In case you missed it an important event took place in Abuja early this month.
The Minister of Health, Prof. Babatunde Osotimehin, called a Presidential Summit with all our State Governors around the the theme;
“ACCEPTING COLLECTIVE RESPONSIBILITY FOR IMPROVING OUR HEALTH”
This is not a coincidental title! The general perception is that apart from a few exceptions, most State Governors in Nigeria have abdicated their responsibility for the health of their people. Also with most people worried about electricity, roads and other basic requirements for a decent life, not a lot of political pressure is brought to bear on our state governments around the state of our health. This is the reason why the Governor of Adamawa State is bringing in our friends from Germany to build a state-of-the-art hospital while health workers were on strike for most of the year and the state was ravaged outbreaks of cholera...(yes..really!).
The summit was timely and in a technical meeting that preceded the meeting the Minister made a most critical assessment of the situation when he said:
“….the state of the health system is unacceptable, and incapable of delivering general health care services to 140 million Nigerians”
Then our Minister of Health, led a delegation including his Minister of State and the Directors of all the parastatals and key officers in the Ministry to the National Economic Council meeting. This is a meeting including all the Governors and chaired by our Vice President.
The Vice President chaired the meeting and our governors were shown part of a documentary on the health situation in Nigeria (you will be surprised how little they would know and see riding around in their convoys of bullet proof jeeps). Our governors were shown a presentation on the health situation in Nigeria – and about the planning process underway to address Nigeria ‘s health situation. Every Governor was given a summary of the proceedings around the new national strategic framework that they have been working on AND most politically powerful, they received league tables … ranking states… in their performance on health indicators from the recent DHS…powerful! The data they received is official and culled from the 2008 Demographic Health Survey which the National Population Commission will be disseminating publicly on the 23rd of November here in Abuja.
We gather that there was a discussion between the Governors and the Minister and our Governors all praised the Minister. They acknowledged his passion and drive, and the way in which states had been brought into the planning process. But when it came to putting their money where their mouths are – i.e the declaration of commitment was for Governors to sign up to incrementally increase their health budgets toward 15%….they bickered and came up with ingenious excuses.
The responsibility for the provision of health for our people is lies mostly in the hands of our state governors. Whether any of them will see health as a priority remains to be seen. Building hospitals will not be enough for our health, even if it is enough for the egos of our governors.
But they our our governors! In a federal state like ours…there is no greater power in the polity to affect the lives of our people as in the hands of our governors. This power can be used as is it is being done in Lagos State…or in contrast as in Abia State.
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