How Can Democracy Profit Faith Andrews? By Simon Kolawole
Her age mates were outside in the sun soaking in the Easter fun. But Faith Andrews was lying on the bed, battling for her life at the Gwagwalada Teaching Hospital, Abuja. Faith is 14 years old and desperately in need of kidney transplant. Her mother is a widow. Her father died last year and left the poor woman with six children. The kidney transplant will cost a little over N7 million. Faith is currently undergoing dialysis for N25,000 per session, thrice a week. That is N75,000 per week. That is N300,000 per month. The national minimum wage is N18,000 per month. Faith’s mother earns nothing close to the minimum wage. Faith is dying everyday she wakes up.
This discussion is not exactly a public attempt to raise funds for Faith (but, of course, if you are willing to help, her mother’s mobile number is 08133695922). The article is about how we should NOT be needing to raise funds for poor people like Faith. If she were British, she would not part with a penny for dialysis and transplant; the NHS will pick the bill. But we live in a society where the masses are at the receiving of everything wrong. Democracy is supposed to translate to better life for the people — since they voted their representatives into power — but the reverse is the case: those voted into power end up as the beneficiaries while the voters are always the victims.
Faith is just one of many Nigerians suffering from various forms of kidney ailment — a physically, financially and emotionally draining affliction. Many Nigerians are at the risk of kidney failure: those who have high blood pressure and are unaware or are not taking their medications faithfully; those who were born with one kidney; those who have been victims of fake or substandard drugs; those who are living with HIV (the virus is now known to attack the kidney in some cases); those who are diabetic; and so on. By the time a poor Nigerian is diagnosed with a kidney disease and is in need of a transplant, it is similar to a death sentence.
Let us look at the economics of it. With an average monthly cost of N300,000 for dialysis, how many Nigerians can afford it? How many Nigerians earn N300,000 per month? Even if you earn that much, would you spend it solely on dialysis for one child? What of the other costs of living? What about feeding? What about water and electricity bills? What about school fees for the other children? What about clothing? What about several other obligations? Faith, I understand, only undergoes dialysis anytime the mother is able raise the funds from well wishers. So she did only three in January and none in February — and broke down again.
I was out of the country when I read about Faith’s plight. I asked my colleague, Fredrick Nwabufo, to search her out so that we could offer some help. Fred came back with depressing details. To start with, the Gwagwalada hospital does not have a dialysis machine. A teaching hospital without a dialysis machine in 2016???!!! How much does a machine cost? Will the world come to an end if we decide to buy the machine for every public hospital in Nigeria? A doctor in a government hospital told me last week: “The number of cases of kidney failure I diagnose every week is enough to make me conclude that it is now an epidemic.”
By implication, kidney failure is becoming a public health issue. It is very expensive to treat. Providing cheap or free dialysis should be key to any government healthcare policy today. That is one thing the politicians can do. How many poor people can afford N25,000 for dialysis? Now imagine that a politician has kidney failure. Of course, he can afford to buy a personal dialysis machine, and paying N7m for a transplant is like buying a stick of cigarette. Someone recently told me of a politician who bought a N45m car for his girlfriend. Why? An associate came visiting in a brand of the car and the girl lustfully told her boyfriend: “Honey, I like this car!” And that was it.
So I keep asking: how can the Nigerian masses benefit from democracy? The people who queue up come rain or shine to vote politicians into office cannot afford N25,000 for dialysis, but the politician they elected into office can buy a N45m donkey for his girlfriend, just like that. That is the paradox. The underprivileged are the biggest victims of our democracy, while the political office holders are the biggest beneficiaries. Yet by its simplest definition, the people should be the object and the subject of democracy. They form the absolute majority of the voting population. But when the billions are being spent, their interests are the least of considerations.
