Sunday, April 28, 2019 1:43 am
By Festus Adedayo
Marie Antoinette, the last Queen of France before the French Revolution, had taken the liberty to pass a mean comment on the people like Chris Ngige, Nigeria’s Minister of Labour and Employment too. She was married at age 14 in May, 1770 to then Prince Louis-Auguste who was heir apparent to the French throne and later became Queen, upon Louis XV1 ascension to the throne. Antoinette was however roundly disliked by the French populace on account of accusations that she was wasteful, profligate and promiscuous. To cap it all, allegations that she offered embrace to France’s enemies, especially her native Austria, were hung on the cusp. France’s excruciating financial situation was also blamed on her ostentation. In spite of the suffering of the people, Antoinette was accused of devoting heavy French patrimony on fashion, luxuries and her gambling passion, oblivious of the intense suffering of the people. In fact, in 1785, she got enmeshed in what is called the Diamond Necklace Affair, an accusation of criminal involvement in defrauding of some jewelers in an expensive necklace scandal
The staple food of the French peasantry and the working class at this time was bread, upon which they spent half of their income. Bread was thus an object of national interest to which the French were rankly obsessed. Its shortage during this time thus threw France into turmoil. In 1775, as a result of the scarcity of flour to make bread, a Flour War erupted in France and Antoinette’s reputation for aloofness to the people’s travail was further damaged. A famine had indeed occurred. In 1843, when told of the wide suffering engendered by widespread bread shortages,Antoinette the Queen was quoted to have said “Then let them eat brioche (bread)!”.
Though no one can claim precisely that Antoinetteuttered the word, it was held as representing the obliviousness and selfishness of the French monarchy to the plight of the people. French philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in his Confessions, gave authorial confirmation to this claim when he said, “At length, I remembered the last resort of a great princess who, when told that the peasants had no bread, replied: ‘Then let them eat brioches.’” Years after, Antoinette and her husband were disgraced from the palace. Captured by the French Army and being escorted to Paris, she and her husband, Louis XV1, were jeered, insulted by French people as they had never done before to any occupier of such exalted office. It was said that the honour and prestige of the French monarchy had never been that lowered ignominiously. Antoinettewas so obsessed with power and its allures that she forgot that the imperial castle she occupied was a product of the people’s bequeathals. While Louis XVI was tried and executed by the guillotine on January 21, 1793, Antoinette was guillotined in October of same year, her head displayed for all to see.
During the week that just ended, Chris Ngige, like Antoinette, was equally hanged on the crucifix of the people’s tongues, guillotined for his infelicity. His crime: he unguardedly stomped on Nigerians’ sore foot, provoking the people’s rank discontent. From the wide-ranging snide comments and insults hauled by the jeering crowd on the diminutive minister in discussions across board, it is apparent that no other issue in Nigeria today clearly signposts and manifests the people’s touchy disposition as the decay in their country’s health sector.
As if laying a foundation for the eventual tongue-lash that awaited Ngige, the Punch had devoted same week to very excruciating revelations of the decay. In an interview with some Chief Medical Directors (CMDs) of federal universities’ teaching hospitals, Nigeria’s shamelessness and the precarious state of health of Nigeria’s healthcare was unboweled. In their lamentations, the CMDs said the underfunding of the hospitals that should attend to the people’s primary and secondary health has given them challenges in treating even common ailments like cold and malaria. Obafemi Awolowo Teaching Hospital CMD, Victor Adetiloye, for instance, said the hospital survives on charity from foreign donors and alumni.
So when, on a Channels TV Sunrise Dailyprogramme, Ngige said Nigeria had enough medical doctors and the emigration of medics raised no cause for alarm on the country’s health sector, he was a sure meat for roast. “No, I am not worried. We have surplus. If you have surplus, you export. It happened some years ago here. I was taught chemistry and biology by Indian teachers in my secondary school days… who said we don’t have enough doctors? We have more than enough. There is nothing wrong in them travelling out, when they go earn money and send them back home here, yes we have foreign exchange earnings from then and not just oil…” he was quoted as saying.
Apparently threatened by the outpour of grievances by Nigerians at this ministerial infelicity, which shows ruling elite and governmental disconnect from the people’s pains and agonies, Ngige, almost immediately, attempted a riposte, in form of a rebuttal. This eventually turned out not only feeble but worse than his initial infamous gaffe. In a statement signed by Nwachukwu Obidiwe, his Special Assistant on Media, Ngige merely whitewashed his own sepulcher by going into an unnecessarily boring history of his connect with the field of medicine. After his dogo turenchi however, he arrived at that selfsame unthinking and uncritical juncture of infamy where he had earlier departed.
