Calabar — Promises by Ministry of Defence to complete the Navy referral hospital in Calabar, were yet to be fulfilled 32 years after it was initiated. Again, there is another promise just made.
Like many of his predecessors, the new Flag Officer Commanding Eastern Naval Command, Rear Admiral Joe Aikhomu, has prayed that during his tenure he should enter into the Nigerian Navy history books that finally the Referral Hospital in Calabar which has been like an albatross was completed
The hospital, one of the three that was initiated over 30 years ago by the Ministry of Defence, was abandoned when about 65 per cent of the job was done for reason of paucity of funds. The other two were to be built in Kaduna (for the Army) and in Lagos (for the Air Force). The 44 Army Reference Hospital is still under construction, but has been abandoned.
But that of Calabar has consistently become a pain in the neck for every successive Chief of Naval Staff, and Flag Officers Commanding Eastern Naval Command who come and go.
Admiral Aikhomu appears bent on breaking the jinx going by the pledge he made on the project before journalists in Calabar last week.
But his immediate predecessors, Rear Admirals Usman Jibrin and Babalola Ogunjimi similarly made similar pledge but they hardly redeemed it. This action by the naval high command therefore is provoking questions on whether they actually desire that the hospital be completed.
When the present Chief of Defence Staff, Admiral Ola Ibrahim was Chief of Naval Staff, he visited the facility and lamented its abandonment. Depending on the resources at his disposal, he has promised to see the extent he would advance the project, with the project still standing uncompleted, his was just another promise among the unfulfilled promises made on the project.
Aikhomu also is very emphatic about his determination to complete it, raising speculations that funds which had hitherto been the bane of the project might now be handy.
Last week, barely one month of assumption of office, he said he has to visit the hospital where some level of work have now resumed with a building expert who was engaged to ascertain the integrity of the structures and its suitability to the present day Nigerian Navy.
He explained that there was need for an expert to advice on certain technical matters regarding the project, so that the Command can present a clear picture to higher authorities.
He expressed the determination of the Command to work with the authorities concerned for speedy completion of the hospital, because, according to him, when it is eventually completed, not only the Navy personnel but the general public would benefit from the array of medical experts who would be brought to work there.
As at last week, the massive hospital complex was swarmed by plumbers and electricians working.
Malam Kabir Abdullahi who is one of the security guards and farmers securing the complex told Weekly Trust that he has witnessed increasing interest by the people within the community and Naval personnel in the project. "The authority has asked us to ensure that thieves do not come in to steal the building materials which had been supplied here otherwise they would arrest and send us to their guard rooms," he said.
A neighbor, Mr Aniedi Jacobson who worships in the nearby church owned by the former chairman of CAN in the state, Bishop Archibong Archibong also confirmed that there is a renewed activity at the abandoned hospital.
"I do see how tippers drive in to deliver sand. I do also see that many workers do electrical fittings and you can even see that the places are being painted. This means that they appear to be serious at completing this hospital now," he said.
Weekly Trust recalls that Minister of State for Defence, Mrs. Erelu Olusola Obada has visited the facility twice in 2011 and 2012 and severally assured that she would facilitate the completion of the gigantic hospital building. At a point, she even promised that the Cross River State government would partner Nigerian Navy and the ministry to complete the construction of the elaborate medical facility.
Sources in the Defence Ministry has expressed doubt that the tripartite effort between the Navy, the Ministry of Defence and the Cross River State to complete the gigantic project has worked. And that also adds to the pile of unfulfilled promises made on the project.
She has always reasoned that her belief in the concept of the hospital was hinged on the fact that it was built for contemporary times and believed everything must be done to complete and commission it.
Many had posited that the current capital flight as a result of governors and other very important dignitaries travelling abroad for medical attention would be curtailed if the naval referral hospital were to be ready.
The immediate past FOC, Rear Admiral Ogunjimi has that same conviction. He once told the Chiefs of Abasi Obori Traditional Council, host community of the hospital when they called on him to plead that the facility be given most urgent attention that the hospital would have the state-of-the-art facilities and medical experts would be engaged from all over the globe; that it was modeled after teaching hospitals in terms of services.
He said "the way a hospital of that nature is run is just like the way a teaching hospital is supposed to be run. It will have medical professionals from all over the world coming to work there. We are going to have very qualified doctors and specialists and whatever can be offered in any modern hospitals elsewhere can be offered here.
"Instead of people flying abroad for treatment, they can come to this hospital. They will even receive better treatments because of the environment. We have up to one year to complete it. The medical equipment to be installed have been ordered, I don't want to buy off the shore," he stated.
According to Ogunjimi, the Chief of Naval Staff decided that the Navy should take over the hospital from the Ministry of Defence having been abandoned and that resources for its completion had been mobilized; and also that the Navy clinic in Calabar will within the year relocate to the complex.