The gap between the people and the politicians in Nigeria is too wide. Damn too wide. You find a jobless thug who has been favoured with a party’s ticket to become a lawmaker instantly transformed into a multi-millionaire. He will most likely relocate his family abroad where they will enjoy the best of education and healthcare. If he has a cold, he will fly first class abroad to receive treatment. But the people who voted him into office cannot as much as buy N2,000 worth of drugs at the pharmacy. The people are so poor and deprived that they will vote the same character into power again on the presentation of a tin of vegetable oil and a miserable sachet of rice.
What really is the difference between the Nigerian politician and the people? The politician has a political job — probably the most lucrative in the world. The job pays all his bills, in addition to providing a crazy amount of free cash, both legitimate and otherwise. His accounts are overflowing the banks. He lives in the best of places and eats the best of dishes. He hardly understands that he can use this lucrative and influential position to make life better for those who voted him into office. He does not understand that democracy, being the choice of the masses, is first and foremost about the well-being of the people, and not his own comfort.
But it does get worse. After the political office holder has sucked our blood, he then gets “severance package” sometimes in hundreds of millions of naira. And there is the godless pension package to pay for his cook, driver, janitor and concubines for the rest of his life. We will build a mansion for him in the state capital and another one in Abuja, buy him new cars every now and then, and pay for his medical check-up abroad. All this while the voter cannot afford to pay N25,000 for a session of dialysis. The voter cannot afford good schools for the children. And the politician will keep preaching the virtues of “sacrifice” to Nigerians. Vile predators!
By the way, I have not concluded that no Nigerian politician has ever done any good for the people. I never make such conclusions. My conclusion is that if truly the Nigerian people are the object and subject of this democracy, our lives would be far better than this — with all the money that has gone out of the federation account in 17 years. Faith Andrews is just one of the millions of victims of the mismanagement of our resources, the pursuit of wrong priorities and the neglect of the vulnerable by the political class. If Faith were the daughter of a politician, I would certainly not be pleading for public help to save her life. That’s the point.
AND FOUR OTHER THINGS…
Exactly one year yesterday, my friend, brother and mentor, Oronto Douglas, lost his seven-year battle with cancer. I’m still thinking that one day, my phone would ring and “OND” would display on the screen and I would pick and he would hail “Live!” as he normally did. He used to ask me: “So how are we doing?” He always wanted a dispassionate assessment of President Goodluck Jonathan, his boss. I would give kudos here and knocks there. He never took offence. He would listen and then explain the complexities of governing Nigeria. OND was such a great soul. What a loss. Adios.
The resuscitation of a long-forgotten religious law in Kaduna state by Governor Nasir el-Rufai has generated enough heat to melt a diamond. The law, among other things, requires licensing for preachers. Many Christians think the law is targeted at them, and one preacher has already passed the death sentence on el-Rufai. Kaduna is eternally explosive when the topic of discussion is religion. Indeed, whenever I hear Kaduna, it is religious riots that instinctively come to my mind. I would, however, suggest that those opposed to the law should do so decently and legally rather than further stoke toxic sentiments. Combustible.
Now this is getting ridiculous. In its drive to meet the N1.5bn monthly revenue target, the Benue Internal Revenue Service is charging residents for using generators. This is triple trouble: you pay electricity bills for darkness, queue to buy fuel for your generator and now have to pay a levy for daring to use a generator. Individuals pay N50,000 yearly while companies pay N150,000. Mr. Terna Francis, media assistant to the chairman of the BIRS board, explained: “The levies are channelled towards the maintenance of the ozone layer to avoid natural disaster.” Maintenance of ozone layer? By Benue engineers? Wonderful.
ON FUEL CRISIS
There is a slight correction to my article last week in which I said President Olusegun Obasanjo deregulated the diesel market. In fact, it was Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar that did it in 1998 — as a reader pointed out to me. However, it was under Obasanjo that the marketers fully embraced diesel import when NNPC stopped selling its own diesel at below-market price. Meanwhile, I found the podcast on the fuel crisis by Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, minister of state for petroleum resources, very useful and innovative. He, nevertheless, needs to bridle his tongue on sensitive info, especially impending price adjustments. Tact.