What can unlock the padlock of this riddle of government appointees regularly taking fancy at stomping on the wound of the people? Many people have submitted that it is what is called the Marie Antoinette or Emperor Hui spirit. In Nigeria, we have had similar afflictions, chief of which is labeled the David Mark spirit. Nigeria had had similar infelicities from her own Antoinette and Hui when then Brigadier David Mark, as Minister of Communication, had wondered why the mass of the people wanted the luxury of a telephone. It is a spirit whose major credential is conceit for the lowly and underprivileged. Another character in history who made similar insidious comment against his people was Emperor Hui of Western Jin who lived from 259–307. Cited in the Book of Jin, which is a chronicle of Chinese Jin Dynasty, it was recounted that when the Emperor was told that his people were starving due to shortage of rice, he had quipped, “Why don’t they eat (ground meat)?”
The Nigerian health sector has suffered considerably over the years. From the consulting clinics excuse that military hijackers of state power gave as alibi for their strike in the 1900s/1990s, the sector has worsened almost irretrievably thereafter. Thousands of our countrymen have met their untimely deaths in the theatre of death that Nigerian hospitals have become. Multiple factors of governmental abandonment and lackluster disposition to its sustenance, dangerous Nigerian work ethos of pilferage of equipment and drugs, lackadaisical attitude of staff and aloofness to the survival of the workplace by workers are the malaises that bedevil the Nigerian health sector, which have almost clobbered it to death. It is so bad that one must daily pray never to be a victim, called patient, of any Nigerian hospital or else, it is a passport to die from avoidable, cheap ailments. There are no equipment to properly diagnose what ails our people, prompting Nigerians to daily wheel scarce foreign exchange to India and other countries.
American billionaire, Bill Gates, puts the urgency of a revamp of our healthcare succinctly at his visit to Nigeria in 2018. “Nigeria is one of the most dangerous places in the world to give birth, with the fourth worst maternal mortality rate in the world, ahead of only Sierra Leone, Central African Republic and Chad. One in three Nigerian children is chronically malnourished…If you invest in… health, education, and opportunities—the “human capital” we are talking about today—then they will lay the foundation for sustained prosperity. If you don’t, however, then it is very important to recognize that there will be a sharp limit on how much the country can grow,” he had said. Muhammadu Buhari was represented at that event by his vice, where Gates spoke that searing and scalding truth to power and yet, the health sector is still gasping for its last breath.
It is global knowledge that Nigerian hospitals are about the worst in the world with an impudent and gross violation of the World Health Organization (WHO) recommendation of 1 doctor to 500 people. In Nigeria, it is about 1 medic to 5000 patients. With a population of about 200 million, Ngige’s submission that Nigerian medical doctors are too many is not only jaundiced, it is otiose for the reality of now. At present, about 72000 doctors are said to be on the register of the Nigerian Medical Council, 40000 in active practice, with the rest caving in to an earlier shambolic advice by the Minister of Health, Isaac Adewole that doctors should go till the land and abandon the stethoscope.
Adewole had said this on Friday, September 21, 2018 at the opening ceremony of the 38th Annual General Meeting and Scientific Conference of the National Association of Resident Doctors of Nigeria (NARD). “The man who sews my gown is a doctor. He makes the best gown. And some will be specialists, some will be GPs, some will be farmers,” he had said of a Nigeria that is in dire need of doctors. He was Ngige’s precursor in that bombastic claim that there was no shortage of Nigerian doctors. In 2011, President of Ibadan College of Medicine Alumni Association (ICOMAA) worldwide, Dr Benedictus Kunle Ajayi, had told a stunned world that, of over 15,000 doctors trained by the college, a large chunk of them work in foreign countries “due to an unfriendly working environment in the country.”
Perhaps the most insidious of Ngige’s waffle was his justification of doctors emigration on account of the equipment they send home and the cash they repatriate therefrom. “When they go abroad, they earn money and send them back home here…I know a couple of them who practice abroad but set up medical centres back home. They have CAT scan, MRI scan which even the government cannot maintain… Yes, we have foreign exchange earnings from them and not just oil,” the minister had stupidly said.
Only an unserious country administered by leaders who can see seldom beyond the tips of their noses would engraft the wellbeing of their country on incidental earnings of her citizens who run away from her harsh environment to take refuge as concierges in another man’s country. It is simple arithmetic which shows that this meager repatriation home cannot match the huge national subsidy expended by the Nigerian government on training of doctors. It is also common knowledge that before these doctors can repatriate a hundred dollar of money which I call destitute cash home, their foreign consort countries must have benefitted five thousand dollars in earnings from mortgage and other ancillary deductions which fatten their own economies. Why don’t we organize our own country in such a way that we will keep our doctors here and the world can come here to pay us foreign currencies to get treatment, as it was in the 1950s, 1960s Nigeria? UCH used to have referrals from overseas at its establishment. Why have the leaders of Nigeria regressed that sector this badly?
