By Martin Tachio
When I first saw the Kogi State Commissioner of Health, Dr Saka Haruna Audu crying on television in the full glare of the public, I was moved. I may have been in the minority of people who felt that way; I was disappointed that a bunch of looters could have vandalized and stolen most of the high-priced equipment purchased by the Kogi State government to improve healthcare delivery for the masses.
In governance, especially the type we run in Nigeria, completing a predecessor’s public health project should be a top priority for an incumbent governor rather than initiating another jumbo project that may not be completed thereby risking it being abandoned by the succeeding administration. It makes no sense being lackadaisical about a good project since if it is not completed on time, it is the people, stakeholders, and contractors that suffer the pain. We live in such trying times today that no individual or even a state government can be sure of what happens tomorrow as the #Endsars protests have shown. The vandalization and looting of the central medical store in Lokoja is a case in point. Whatever small gains the State government had won in providing health coverage of people older than 55 with universal healthcare was quickly lost in the court of public opinion.
As soon as I arrived in Lokoja, I headed straight to the Diagnostic Centre. It’s a beautiful first-class building next to Kogi Specialist Hospital. To my utter confusion, it was labeled the ” Kogi Isolation Centre. My immediate question to myself was: How did a brand new First Class Diagnostic Centre become a Covid Isolation Centre in a State that boasts that there is no Covid-19. especially as the equipment for this world-class medical facility languished in storage for more than 5 years. Most, if not all of the equipment for the Confluence Advanced Medical Diagnostic and Imaging Centre (CAMDIC) were plundered and completely destroyed in the days of lawlessness in Lokoja. It is no wonder that the State Commissioner for Health, Dr. Saka Haruna Audu broke down and cried on national television. Because the damage done by the vandals who looted the central medical store in Lokoja costs the state government much more than money.
It cost both the State and the Commissioner serious reputational damage. ‘The story of our diagnostic centre is difficult to say but in, summary the project was conceived and commenced by the administration of Governor Ibrahim Idris, it continued during Governor Idris Wada and now Governor Yahaya Bello has completed and we are on the verge of installing the multi-billion naira equipment before they were looted and some destroyed completely” the commissioner continued, ‘it is not only equipment, do you know that all HIV drugs meant for our people were carted away? Tuberculosis drugs too, polio immunization vaccines were looted and destroyed including the cold store housing them in that ugly incident.
Yes I cried alone but I pray soon for many not to cry, he concluded. However, sources close to the state government who are familiar with the project, spoke to us at NUJ recreational center in Lokoja said the Commissioner of Health and his master have themselves to blame for the disruption of this great project, and that if it was not for their administration, how could a project started over 10 years ago remain underfunded and that equipment supplied for years are waiting for a building to be completed before installation several years after they were supplied? We were reliably informed that the Chinese contractors working on the site left over a year ago due to nonpayment. And even till today, the administration is nonchalant about its financial commitment to both the building/structural contractors and suppliers of equipment hence the snail speed the project is experiencing and that if these equipment had been installed the vandals who were looking for Covid-19 palliatives wouldn’t have found them to steal, loot or vandalize. It is quite possible that many of these young graduates could have found productive employment at the diagnostic Centre using these same equipment and machines to save the lives of Kogites and ordinary Nigerians like my humble self, our NUJ source fumed. On why there wasn’t adequate security at the central store, the Commissioner of Health said the security was simply overwhelmed and did not want fatalities. In the meantime, Dr. Audu said as of today, over 50 persons have been arrested with some equipment and exhibits recovered and that the suspects are going to be prosecuted.
He said the Kogi State government has reached out to manufacturers of the equipment in America and Japan and that government has also set up a panel to look into the matter and make recommendations that will be used to engage with stakeholders. He also said they would make a presentation to the Federal government and donor agencies for replacement. This in effect means that the State government will beg both the Federal Government and Donor agencies to replace equipment that had sat in their warehouse for years without installing them. Meanwhile, the Diagnostic Centre building is sitting idle as a Kogi State Covid Isolation Centre.
What’s important here is simply that the immense intrinsic benefits of the Diagnostic Centre both to the good people of Kogi State and the State Government itself should have been the overriding factors to have pushed the government to ensure the timely completion of the project. This is high time the government now needs to be more proactive and reiterate it’s priorities and does whatever is possible to see to the timely completion of the laudable project. It is still not too late to do what is right. The idea that Donor agencies will swoop down from the sky and rescue the State smells too much of the mentality of colonial dependence. This problem was made in Kogi and it should be fixed in Kogi with rugged determination and maybe… tears.
Tachio is a Journalist and Good Governance Enthusiast.