By Socrates Mbamalu
It is not only the president of Nigeria who continues to disappoint and even embarrass his countrymen and subjects. His Ministers often follow suit.
When President Muhammadu Buhari first came to power, huge relief and hope gripped Nigeria. There was hope that a former army general would bring an end to the terrorist attacks by Boko Haram. There was hope that corruption would be wiped out and that Nigeria, for once, would reach the great heights its people desire and aspire to.
After six months of being sworn in, President Buhari had not yet appointed a Cabinet. Nigerians assumed that whoever the president was taking his time to appoint must be undergoing severe scrutiny. In contrast to the impatience people displayed towards former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, many now argued that President Buhari was a man of integrity and predicted that he would definitely appoint a different set of people from the usual; people who were passionate about their country and would lead selflessly and without greed.
However, the faces Nigerians had seen on the President’s campaign train were the very faces that the president appointed. There were no surprises on the list of Ministers. Nigerians were the only ones who were surprised. What, then, had taken President Buhari so long? This was the question everyone asked. But for some reason, a peculiar deference was always shown to the president, even when he left the shores of the country he was at the helm of to treat an ear infection, staying away for 104 days. This should have been a sign to Nigerians that all was not well with their leader. He was tone deaf, in every sense of the word, and his manner of speaking lacked empathy and sympathy, especially when crises struck his people.
When Fulani herdsmen attacked in a number of states in the country, killing scores of people, the president did not even flinch. In fact, he was rewarded with a second term in office. In a meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel from Germany, he said his wife belonged in the kitchen and the other room – a comment that was met with a huge gasp. He then went ahead and referred to the youth of the country as being lazy. These comments caused murmurs on social media and was followed by a hashtag. The imprisonment of the Shiite leader El-Zakzaky and the killing of Shias in Nigeria’s capital city, Abuja, by Nigerian soldiers were equally defended by all manner of social media influencers and pseudo-intellectuals.
For some reason, there is no last straw that can break the back of a Nigerian, because the Nigerian keeps finding the space to shift his moral ground and run away from battling his immediate, gloomy predicament.
President Buhari’s Ministers
On 28 March 2019, Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture, Audu Ogbeh, appeared before the Senate Committee on Agriculture to defend his Ministry’s 2019 budget. There he lamented how Nigerians import pizza from Britain. In a video that went viral and even made it onto Trevor Noah’s The Daily Show, the Minister said, “Do you know, sir, that there are Nigerians who use their cell phones to import pizza from London? They buy in London and bring it on British Airways in the morning to pick up at the airport.”
This is not the first time that Nigerians hear their Ministers say ridiculous things in public. On 21 September 2018, Nigeria’s Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, was asked why Nigerian doctors had to wait for such a long time to get residency training. He answered, “It might sound selfish, but we can’t all be specialists. We can’t. Some will be farmers, some will be politicians. The man who sews my gown is a doctor. He makes the best gown.”
This Minister of Health then went on to say, at the 38th Annual General Meeting and Scientific Conference of the National Association of Resident Doctors of Nigeria (NARD) held in 2018, that Nigeria did not have a shortage of doctors. “The data obtained from the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria as of 30 May  revealed that 88 692 doctors are registered on their books. Of these doctors, only 45 000 are currently practicing. That gives us a ratio of one doctor to 4 088 persons. Compared to many other African countries, the ratio is not bad.”
Was it at all surprising, then, when Nigeria’s Minister of Labour, Dr Chris Ngige, took to national television recently and said that the country had no shortage of doctors despite all the data and statistics showing otherwise? Dr Ngige, himself a medical doctor, said, “We have surplus. If we have surplus, we export. I was taught biology and chemistry by Indian teachers in my secondary school days.”
Between September 2016 and June 2017, 896 Nigerian doctors sat for the Professional and Linguistic Assessments Board (PLAB) test, a report by Britain’s General Medical Council stated, with a pass rate of 74.6 per cent.
Enough is Enough (EiE) Nigeria, a coalition of young Nigerians that promotes good governance and citizen engagement, said in response to the statements by the Minister of Labour, “By the World Health Organisation’s standard, Nigeria, with an estimated population of 180 million, needs at least 300 000 medical doctors.”
For informed Nigerians, hope of a country that lives up to the potential of its people is ever fading as they observe their government and president continue to fail woefully in performing their duties and delivering on their promises.