These kinds of comments from Nigerian leaders are reflective of the quality of their thought process. The comments signpost a decadence of mind that even a degree in Oxford cannot disinfect. They find anchor in the mind of Marie Antoinette, Emperor Hui and their ludicrous estimation of the people. It is typical of the ruling elite all over the world but more localized among Nigerian leaders whose praetorian and demeaning conception of the ruled is legendary. Check the so-called minister’s leadership pedigree and tell us what you make of it. You will recall that it was this same Ngige who had entered an occult deal for power with his sponsor for the governorship of Anambra State. In reneging, he had told a stunned world that he went to the Okija shrine with his bible! He had submitted all electoral documents that could validate his stay at the Government House, Awka to the shrewd and calculative political merchant of Chris Uba hue. That is the wild mind of the man who superintends over the ministry where negotiations would be reached with the labour workforce. If Buhari can go AWOL from the presidency to the United Kingdom and his commissars say he owes us all no explanation as to his whereabouts, you can gauge the leaking valve of the minds of those who rule us. So if Ngige, Adewole or any of their ilk tomorrow say Nigerians should go roast on the iron gauze, we should not be bewildered. We are the sheep, they are the wolves.
Olugbo of Ugbo as the kanda in our iresi
Pardon my having to borrow a twin concept that makes up a popular argot gleefully propounded on the streets of Yorubaland to define an anomaly that fructified recently in the palace of Fredrick Obateru Akinruntan, the Olugbo of Ugbo, the riverine Ilaje Local Government area of Ondo State. At that event, Akinruntan finally deflated whatever was left of the balloon of respectability and reverence for ancient Yoruba traditional stool. Kanda in iresi is an admixture of chaffs and a strange stone find in a rice meal which its victim chews gleefully, before the teeth crash into the intruder. Kanda in iresi emits pain and agony that go straight down to the marrow.
In his palace on Thursday last week, in furtherance of the activities mapped out for the celebration of his tenth coronation anniversary, the Olugbo had handed beaded crowns to three fellows he called diaspora traditional rulers. The purported kings are, the Yoruba traditional ruler in Republic of Ireland, which went to “Oba” Saheed Ibrahim Adufe; “Oriade” of Georgia in Atlanta, USA, “Oba” Bernard Shola Akinrimisi and the “traditional ruler” in Liberia, “Oba” Omobolaji Ogunkoya. Claiming he is the custodian of Yoruba culture, Akinruntan even vowed to coronate more kings in the diaspora.
To start with, where does Akinruntan suddenly heap out this laughable latter-day Yoruba custodial claim of his and what or where in history does he have the validity of this laughable claim? Ancient Yoruba history frowns at this strange concoction by a man whose only shining apparel is said to be his dripping oil wealth. Full stop; that is where it ends. Akinruntan is not known to be such a deep advocate of Yoruba history or culture, nor imbued with a pedigree that stands for the Yoruba people.
Second is the strangeness of his new toga as one to coronate kings. One may ask if the instrument of office given to him by the Ondo State government grants him this reckless latitude and if it does, makes him the consenting authority to so do across the world? The next question that flows from this is, those clowns he made kings, where would be their palaces in their foreign countries of abode and what kinship affinity binds them and their “subjects” in their foreign domains?
Akinruntan and his co-travellers in the Obaship boats are products of a Nigeria that is going haywire; if not, they won’t trample on custom and traditional norm this ignominiously. Respected traditional rulers in Yorubaland should hold an emergency meeting to disclaim this strange kanda in our national iresibefore Obaship goes finally to the dustbin of history.
Kudos to little Emmanuel Ambode
For believers in a proper mix of culture, language as vehicle for development, a deep sigh of relief must have come out of them last Thursday. Son of Akinwunmi Ambode, governor of Lagos State, Emmanuel, was pictured in a traditional prostrate for visiting President Muhammadu Buhari. He made us proud as Yoruba in a world where kids of his age thrust their hands forward to handshake their fathers’ age mates. You could see the raptness in the attention of the president who probably had lost links with such traditional greeting of the elderly, native only to the Yoruba. You will recall that Lagos had, before now, set the pace in the belief in the connect between this mix of culture and development, having, a couple of years back, legislated the teaching of Yoruba in all its schools. Even Oyo, where undiluted variant of Yoruba is spoken, is absent in this initiative.
Buhari had come to commission three world-class projects in Lagos. They are, the Murtala Muhammed Airport road, the Oshodi Transport Interchange and the 820 high and medium capacity buses for public transportation. He gave kudos to Ambode for a job well done. “Your governor, Akinwunmi Ambode has performed satisfactorily and we should all commend him for his contribution to the growth and development of Lagos State,” he had said.
So many other commentators have commended Ambode for significantly repositioning Lagos in four years. The questions that become germane from this flowing river of kudos for Ambode is, why then does a society throw its hot glaze by the wayside and electing to pick a fresh, mirthless charcoal from its antic? Anyway, this is Ambode’s sure attempt to immortalize himself in Lagos among the pantheon of imperishable leaders like Mobolaji Johnson and Lateef Jakande. By the way, was it that cameras’ lens didn’t pick Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s presence at the commissioning or he was playing his own home game against President Buhari by being absent at the event? You will recall that Buhari was absent at a colloquium put together by the party leader specifically for the president’s attendance in Abuja during his birthday. Is the cookie crumbling so soon?
In my last week instalment entitled , Ajimobi and story of last-minute heists in Oyo Government House, the devil sneaked in and the dates therein were mixed up, resulting in my citing March dates as May. I apologise from the bottom of my heart. Thank you.