Thought Leadership Series

Hajia Turai's £40M Cancer Centre in Abuja

Our country is an interesting place.

In a single afternoon in Abuja N7 Billion (£28 million) was raised in a single day to finance HajiaTurai YarAdua’s pet projectA state of the art cancer centre in Abuja. The plan is to raise N10 Billion (£40,000,000)! Hajia Turai’s project is reported by the Vanguardto be born out of her utmost desire to contribute her little quota to achieve a focused delivery of health care. She said the centre is meant to render services to women and children, especially the rural and urban poor”. Read a full report in the Vanguard.

Hajia YarAdua is reported to have gotten the idea after a visit to the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas in 2008.

Reading the reports on the launch has been interesting. Our politicians falling over themselves to commit funds to this project, while they cannot keep the few general hospitals in their states working. Legislators coming together to “donate” huge amounts while the National Health Bill has been stuck in the National Assembly for close to 5 years. The most comical was the Minister for the Federal Capital territory, and former Senator of our Federal Republic quoting health statistics – “disclosing” that in 2005 alone, 89,000 Nigerians lost their lives to cancer. Wow…where did he get his stat from? From the National Health Information Management System?

Since we are obviously passionate about health and health care in Nigeria…why are we not celebrating? There are several reasons….

1. We have several “centres of excellence” for medical care in our teaching hospitals. The last government spent most of its health sector budget in renovating them. Would £40 million pounds not be enough to set up a moderate cancer management centre affiliated to it. You would already have the doctors, nurses etc in place?

2. Nigeria extends 1,127 km (700 mi) E–W and 1,046 km (650 mi) N–S. How will the the rural women and children Hajia is targeting find their way to Abuja?

3. If Cancer Centre’s site had to be in Abuja, why not add it onto the National Hospital?

It turns out that we are not the only ones worried. Salisu Suleiman on 123NEXT advises that the worst killer disease in Nigeria today is not cancer, but poverty.

BUT having said all this, we still hope that the project works.

We really do. We hope she is being advised by professionals ready to see this to fruition, ready for the long haul. We hope that her advisers also advise her how to build cancer education programme across the country to inform people how to detect early tumours.

We hope that her advisers are planning a screening programme. We hope that her advisers are planning on the referral mechanisms from primary health care centres to Abuja. We hope that she is being advised that it is necessary for the knowledge, skills and equipment necessary for Pap smears, Mammographies, Chest xrays and other means to detect tumors etc…We hope that they are advising her on the skills and capacity to manage this centre. We hope that there is a clear strategy on how this center will interface with the rest of the country’s health system….

We hope…we hope…what else can we do?

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed people can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has…Margaret Mead

By Chikwe Ihekweazu

Chikwe Ihekweazu is an epidemiologist and consultant public health physician. He is the Editor of Nigeria Health Watch, and the Managing Partner of EpiAfric (, which provides expertise in public health research and advisory services, health communication and professional development. He previously held leadership roles at the South African National Institute for Communicable Diseases and the UK's Health Protection Agency. Chikwe has undertaken several short term consultancies for the World Health Organisation, mainly in response to major outbreaks. He is a TED Fellow and co-curator of TEDxEuston.

6 replies on “Hajia Turai's £40M Cancer Centre in Abuja”

Mind boggling. The fact that public officials (past and present) can throw down this amount of money in public without a whiff of investigation into the source of the money is AAA (Amazing and Absolutely Astounding)

In the meanwhile, the news that Polio surge in Nigeria after vaccine virus mutates is a reason to scream. “Fisrt Lady Hajia Turai Umar Yar’adua Presents a Gift to School Children at Texas Medical Center in Houston” while 15 percent of children in the north still haven’t been vaccinated against polio! To eradicate the disease, officials need to reach about 95 percent of the population. I am guessing who those 15% are. The rural and urban poor in the North of Nigeria.

Dear Chikwe

I must start by thanking you and your team the great job you have been doing in monitoring and commenting on what have been going on in our great country and especially in the health sector.

