For many residents of Benin City, the fanfare that accompanied the inauguration of the new Edo Central Hospital in 2016 was a signal to a major break in health care delivery in the state. Unfortunately, two years down the line, medical attention is yet to commence at the facility. HENDRIX OLIOMOGBE, after a visit to the hospital, reports his findings.
A THOUSAND words could not express how Mr. Peter Uwadiae felt on November 7, 2016 when he watched the opening ceremony of the rebranded Central Hospital in downtown Benin on the local channel. He savoured every moment of the event as a smiling President Muhammadu Buhari cut the tape to declare the edifice open for use in company of outgoing Governor Adams Oshiomhole, incoming Godwin Obaseki and his deputy, Comrade Phillips Shaibu, among many other party faithful of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Uwadiae, 50, and a diabetic father of five, has no doubt been through so much as he had visited different hospitals in and outside Edo State in search of medical attention for his ailment. Wednesday morning, November 8, 2016, saw Uwadiae confidently striding to the new hospital for an appointment with the doctor but to his amazement, the gate was shut. There was no sign of activities at the sprawling complex. Lost in thought, he hardly noticed the presence of a security man who walked up to him, demanding to know what his mission was. Almost in tears, his spirits sank as the security guard told him that the hospital was yet to be functional.
“There are no equipment, no bed, no doctor, no nurse, no drug, no pharmacist, nothing. All that was commissioned by Buhari was an empty building with only big generators and air conditioners. Our prayer is that Obaseki will do the needful but going by feelers, I doubt it,” Uwadiae told Nigerian Tribune.
Trumpeted as the hospital of the future, the new wing of the hospital which looks more like a five star hotel has for sure been under lock and key ever since it was commissioned by President Muhammadu Buhari during the twilight period of Oshiomhole, the incumbent national chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Located along Sapele road by Ring Road city centre, the hospital was supposed to revolutionize tertiary health care in the state. Some of the dilapidated structures of the hospital which were built in 1902 during the colonial period were pulled down to make way for the new edifice. It was meant to check the rising cases of medical tourism by Edo people to other states and outside the country and also complement the University Teaching Hospital (UBTH) by reducing the high number of patients who daily overcrowd the hospital, stretching the facilities to breaking point.
A first time visitor to ancient Benin, negotiating his route from Sapele Road to the popular King’s Square, the heart of the metropolis, would assume that one of the multinational oil companies had just relocated its headquarters to the historical city as he beholds the beautiful structure. Rather, the imposing edifice located at the beginning of the road that links Edo State to neighbouring Delta is the rebuilt Central Hospital with a twin block consisting of an Accident and Emergency Ward and a 200-bed ward complex for patients.
Originally built by the British colonialists, five years after the 1897 lightening conquest of the empire, the 126-year-old health facility lacked the all-important human face necessary for a healthy treatment of patients. Truth was that successive governments had neglected and failed to renovate it until the ex-labour leader decided to grab the bull by the horn by constructing the imposing new building.
With creaky and cracked buildings, the situation at the old hospital was so bad that the old eye care centre was operated under blown off roofs, a situation that shocked and disgusted Oshiomhole when he visited the hospital for the first time.
As part of an enlarged and encompassing basic infrastructural renewal policy of the government, the rebuilding and upgrading of the hospital was, however, not as smooth sailing as initially planned due to paucity of funds owing to poor allocation from the federation account especially in the case of an Edo State that was wholly dependent on federal government allocation. Undeterred, the government mobilised contractors to site and began construction work.
Built with several billions of naira, a section of the controversial structure caved in midway into construction when a moving crane collided with a freshly constructed beam, cutting its rope in the process. The accident affected the west wing of the accident and emergency building.
Rather than giving in to the emotion, angst and fear that the collapsed structure generated, Oshiomhole soldiered on by braving the odds.
Against the backdrop of charges by the opposition that the hospital collapsed because of fake and substandard work by the contractor, the government promptly investigated the accident that led to the collapse, accepted experts’ recommendations and began to rectify the issues.
During this time, work completely stopped at the building site, paving way for another fresh round of rumour which had it that the government had abandoned the hospital project.
However, on March 27, 2014, the state government announced that it had upgraded the hospital to a five-star status and re-awarded the contract to Messrs S & A Construction Company.
Oshiomhole had declared that “the work has been redesigned before it was re-awarded because we know that the project when completed will be another signature of this administration and we are doing everything possible to encourage the new contractor to meet the new deadline.
“The complex will be equipped with state-of-the-art hospital facilities because government has concluded plans with foreign expatriates that will supply the sophisticated equipment needed, so that patients here will have no reasons to go abroad for treatment anymore.”
Speaking during one of his numerous inspections, the former governor promised to equip the hospital just like the best in Asia, Europe and the Americas so as to stop medical tourism from Nigeria.
“When I said at the beginning that our intention is to build what I called a five-star hospital, most people tried to imagine what that meant. But I am sure that just looking at the building, I don’t know of any hotel in Nigeria in terms of aesthetics that has a better appeal than this. And this is the sort of thing you find in Europe and some other advanced economies. If you are in the 21st century, begin to think as if you are in the 21st century because the world has changed and it will keep changing. The pace of change will keep accelerating,” he said.
The ex-governor expressed hope that the forgotten rural man, for once, would have access to modern facilities, noting that one doesn’t need to board an airliner to the United Kingdom, India, or Europe to be told how hospitals look there.
