the inclusion of the 1% Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF) to the health sector in the 2018 budget, which was passed earlier this week by the Senate.

This will no doubt go a long way in improving access to healthcare services across the country.

Olasupo Abideen Opeyemi, a ONE Champion, Fellow of the Young Africa Leadership Initiative and the executive director of the award-winning Brain Builders International; a United Nations certified SDGs group. He can be reached on [email protected] or 2347068775529 and tweets at @opegoogle.  The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect African Newspage’s editorial policy.

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