All your observations and comments have been well though of, well articulated and above all positively and constructively critical. I do wish you will spare me a space to send in my observations and input too.

I will comment on the last post on Madam’s dream project and the Launch. I note that she got that idea after a visit to MD Anderson Cancer Centre in Texas US. I am not surprised by this as I have always note things like that as the sign of the grave illiteracy in Nigeria. Not that they have been to school and even university and not that they haven’t got the piece of paper to back it but I steal fear that the destruction of quality education has robbed Nigeria the basic ingredient for independence and advancement

Have you not noticed that this type of thinking has been entrenched in this calibre of Nigerians since the soldier devastated the country, killed education and academia leaving the country with a bunch of mediocre and charlatans?

I can tell you that unless some divine force reversed this situation you may see in the near future a Nigerian politician of his wife wanting to build underground rail link between his mansion in Abuja to his other houses all over the country so he can have and enjoy the benefit all to himself.

Have you forgotten the saying that ‘’bekee wu agbara’’ Or literally the white man is is a wizard?

Was this not evident in the behaviour of our ex military dictator? Didn’t he go back to Mina to build himself a Modern city that will be for him exclusively with all the comfort so he wouldn’t need the rotten Nigeria with no infrastructure?

Have you not noticed that most of our politicians have private aircrafts albeit that most of them are death trap? Did you not hear that the ex-governor of Enugu state started building international conference centres of a town ridden with impoverished people with little or no public utility including access road to the conference centre? Have you not heard that most of these politician including the ex president Olu have set refineries and Hotels all over the world except in Nigeria yet their recurrent agenda is Job creation. Did you not hear that the former NAFDAC zar built a Pharmaceutical plant for her?
Where else do these happen?

We do know that there is no hiding place for the wicked. Madam probably aware that cancer is no respecter of person has calculated she needed to put a state of the art facility close to her in case. However like her predecessor she and her advisers failed to know that it is not the edifice that provides the service but the people working under the edifice. Does she or do they care less about poverty after all poverty unlike cancer is a respecter of status. The unfortunate thing is that they still have to insult the psyche of poor Nigerians by pretending that it is for the benefit of poor women and children.

I feel sorry to say that what we are seeing is not peculiar to politicians and their wives but also to vast majority of Nigerians including our colleagues back home

I have got to go; I need to start my afternoon surgery. Will come back to you again on this

Thank you,


I wonder if this new initiative will undertake national free smear tests (re cervical cancer) for sexually active women all over the country?

i THINK YOU HAVE GOT YOUR FACTS WRONG THIS TIME.i AM COMMENTING FROM AN UNBIASED point of view as a physician practising in Nigeria.
I think the idea of a National Cancer centre at Abuja is long overdue.
Statistics show that the commonest cancers in this region of the world include CA Breast , CA Cervix, CA Prostrate , CA Lungs among others.We dont even have a structure for rapid diagnosis of preventable cancers because of late diagnosis.
The unlucky ones diagnosed with these malignancies travel abroad and those that cant afford if resign to their fate.
I think the first ladys initiative is in the right direction.Please we should praise her and encourage her to see the project through.
Talking of NHA, it was Mariam Abacha’s pet project, and we are all beneficiaries today.The hospital was not relocated to Kano after the death of her husband.
Please we should learn to commend when there is a genuine step in the right Direction.At least there is a genuine concern and steps being taken for the help of the masses.
It is a disgrace that most of the cancers are still untreatable with no means of early diagnosis.It is worthy of note that money was raised without recouse to Government coffers.
Please Turai, for once i say MORE GREASE TO YOUR ELBOWS , lets have more of this.And the donors, Please redeem your pledges, Nigerians are watching.

Dr.Akinlolu Fasanmi writes from Bauchi

Mrs. Maryam Babangida (RIP) was reported died at UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Centre in Los Angeles. Mariam Abacha’s pet project is now Hajia Turai’s £40M Cancer Centre in Abuja? It is worthy of note that money was raised without recouse to Government coffers. Q. Whose money was it anyway?

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