Edo State Governor, Godwin Nogheghase Obaseki yesterday set tongues wagging over the much peddled frosty relationship between him and his predecessor in office, Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole as he failed to grace the epochal inaugural Founders’ Day of the University of Benin Teaching Hospital, UBTH, and the launch of an endowment fund. The event which attracted prominent Nigerians, Including elder statesman and former military head of state, Yakubu Gowon, a retired army general who was chairman of the occasion, also had Oshiomhole in attendance. The former governor said he was there in his personal capacity and not as national chairman of Nigeria’s ruling party, the All Progressives Congress, APC. Political watchers believe Obaseki tactically stayed away in order to avoid any form of encounter with his seemingly estranged political godfather. Obaseki was barely a few months in office when he started to show signs of rebellion against Oshiomhole who daringly single-handedly installed him as governor.
It was observed that the governor’s security details and protocol officials were already on the ground at the venue of the event where their principal had been slated to deliver an address as indicated in the program of events. As a matter of fact, the master of ceremony kept announcing that the governor was being expected. At a point, the governor’s official podium was brought, an indication that he was being expected to deliver his address. But neither the governor nor his deputy, Philip Shaibu showed up. Apparently uncomfortable by the absence of the governor, the commissioner for health, David Osifo, who had been seated all along with some other members of the state executive council belatedly announced his representation of his principal. That was about a few minutes to the end of the program. Not a few believed it was a face-saving action intended at damage-control. Osifo told the audience that the state government would partner with the hospital in emergency services. Watchers of unfolding political events in the state believed the governor must have developed cold feet when the report reached him that Oshiomhole was around and had seized the limelight. In the former governor’s usual electrifying presence which attracted loud ovation, handlers of the governor may have advised him to stay away so as not to allow himself to be humiliated by boos and jeers from the former governor’s loyalists. Opponents of the governor saw his decision to shun the event on account of his differences with his estranged godfather as cowardly.
But whereas Obaseki failed to grace the epochal event, he, however, used it to score perceived cheap political point when his media aides celebrated his acclaimed endorsement of his second term bid by Gowon who had paid him a courtesy call in his office the previous day.
At the event, a common concern was stemming the ugly tide of medical tourism. Speaking as chairman of the occasion, the former head of state who attended with his wife, Victoria, posited that “what we are celebrating today is the past, present and the future of this citadel of learning – The University of Benin Teaching Hospital and the possibilities that the future holds for the hospital. That is why the endowment fund being launched today becomes relevant. It is a worthy endeavour geared towards upgrading the institution and health services in the state and country to a level capable of helping in reversing the burden of medical tourism in Nigeria”.
Gowon noted that prior to the establishment of the UBTH, it was an ordeal for the sick who had to travel to far away Lagos or Ibadan to access critically needed care other than from the Mission Health Care Services near them. Gowon said he was delighted to learn that the teaching hospital had indeed served the people well “and I know that even the Founder, Brigadier-General Ogbemudia benefitted from their high quality and kind attention”. The octogenarian elder statesman posited that the achievements of the hospital had justified the vision behind setting it up as well as the decision to inaugurate a Founders’ Day and launching of the endowment fund for the hospital’s further development.
In his speech, former Edo State governor who lost his wife, Clara to cancer, recalled with pain how the wrong diagnosis led to the death of the then first lady and therefore called for a review of Nigeria’s medical system so that doctors treat patients only in that aspect in which they have competence. Oshiomhole said wrong diagnoses could be prevented by governments if it provides robust regulation on the health system. The former president of the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, said he would have sued the doctors if it were in another terrain because his wife was a victim of quack medical doctors. According to Oshiomhole, “You visit a hospital, one doctor is gynecologist, psychologist, pediatrician, and the doctor treats everything. My wife was unfortunate to have been diagnosed as having something different while cancer in her breast was growing. This generalized system of the medical system is what we must review. It is not the task of government that things are not working. People elect the government to make things work”. In an apparent frustration at the abandonment of the new central hospital he built and was commissioned by the president a few days to his exit in 2016, Oshiomhole stated that it was in addressing the rot in the health sector in the state that “I decided to build what I called Five-Star hospital to replace the decayed Central Hospital” and expressed the hope that “one day, that hospital will open and you will see the equipment”. He emphasized the need to appropriate compensation, stressing that “when we have the right policy framework, the other level of compensation, people are paid according to output, I believe doctors working outside the country will come back.”
Minister of State for Health, Osagie Ehanire, a medical doctor, commended the UBTH management for conceiving the endowment fund. Ehanire challenged Nigerian hospitals to aim higher and compete for excellence internationally. He noted that the problems in hospitals in the country were not due to lack of equipment or expertise but a challenge of trust. According to him, “Improvement is urgently needed in all aspects from the environmental upgrade to tip-top house-keeping; from prompt and polite attention to patients at first point of call, especially registration. It goes beyond simply pumping more and more money into operations. It requires rededicating yourselves to fight wastage, leakage, and damage; to better optimization of resources and assets.”
Paying glowing tributes to the architects of the hospital, Ehanire recalled memories of Ogbemudia, Military Governor of the then Mid West State whom he described as “clearly the driving force behind starting a top-notch hospital in Benin City”; Prof. Tiamiyu Bello-Osagie, legendary obstetrician, gynecologist and academic, as well as pioneer medical director of UBTH; and Dr. (Mrs) Irene Ighodaro, first chair of the hospital’s governing board. Ighodaro was the second qualified female medical doctor in Nigeria. Ehanire also acknowledged the roles of Gowon under whose watch the hospital came to life and his wife who laid the foundation stone.