When His Excellency Governor Owelle Anayo Ethelbert Rochas Okorocha assumed office on the 29th May, 2012, as the 4th civilian Governor of the state, the Joy of Imo people knew no bounds.
When he rolled out his program for Imo people, their Joy overflowed. One such program was the proposed “Health at your door steps program”. So pleasant was the tale of the program that was conceptualized to make healthcare accessible to all Imolites, just at the dial of a dedicated helpline. The proposal sounded wonderful, though superfluous by the critical minds like myself considering the fact that we have a poor house numbering system. Majority of our urban roads are not motorable talk more of the rural roads. The fact that no government in Imo State has attempted to get accurate statistics of houses in Owerri metropolis made the proposal more doubtful.
But the Governor knew his vision and he matched his words with the immediate action by the delivery and dispatch of more than 20 buses branded “Imo Health at your door Steps program”. The citizenry patently waited for the smooth take off the program. While we waited for the take off of the project, the Imo State Commissioner for Health Dr. Obi Njoku announced to bewildered citizenry that Imo State Government has entered into an agreement with an Abuja based company, Messrs Lantech Solutions Ltd purportedly owned by a Kaduna State Indigene for the Management of the 11 existing General Hospitals on behalf of the Imo State government. In a letter purportedly issued by Dr. Obi Njoku, Commissioner for Health, the Imo State Government has concessioned all the (11) eleven General and Specialist Hospitals in Imo State to the firm for a period of 15 years. The Hospitals affected are as follows: Specialist Hospital Owerri: formally General Hospital Owerri, Aboh Mbaise General Hospital, General Hospital Mbieri, General Hospital Ogwa, General Hospital Egbema, General Hospital Oguta, General Hospital Awo Omama, General Hospital Aro Ndizuogu, General Hospital Okigwe and General Hospital Ihitte Uboma.
The letter read as follows; “In fulfillment of the agreement, the Hospital Management will handover these hospitals to the company who will take over control of the hospitals as contained in the agreement. You will therefore arrange a joint inventory with the officers of the company on the assets and liabilities of these hospitals prior to the formal handing over. The Hospital Management Board will retain her Supervisory roles in the Hospitals to ensure the maintenance of high standards in them. I will appreciate your compliance with this directive”.
I don’t want to sound like a pessimist. I support privatization of government corporations because it engenders efficiency and accountability in the management of government owned enterprise. But healthcare apart from being a key directive principle of State policy in the constitution of Nigeria, is a major arm of the Millennium Development Goals MDGs which Imo State is a signatory to. Free and affordable healthcare to the poor is not in the list of viable ventures which our governments can engage in for the purpose of generating profit.
According to UN statistics, Nigeria ranks only 2nd to India in the list of countries with the highest number of Child and Maternal Mortality. This situation is prevalent in Nigeria because greater percentage of our citizenry especially in the rural areas cannot afford quality healthcare/medical services during pre-and post pregnancy. Many women in the rural areas resort to the local and ill equipped maternities. Some resort to prayer houses to deliver their babies all because they cannot afford medical bills in our hospitals. The result is the high maternal and infant mortality rates as well as increase in children born with various forms of deformity. This development led to demands to various governments in Nigeria to make at list maternal and child healthcare free in all government hospitals. This is necessary to make healthcare accessible to the poor. I therefore harbour any doubt that this was the underlying objective for the establishment of the 11 General Hospitals now sought to be privatized by previous governments in Imo State.
The situation becomes more worrisome when you consider that the entire 11 Hospitals were leased out to one firm. How could one firm be handed over the entire 11 General Hospitals already owned be Imo State? The news that the firm is owned by a Kaduna State indigene makes the matter worse. Does it mean Imo State of all states in Nigeria cannot produce sound Medical Doctors who deserved to be leased some of the 11 General Hospital, since we have now agreed to run them for profit? Why would the entire 11 go to a firm owned by a Kaduna State Indigene? Beyond that, how come Messrs Lantech Solutions Ltd won the Management of the 11 General Hospitals without tenders? How come no bid was called for the selection of the firm? How come the Imo House of Assembly, a gathering of representatives of Imolites spanning through the 27 LGAs didn’t have to make a contribution to the leasing of our General Hospital to a private firm. Not even a motion or public hearing was held to that effect? I expect to hear the voice of our distinguished Arch Bishop A. J V Obinna concerning this matter. I don’t expect his Holiness to be quiet about this debate because I reckon his active participation in the debate against the move by Tanko Zubairu to merge Alvan Ikoku with IMSU, and the recent debate for the passage of the women/ and abortion rights bill during the last administration.
The greatest difficulty however is the contradiction that this same government is building 27 new modern hospitals in the 27 local government areas of Imo State. Assumin we agree with Dr. Obi Njoku that the 11 General Hospital were being leased out because Imo state Government had been incapable of managing them, why then are we building 27 more new Hospitals? Perhaps to generate more profits for government. Then where lies the Imo Health at your door Steps promised the citizens by Governor Okorocha? More questions than answers.
Justifying government action, Dr Obi Njoku said the hospitals would be run with a view to generate profit, and my questions is, how can the rural dwellers who could not afford our general hospitals as they were afford it in the new arrangement. The wealthy and ruling class are not suffering from want of healthcare as they have wide range of choices to pick from. Where then lies the fate of the common Imo man in the rural areas? In Rivers state, Health care is free for all maternal and childcare needs. Why would Imo now embark on an elitist program in the area of healthcare delivery?
The building of 27 modern Hospitals in our LGAs is to me a waste of scarce resources. Imo will be far better with one efficient hospital fully equipped to international standard. What is the essence of building 27 more hospitals when the Imo State University Teaching Hospital IMSUTH and the Owerri General Hospital built by Chief Udenwa regime are poorly equipped and begging for attention. Rather than embarking on the building of 27 new hospitals, Governor Okorocha ought to have embarked upon a total renovation and complete rehabilitation of the now sought to be leased 11 General Hospitals and various health centers scattered all over the state, which to me are more necessary to the greater population of the citizenry than privately run hospitals for profit. Building 27 new hospitals to me is not well throughout or researched by the present administration.
I recall that Governor Okorocha informed Imolites in his recent speech that the state government is struggling with the reality that 25% of Imo State population (Work Force) is consuming more than 75% of Imo State monthly allocation, a situation he said was unacceptable to him. My question therefore is; why building 27 new hospitals, when the 11 already in existent are weighing a heavy financial burden on the purse of the state? Are we now lying to ourselves? Would building 27 new hospitals not compound the problem? It will no doubt lead to increase in the number of Medical Doctors, Midwives and Nurses. All these staff would be paid on the bill of the state. Even Lagos State government has not been able to cop with the increasing demands of health service workers whose remuneration and welfare packages are sui generis (in a class of their own).
I believe the Rochas Okorocha administration has a lot of work to do. They must first research their programs through and through before coming public with them. The serial contradiction of policies by this administration depicts visionlessness and lack of coordination in government policies. Owelle should work more on his policies inside before marketing them. As it stands today, I am of the considered view that the leasing out of 11 existing General Hospitals by Governor Okorocha confounds the building of 27 new hospitals in the 27 local governments of Imo State. It is not too late for the Rochas Okorocha led administration to retrace their steps in this superfluous project.
Barrister Kissinger Ikeokwu is an Owerri based Legal Practitioner, Activist and public affairs analyst. He writes from Owerri.
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