For much of the past week, Nigeria’s politics has been dominated by a message by president Muhammadu Buhari. But it wasn’t a national TV broadcast, instead it was a audio message released from London, where the president has been away on a medical leave for an unknown ailment for almost two months. In many ways, Buhari absence speaks louder than his faint message, especially to the state of Nigeria’s healthcare sector.
Nigeria’s political elite have historically shunned local hospitals and instead sought treatment abroad. Famously, in September 2015, Godswill Akpabio, former governor of oil-rich Akwa Ibom state, flew to London for treatment after a car crash just four months after he’d commissioned a $95 million hospital in his state.
It appeared Buhari might buck the trend when, last year, the government announced that it would no longer pay for medical trips of public officials. But his foreign medical trips, despite a well-funded presidential clinic, suggests even Buhari doesn’t trust local hospitals with his health despite expecting tens of millions of Nigerians to do so.
And Buhari is far from alone when it comes to African leaders skipping out on local hospitals. Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe is known to visit Singapore very often for health checks. In fact, since the start of 2016, Singapore has been the 93-year old president’s most frequent foreign destination. Mugabe’s trips have continued despite the lack of resources for local doctors. Back in February, Zimbabwe deployed army medics to work at major public hospitals after doctors went on strike to protest low allowances and bonuses. . .