He optimistically declared that “I am sure that those of you who may have, for one reason or another travelled outside will discover that there are many hospitals in Europe and in India that are not as beautiful as this. And so, I believe that a hundred years from now, this hospital will not look outdated. You will see that as you look at the internal finishing. We took into account the conventional challenges you have with public buildings, problem of painting and repainting. With the facials that you have, you will never need to do repainting.”
Oshiomhole emphasised that proper cleaning at regular intervals was all that was needed, adding that the only thing that the government must do was to address the critical issue of the human factor.
He said “Once the hospital is opened, we must re-engage the doctors on the rule of engagement. We won’t invest in this kind of facility and a doctor comes in to work for one hour and goes back to do his private practice and then collects a cheque for one month at the end of the day.”
Amidst fanfare, Buhari had during a two-day official working visit to the state declared the new five-star hospital opened.
An elated Buhari noted that the hospital was the best legacy Oshiomhole bequeathed to the people of the state.
He said that he was impressed with the hospital project, noting “It takes a lot of courage for the governor to do what he did. I am impressed with the work. This is the best thing Oshiomhole can do for the people. When I was coming, I asked the governor, “whose edifice is this?”
Buhari added that many elite would prefer to build a more comfortable environment for themselves but Oshiomhole opted to build a hospital that would benefit the people.
Savouring every moment of the occasion, Oshiomhole added that the only way to show equality among men was for government to provide facilities for both the rich and the poor.
Oshiomhole said that successive administrations had patched the central hospital but he decided to build the hospital instead of erecting a new government house.
He remarked that the hospital was built following his conviction that public health care facilities should not be inferior to private health facilities.
The ex-governor said that one way to show equality was for government to provide good health facilities and stop lamenting about foreign medical tourism.
The former Commissioner for Health, Dr Aihanuwa Erigie disclosed that each section was equipped with state of the art facilities.
Angered by the refusal of the state government to equip and put to use the new hospital two years after it was commissioned by Buhari, a coalition of civil societies and student unions had on September 2 taken to the main streets of the Edo State capital to vent their anger.
During the protest, socioeconomic activities were paralysed in parts of Benin as the protesters marched against the non functioning of the multibillion naira hospital complex.
Spokesperson and president of Talakawa Parliament, Mr. Kola Edopkayi appealed to Obaseki to have compassion on the people and make the hospital operational within the shortest time possible.
“We are calling on the Edo State government to immediately take steps to equip and put the hospital to use. It is worrisome that the hospital is not still functioning after it was commissioned in 2016. The government should do something,” he said.
Also speaking, Emmanuel Aigbogun, a former Student Union president, University of Benin, lamented that the worst hit were school children and market women who are unable to pay exorbitant health charges in private hospitals.
With a dismissive wave of the hand, the Edo State chairman of the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Dan Orbih charged that it was a big shame that a government which was in power for eight years, built the hospital which was commissioned by Buhari on the eve of Oshiomhole’s departure and hailed as the best in Nigeria but is, ironically, yet to take off.
He however conceded that incumbent Governor Godwin Obaseki should not be dragged into the matter but advised that Edo people should demand an explanation of what went wrong.
He charged that “We are losing innocent Edo lives daily as a result of poor medical facilities in the health sector. All those involved must know that they did not only sin against man but also against God for causing the untimely deaths of many innocent persons.”
Several visits to the Commissioner of Communication and Orientation, Mr. Paul Ohonbamu proved abortive as he was either unavailable or kept rescheduling the interview. Persistent pleadings for a mobile phone interview were rebuffed.
However, in an earlier interview during the protest by the activists, Ohonbamu had called for caution, adding that the state government was at the threshold of recruiting doctors and equipping the hospital so that it could be put to effective use.
At the Central Hospital, the Medical Director, Dr. Paul Ugbodaga explained that the new complex was not under him. Ugbodaga insisted that “It is only the commissioner that can speak on it. The new complex has a different management. I will advise tha’t you speak with the Commissioner for Health. I am not in a position to speak on it.
The Commissioner, Dr. David Osifo seemed to have borrowed a page from medical director as he also passed the buck, insisting that it was only his information counterpart that could speak on it as he had the facts.
Persistent calls on the mobile phone of the Special Adviser to the governor on Communication and Strategy, Mr. Crusoe Osagie, either for an appointment or telephone interview were unanswered
In stout defence, the Publicity Secretary of the APC in the state, Mr. Chris Azebamwan however countered the PDP chieftain, disclosing that the hospital constructed by the administration of the former governor was yet to kick off because of the Health Insurance Scheme bill sent to the state House of Assembly by Obaseki.
The ruling party spokesman who spoke late last year insisted that the hospital would not be run by government as it would put in place professional hospital administrators that would run it.
He said that the hospital would be like a private public partnership, assuring that it would give the best health care services that would be affordable to Edo people.
According to him, “This scheme will make the cost of medicare affordable. The key to all this is a firm funding arrangement that will sustain the world class services to be rendered by the hospital which is intended to eradicate medical tourism from our national life.”
As Edo people anxiously wait for the full commencement of normal medical activities at the multi million naira hospital one fervently prays that the hospital gets the needed attention to be operational as soon as possible.
The post Two years after inauguration by Buhari, Edo Central Hospital still under lock and key appeared first on Tribune.Read Full Story