Free health care schemes have been used by governments across the country and indeed the world to assist in areas where the millennium development goals can be enhanced. It is also a way politicians have employed to create and get popular support from their people. Although the continuity after every change of guard has been lacking in our Nigeria of today, it still remains a veritable way to assist the poor and at risk in our society. Free health care schemes can be seen mostly in the areas of maternal and child health issues of course to enhance the major indices of health as concerns maternal and child survival. It is my view that in addition to this, a free health scheme should be granted to our men and women on active service. I mean armed force personnel (the police, armed forces and youth corpers) and NYSC on active service and strictly on emergency basis
I was at work at a very busy emergency unit a few days back when a mobile policeman was rushed into the hospital by his colleagues. He had been on active duty at one of the road blocks on the Asaba-Benin expressway when suddenly a bus driver who was in hurry suddenly ran into him causing him severe injury in the form of a fracture/dislocation of his ankle joint and transient loss of consciousness occasioned by a head injury. We rallied to make a difference by attending to his needs as urgently as we could, but there were a few impediments. While we did what we could, he barely had any cash to do what we could not do and that is getting the full complement of drugs outside emergency care. Never mind that he was at a road block and that cash collection may be going on. His colleagues appeared at a loss on how to continue treatment. Now he is stable and he cannot even pay for the emergency drugs given. He is owing the hospital for card/case note, can’t buy the full compliment of his drugs etc. he is trying but can’t go that extra mile.
Another scenario, we have a 26 year old youth corper who was just involved in a road traffic accident. He is actually dying. He has lost blood and we can’t trace any relatives. We do what we can, it’s practically impossible to get blood to transfuse him. We don’t have a blood bank facility in the hospital, and can’t get one on emergency from other sources as it’s strictly a cash and carry matter. We do what we can, we start trying to check our blood type to see how we can donate to him, but there is hitch, no match able blood type. We are helpless. We finally try to convince an external source for his blood type, mark you all the tests we have done up till now, have been done without a single naira spent., and he tells us that he has other peoples blood in his bank already paid for and waiting to be deployed to them and that he has had unfortunate experiences in the past of non refund by the patients relatives, especially after the patient dies. We hit a dead end, but we convince him and he says he can only get us a pint of blood from another patients stock and that we must sign an undertaking to pay whether the relatives come around or not.
This becomes technical, but we accede, he gets in the pint of blood, we try to transfuse, but the man needs a lot more, and eventually doesn’t make it. Relatives finally are traced and they are worse than our dead patient and are actually looking for cash to secure the corpse. Do you think you have heard enough?
As I write we have had cases of several men and women of the armed forces and youth corpers in this situation and what happens afterwards is dependent on pure luck and how much they had. Nigeria is one of the largest exporters of crude oil and it doesn’t matter what any one says about the corruption in the oil and gas sector, we have no business being poor. We ought to have a contingency to look after men and women in active service of their motherland either in transit or at work. The stark reality is appalling as far as I have experienced. The youth corper case is a case in point.
Is it not possible for our country to have a fund we can draw from in such circumstances? Is it not possible for a revolutionisation in the way we handle our service personnel and youth corpers? As regards emergency services. I have been on the field and I believe this should be put in place as urgently as possible. I dare say that because Nigerian leadership has failed to do the necessary things to guarantee life and property, they have also lost the capacity to attend to their men in active service and duty, we have grown used to sending them on errands, advising them to report to their new stations, without taking into cognizance, the exigencies they may meet on the road.
Imagine when NYSC call up letters are distributed and you see the mad rush to make the orientation camp by all means, including traveling with very uncouth means of transportation by graduates who simply want to key into service of the motherland, how sad. We have lost young men and women who should be alive to give their parents much needed succor after long years in school only to lose them to accidents and emergencies which ordinarily can be done free of charge for them without loss to the system. All they need to show is their ID card or identify them if in uniform or see their call up letters, which should guarantee them free health care even if its for malaria, acute asthma etc, once it can be proven that they are on active service. Someone has tried to argue that our people are usually abusive of every free token of government, but I say, have we tried it, and it didn’t work? It is only when tried that it can hen be reformed and made more relevant and responsive just like the NHIS is doing now.
However, what legacy are we leaving for other men and women of honor who like to serve? Are we not relegating these men of valor to the background? Service is important and worthy of emulation especially in our morally eroded Nigeria, whether NYSC or the armed forces and I believe that it is time our legislators and politicians begin to look at what really matters, and that is life and well being and stop chasing after vague issues that don’t matter. There is no rebranding worth more than extolling national service.
In this light I was so sad when I watched the NTA program on the house committee hearing on the Grace Ushang issue and I was so disappointed at the comments by some security personnel whose duty it is to exercise caution on comments made and indeed ensure that justice is done impartially without playing unnecessary politics. It showed how life has become so cheap in this country and I dare say that if the authorities cannot guarantee the life and safety of these young ones who only set out to serve, then we have no business as a country retaining the youth service scheme.
I have heard tales of missing corpers from the JTF massacre in the Niger delta and in religious unrest in some parts of the north and it is clear that the government should consider making the scheme not mandatory if they can’t ensure that these young people will come out of the service with their lives. But the real issue is that the children of our top politicians will not be posted to the nooks and cranny, neither will they need the NYSC discharge in their lives, as they will be jetted out of the country to start a life somewhere else in the globe. Even if they need a job here in the country, no one will dare prevent them just because of a mere certificate which in any case they can arrange quietly to fulfill all righteousness, therefore no one cares what happens to lesser mortals outside the ruling class and super elites.