Between health minister and missing Chinese ‘doctors’


“Time and the ocean and some guiding star and high cabal have made us what we are.” – Winston Churchill

Thomas Jefferson (April 13, 1743 – July 4, 1826) was one of America’s founding fathers. An orator with many profound quotes, he was a statesman, diplomat, lawyer, architect and philosopher. He was the third president of the USA from 1801 to 1809 after serving as the second vice president of the country from 1797 to 1801. He was quoted to have said, “Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master…Whenever the people are well-informed; they can be trusted with their own government”.

In Nigeria, people tend to harbour some suspicions over statements by government officials. Some government officials assume the Goebbelian method is the best way to run a government. Goebbels was Adolf Hitler’s propaganda chief and believed that the more you tell a lie and stick to it, the more the people will believe you; that is, if you stick to it. Here, it is okay for officials to say what may not be the truth but, unfortunately, sticking to it is where the problem lies.

At the height of the COVID-19 fear, oh yes, fear, the Nigerian minister of health, Mr. Osagie Ehanire, went to the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport in Abuja and received a team of 15 supposedly Chinese medical professionals who had come to bail us from the pandemic.

We were told that they came with 16 tonnes of 256 equipment and items of different quantities which include 1,300,000 disposable medical masks, as well as 50 medical ventilators and other equipment worth $1.5 million or $2 million when the cost of the chartered flight was factored in. Others are test kits, disinfection machine, N95 masks, medications, rubber gloves, over 150,000 pieces of assorted protective equipment, which include protective gowns, goggles and face shields, infra-red thermometers and others.

Chinese ambassador to Nigeria, Zhou Pingjian, while welcoming the team said it was time to “reciprocate the friendship and kindness” offered by Nigeria.

Even though there was opposition from many Nigerians, including the Nigerian Medical Association, who believe external intervention to manage the pandemic was not necessary, government officials were all for it. They claimed the Chinese team will advise local authorities on handling the pandemic.

Minister Ehanire told reporters: “This is a global problem, you know that this is affecting the whole world in such a way that all countries must help each other and we must also be our brother’s keeper.” He added that the team would be quarantined for two weeks and that “They knew that before they came and have undergone tests before they left their country”.

Now, our expectations were that the Chinese team, after its quarantine period, would engage in a sort of train-the-trainer activity in which their “vast knowledge and experience in fighting the virus” would be imparted on selected health workers who will go back and impart what they learnt on others.

We also expected such equipment to be distributed to isolation centres, selected hospitals and medical personnel at the frontlines. Again, being a government that preaches transparency and accountability, such deployments would be made public.

However, Nigerians had cause to drop their jaws in consternation when the minister said his ministry should not be bothered over the Chinese medical experts’ whereabouts a full month after their coming, because they “are not guests of the federal government but CCECC, a construction company”.

Hear him: “I want to explain that, first of all, I think not all of them are doctors and I heard that some of them are technicians, but they are staff of CCECC.

”The Ministry of health is not their host, so we cannot always explain what happened to them or where they are,” he said.

Yet he claimed: “They are not really our guests in that sense, but we have been able to learn some things from them. We shared ideas of what they did in their country in managing COVID-19”. The technicians, that is.

However, Mr Michael Yigao, managing director of China Civil Engineering Construction Company (CCECC), as if trying to defend the minister, told pressmen that the Chinese team was in his company’s care.

The questions bothering people are: on whose behalf did the minister receive the Chinese team at the airport? Who quarantined them – Nigeria or CCECC? Where are they and what have they done so far? Where are the equipment we were told they brought? If they are the staff of CCECC, why did the minister receive them at the airport? If they are really staff of CCECC, what were the “equipment” they came in with? And what medical expertise in managing the virus did the technicians of a construction firm share with our health managers?

Sometimes, flip flops by government officials only serve in fuelling rumours and lending credence to conspiracy theories.

There are rumours of 5G being connected to COVID-19 and the whole issue an international agenda. 

Winston Churchill said the above words during World War II while meditating over a heavy raid on Rotterdam. He was hinting at the existence of an international high cabal that runs the world, and makes leaders, including him, pawns.

I do not want to be drawn into this controversy of COVID-19 and 5G but members of the House of Representatives were accused of collecting  a bribe from Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to aid that and, as a result, went and copied, verbatim, a Singaporean Health Bill.

Although the House of Reps has denied it and the accuser has retracted the accusation and tendered an apology, compelling other media organs that published it to offer apologies, the case is still in court.

It is high time our government officials began to come clean with the people. Accountability and transparency are ingredients that make people trust a government and remain loyal to its vision.

After all, in his inaugural speech on May 29, 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari had said: “As far as the constitution allows me, I will try to ensure that there is responsible and accountable governance at all levels of government in the country. For I will not have kept my own trust with the Nigerian people if I allow others abuse theirs under my watch”.

Pantami, the Bull in the China Shop

The Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr (Sheikh) Isa Pantami is one of those young stars the North sees as its future and many see in him a future political leader. Young, highly educated in both Islamic and Western education, he came to office on the crest of tremendous goodwill. His appointment as the director-general of the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) made more headlines, though extracting about the same level of hope as that of Jelani Aliyu at the Nigerian Automotive Design and Development Council.

However, he seems to have fallen in love with power and its deployment for brazen abuse, just like we see it exhibited by politicians of mean pedigree. I am not talking about drama and betrayal of trust, frowned upon by Islam, which he exhibited at times. For instance, in one of his Ramadan Tafsirs, he was visited by Solomon Dalung, a populist wannabe. That visit by Dalung, then a minister, towards fostering unity was turned by Dr Pantami into a public show, a thing he could have done privately if sincere, though he apologised later.

He was known for crying over the “plights of the masses and Muslims,” and in a viral video clip, he even warned Muslims that “anybody who doesn’t want to enter paradise should accept being a minister” in Nigeria. Well, he had not cried since his first appointment despite the poor living conditions of the masses and Muslims. When people observed that and started talking, he came out and cried. Once.

At the launch of the National Communications Commission’s (NCC’s) new building complex in Abuja, Pantami virtually became the Master of Ceremony many times over, but for the sole purpose of stopping Professor Umar Garba Danbatta, the executive vice chairman and chief executive of the NCC, from reeling out his superlative achievements to the president. What he intended achieving with that, only God and he knows.

Now he is embroiled in another controversy with another DG of another government commission – the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NDC) – over office space given to it by the NCC.

Mrs Abike Dabiri-Erewa, DG of NDC, came out publicly to accuse the minister of using gun-toting men to chase the commission’s staff out and lock up their fifth-floor offices, with their belongings inside. Though the NCC, through a statement signed by its Director of Public Affairs, Dr Henry Nkemadu, denied it, an impression has been created. Moreover, who will the NCC support in this imbroglio?

Government appointees, especially ministers, should know that they are representing the president and holding that turf for him in trust. They cannot afford to be seen behaving like bulls in a China shop. Their conduct can say a lot about how organized, disciplined, united and purposeful their government is.

Lest I Forget

May 29 has come and gone. But for COVID-19, there would have been a lot of one-year anniversaries for governors to showcase their achievements. But, for sure, the pandemic has separated the boys from the men among the governors by the way each handled the challenge.

Kudos to Yobe State Governor Mai Mala Buni, who apart from other measures, silently sponsored and facilitated the emergence of a COVID-19 cure from his state which has been validated and awaiting NAFDAC registration. If Madagascar can do it, so can we.

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