17 February 2017

Nigerians Weigh Cost of Buhari's Medical Vacation Abroad

Photo: The Presidency
(file photo).

The real cost of President Muhammadu Buhari's continued stay in London for his medical vacation and the attendant fraternal trips by politicians dominated the social media landscape yesterday. Some Nigerians called on government to improve the nation's health system and make it more suitable for medical tourism.

Circulating in social media platforms was the year 2000 World Health Organisation's (WHO) ranking of the World Health Systems in which Nigeria was placed 187th of 190 countries -- worse than Liberia (186th), Malawi (185th), Mozambique (184th) and Lesotho (183rd) and only better than Democratic Republic of the Congo (188th), Central African Republic (189th) and Myanmar (190th).

Some of the tweets argued that many London trips by government officials and some politicians constitute a strain on public finances and Nigeria's already troubled foreign exchange situation. Checks by The Guardian on private medical consultants based at Harley Street and at other National Health Service (NHS) hospitals found that some charge between £200 and £250 per hour, for medical services.

The president had left the country for his medical vacation since January 17 after transmitting a letter to the National Assembly informing lawmakers of his intention to proceed on annual leave from January 20 to February 6, 2017. The leave was however extended indefinitely on Sunday February 5, through another letter informing the legislators of the need for the president to undergo some tests as recommended by his doctors. Before and even after Buhari reportedly spoke to US President Donald Trump on telephone, Nigerians and politicians alike have been speculating on the President's state of health.

The President's supporters yesterday rejoiced after new photographs emerged with Speaker Yakubu Dogara confirming he was fit. But a Nigerian, Samuel Philip @The_improviser stoked controversy. His 9.48 am tweet yesterday morning instantly got 30 retweets. "If Buhari's jet is still in London waiting to bring him back... it must have amassed a lot of parking cost," he said, with Steven Jeff Sakada @sakalajeff retweeting: "Yep, landing fees for a jumbo jet liner are up to 1000 pounds a day at Heathrow." Samuel Philips responds: "Tax payers' money or the President earns that much?"

Temitope Ajibola@drteepie in response to -Tayo's (@wiikiz) conclusion that the President's prolonged medical vacation was a "waste of public funds," said: "Crew per diem, hotel, maintenance etc."

Enas @Dapresi also tweeted: "Even if his own came back to NG, the costs of the ones those going to visit are using would make up for it. #wasted funds."

Before the leadership of the National Assembly -- comprising the President of the Senate Bukola Saraki, Speaker Dogara, and Senate leader Ahmed Lawan -- visited the president in London on Wednesday, politicians have continued to call on the London's Abuja House where Buhari is said to be spending his vacation. Prior to Senators Ahmed Bola Tinubu and Daisy Danjuma's February 9 visit, Governor Ibikunle Amosun of Ogun State and Chief Bisi Akande, all leaders of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), were with Buhari on January 27.

The current exchange rate of N510 to $1 (at the parallel where it is readily avaialable) has pushed cost of overseas travel beyond most Nigerians. Fillers from the industry show that only the very rich or political officeholders travel these days, irrespective of the airlines.

Enquiries from the market show that a First Class return ticket to London now cost N3.4million on the low side and as much as N5.1million, if on the high side.

For instance, a First Class seat on British Airways cost between N3.6million to N5.1million depending on the travel agency of choice and time of booking. Other carriers like Emirates offer similar fares of between N3.5million and N4.7million. On Kenya Airways, a Lagos-London First Class cost about N4million.

A Business Class ticket for the same route costs between N887, 000 and N1.1million depending on the time of booking and airline of choice. Economy Class, which is the last hope of the flying masses ranges from N215, 000 to N360, 000 on Lagos-London route.

Travel agencies said they have been worst-hit by high coszt of airfares, as frequent travellers are becoming uninterested. Akindele Martins of Flyworld said only the very rich can afford to buy ticket from Nigeria, while several others prefer to book their tickets from overseas, where they are not worried about foreign exchange scarcity or naira rejecting foreign airlines.

A source at British Airways confirmed that it is not the case that the airline increased prices, but for the high cost of exchange rate of Naira to Dollar.

Meanwhile sources close to the President in London said, contrary to speculations in many reports in the past two weeks, Buhari is neither terminally ill nor does he have prostate cancer. "We don't know where they're getting all these fake reports from, a reliable source told The Guardian in an exclusive chat earlier this week in central London .

According to the source, who is one the very few people to have seen the president, the fact that the First Lady, Hajiya Aishat Buhari, could perform the lesser Hadj is evidence that president is not terminally ill. Asked who could be behind the rumoured death and cancer prognosis as some media reports claimed, the source replied: "Don't forget that the anti-corruption crusade of Mr. President is still very much on, so it could be some of those people who are behind it.

"When I saw Mr. President, he was walking unaided, and didn't show any signs of being sick." Asked specifically if Buhari's illness is prostate cancer, as widely reported in many media last week. The very credible source replied, " he is not even in hospital . It is true that he goes for his appointments and then returns to Abuja House -- the official residence of the Nigerian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom -- but he's never been admitted to hospital since he arrived here on a Thursday with the First Lady, who then left a few days later.

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