Nigeria: As Buhari Takes 'Short Rest' in London, Nigeria Not At Rest

Buhari in London.

President Buhari flew to London to see his doctor just before resident doctors in Nigeria went on strike over unpaid allowances

Events have remained tumultuous in Nigeria since President Muhammadu Buhari made his latest trip to the United Kingdom late last month.

While the president is resting in London, back home, Nigeria is grappling with a fever of industrial actions by public servants. Those out on strike include judiciary workers, resident doctors, parliamentary staff, Federal Capital Territory workers and staff of polytechnics and monotechnics nationwide. The doctors, on Saturday, suspended their strike for four weeks after some concessions from the federal government.

There have also been renewed attacks on security facilities across the country, particularly in the Southeast, as the face-offs continue between security operatives and criminals.

The president had departed the country for London on a two-week "short rest," with one of his media handlers also saying that he was going for a "routine" medical checkup.

The news that the president needed to see his doctor overseas came out after resident doctors threatened to down tools over unpaid allowances and breach of agreement by the federal government. The Nigerian leader and his handlers saw nothing wrong in travelling for 'medical check-up' at a time doctors in his country were preparing to down tools due to disagreements with his government. The doctors eventually commenced the strike two days after the president travelled.

The doctor's strike, before it was temporarily shelved, paralysed medical services at public hospitals in the country. This gave a boon to medical consultants, whose services only a few Nigerians can afford.

The news of the president's trip drew an outcry that his actions were at odds with his promise to cut the cost of governance and improve the healthcare system.

But presidential publicist, Femi Adesina, downplayed the public outcry. "Did you hear all the ululation that attended the announcement and the trip? War of tongues: oh, he's sick again (as if there's anyone who's 100% healthy. If there is, let's see the person).

"Resident doctors are going on strike, the President is traveling! Couldn't he have built world class hospitals in Nigeria within the six years he has been in government? He's going on medical tourism again! How much is the trip costing us o? Are we sure he will come back anytime soon?" he wrote on his Facebook wall.

When flights were grounded and borders were shut worldwide for a large part of last year due to the new coronavirus, many political leaders, including Mr Buhari and his immediate family, were trapped at home for their medical care.

At the time, the leaders vowed to pump more money into the health sector and grow the sector to global standard in preparation for another pandemic.

House of Representatives' Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila said: "We must ensure that our healthcare system at home is robust enough to accommodate and respond to current realities, because if we have learned anything from recent events, it is that in a global crisis, it is every country for itself."

But with President Buhari's latest medical trip, it is clear that the job may not be done any time soon.

Medical tourism has been estimated to cost Nigeria over N576 billion ($1.2 billion) yearly.

The president himself will account for a sizable share of that outlay. Since 2015 when he came into office, he has made several trips to London with two of them lasting between 51 days and in early 2017 and 103 days in the middle of the same year.

The president's reluctance to patronise Nigerian doctors could be a catalyst for the exodus of doctors from the country, analysts believe, which should be worrisome for a country that has one doctor for every 5,000 people, as estimated by the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN).

The U.K., the president's preferred medical hub, has at least 8,192 medical doctors of Nigerian origin working there, according to the data from the U.K. General Medical Council.

More strikes

The nation's highest court as well as other courts have been shut since last Tuesday. Efforts by the Chief Justice of Nigeria and the Nigerian Bar Association to broker a deal have fallen flat.

Under the aegis of the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN), the umbrella body of judiciary workers at all levels in the nation, they are demanding financial independence.

Like their judicial counterpart, members of the national Parliamentary Staff Association of Nigeria (PASAN) have declared an indefinite strike in the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

The president of the group, Usman Mohammed, said the action became necessary following the unwillingness of the federal government "to implement the financial autonomy act of 2018 and Presidential Order 10."

"Having exhausted all attempts aimed at asking for the implementation of the financial autonomy by the federal government after 21 days, 14 days and seven days ultimatums, the union has no other option than to direct our members to embark on an indefinite strike," Mr Mohammed said penultimate Monday.

Also, barely three months after universities were reopened after a nine-month-long strike, polytechnics and monotechnics have now been shut across the country.

Members of the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP), downed their tools earlier in the week, a year after they threatened to, over unpaid salary backlogs, unfulfilled agreements, and 'victimisation' of members.

Likewise, the Joint Unions Action Committee (JUAC) in the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) and Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) are on an indefinite strike.

They are protesting against non-implementation of the FCT Civil Service Commission Act which has denied workers certain official benefits.

They declared the office of the serving permanent secretary, Olusade Adesola, illegal saying he was deployed from the office of Head of Service against the provisions of the Act for an FCT Head of Service.

They also accused FCT Minister Muhammad Bello of not implementing the Act signed three years ago by the president.

Unhealthy security

Meanwhile, before the commander-in-chief left, he held a meeting with security chiefs, directing them "to fish out and crush heads of bandits, kidnappers and their local collaborators to restore confidence in the society."

His order came amidst rising insecurity up north and attacks on security facilities down south. But it does appear the presidential order did not take immediate effect.

Less than 72 hours after his departure, three police stations were attacked by gunmen in Imo State. The state's police headquarters was also torched. So was its correctional centre headquarters, from where over 1,800 inmates are now at large. A few have returned into custody though.

Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and then Inspector General of Police, Muhammad Adamu, travelled to the state to examine the situation but their visits did not deter one of the attacks.

Mr Adamu accused outlawed secession agitators, IPOB, of being behind the attacks, an allegation IPOB denied. Governor Hope Uzodinma on his part said that "aggrieved politicians" were behind the attacks.

Mr Adamu could not make it back home before he was sacked and replaced by Usman Alkali.

The Nigerian Army also confirmed the killing of 11 personnel during a stabilisation operation in Konshisha Local Government Area of Benue State. An allegation that a retaliatory onslaught by the army left many dead in the community has been denied by the military.

An aerial bombardment on Ntak Ikot Akpan, a community in Essien Udim Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria's South-south, by the military was meanwhile reported to have killed many.

The defence headquarters said the shelling was targeted at miscreants who attacked and killed some police officers in the local government area recently.

The president's rest abroad is expected to end this week, but it is left to be seen how quick the concerns across the country will be resolved.

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