The Federal Government does not build general hospitals. But PREMIUM TIMES can report today that President Goodluck Jonathan has waived two vital rules to establish a princely N2.8 billion new general hospital for his hometown, Otuoke, effectively placing the coastal community as an exclusive beneficiary of a strange largesse not known to federal laws.
It is not clear how and when the federal government first conceived the hospital project, as it was not listed in federal budgets between 2009 and 2011, and even after.
But the Federal Executive Council meeting of August 17, 2011, presided over by Mr. Jonathan, gave approval for the project, and a N2.8billion contract was hurriedly awarded to Messrs Avandale Limited. The job was projected to last only 12 months; and indeed, unlike the usual delay government projects face, it was delivered on time.
As the administration became aware that PREMIUM TIMES was making extensive enquiry about the hospital, President Jonathan hurried to Otuoke on Saturday to purportedly inaugurate the 40-bed hospital, which has now been named Otuoke Comprehensive Cottage Hospital.
At the ceremony, Mr. Jonathan claimed the project began as an initiative of the Bayelsa state government in 2006 before it was taken over by the presidency.
He did not say why he mandated the MDG office, which he personally supervises, to spearhead the project. Mr. Jonathan also did not tell his audience that an estimated N2.8billion federal money was pumped into the project, although a report say the project was eventually completed at a cost of N3.5billion.
Apart from the fact that it was never budgeted for (a violation of the appropriation law), the project breached a longstanding government policy requiring that the federal government provides only tertiary (teaching hospital, federal medical centers, and specialist hospitals); while the states build secondary facilities (general hospitals). Local governments provide primary facilities (health centers).
An exception to that rule, lately, has been the federal government’s direct intervention in local health care, in a spirited campaign against maternal and infant mortality, ahead of the 2015 target date for the actualisation of the Millennium Development Goals.
Otuoke hospital is a general hospital, strictly a secondary health facility, which should have come under the responsibility of the Bayelsa state government. But in 2011, few months after securing his official first term, President Jonathan sidelined that requirement, authorized through the Federal Executive Council, the construction of the N2.8billion hospital in his hometown, and personally supervised its speedy completion within 12 months.
The hospital stands clearly as the only known general hospital nationwide deliberately constructed with federal money by the president since taking office in 2010, a review of government projects, budgets and implementation records show.
Federal health officials also confirmed, in interviews with PREMIUM TIMES, the anomaly of the Otuoke project.
“The federal government is only concerned about tertiary health institutions, anything more than that, we don’t know,” a top official of the ministry of health headquarters said. Many of the officials who spoke insisted on anonymity, for fear they might be victimized.
“We don’t have any responsibility with general hospitals,” the official said.
Mr. Jonathan approved the erection of the hospital in Otuoke even when a Federal Medical Centre, FMC, had already been established in Yenagoa, the Bayelsa State capital. Federal Medical Centres were established nationwide in states that do not have Federal University Teaching Hospitals present, for the purpose of providing tertiary level health care, which is within the purview of the Federal Government in the concurrent nature of health care delivery system in Nigeria, explains a government policy document seen by this paper.
Covering up illegality through the MDG
Mr. Jonathan himself knows he has broken the law by taking over the responsibility of the Bayelsa State government to establish a general hospital for his community. Perhaps to address that concern, the Otuoke hospital project was approved and executed not as a ministry of health project, but as part of intervention projects by the Millennium Development Goals office.
Even at that, the project breached the MDG plan. Where it appears minimally in line, its scale far outweighs similar allocations in other states, showing the imbalance that often characterize federal projects; and how the beneficiaries of such indiscretions are always the constituencies of powerful public officials. President Jonathan’s action also underlines the nepotism that usually characterise the siting of federal projects across the country.
The MDG office, headed by Precious Gbeneol, a known loyalist of the president, helps with water projects, renovates schools, builds small health centers and assists in health projects that specifically apply to maternal and infant health.
Two staff of the MDG office said they were not aware of projects such as the building of general hospitals anywhere. “It’s not what we do, we build only health centres, water projects, education and things like that,” one official said.
While affirming that position, a spokesperson for the office, Desmond Utomwen, however said the MDG department occasionally provides specific assistance to existing general hospitals in special circumstances. He cited how the office assisted the Obstetric unit of Kubwa general hospital in Abuja.
A detailed review of budgets and government project records show the nature of assistance the office provides. Besides supplies of drugs, contraceptives, antiretroviral drugs, insecticide-treated nets and the construction of primary health centers, a number of hospitals received minimal interventions in the form of renovation and completion between 2009 and 2013. All did so at far minimal rate, compared to the hospital in Otuoke.
The presidency refused to comment for this story. Telephone calls to presidential spokesperson were neither answered nor returned while an emailed message to the same official is yet to be responded to.
Otuoke: From a quiet hamlet to a controversial city
A low lying coastal settlement with a population of a few thousands, Otuoke, in Ogbia local government area of Bayelsa state, has undergone rapid transformation and unprecedented development just for being the birth place of a president, putting behind its poverty, and rapidly emerging into a modern city.
After Mr. Jonathan became president, the town’s poor past dramatically faded with its roads expanded, drained and lit by street lamps.
When the president approved six new universities shortly after taking office, one went to Otuoke, to fill Bayelsa state’s slot.
The transformation of the community has however also brought loads of controversies within the three years of the president’s tenure.
In early 2012, President Jonathan shocked Nigerians when he led his local Anglican Church to receive a curious donation of a 1200-seater auditorium from Italian construction firm, Gitto, a federal contractor that has continued to bid for construction jobs from the administration.
Many Nigerians consider the donation an attempt by the company to curry favour from the president.
When critics raised concerns that by receiving the church gift, the president had violated his office’s code of conduct which bars him from accepting gifts from government contractors while in office, Mr. Jonathan and his supporters hit back, questioning the rationality of turning down a worship centre donated by a private entity to a community.
The Otuoke community managed to stay out of media glare until 2013 when politicians and government allies again gathered for a fund raiser for the same small church.
At the event, controversial businessman, Arthur Eze, donated N1.2 billion while the Akwa Ibom state governor, Godswill Akpabio donated N230 million purportedly on behalf of 23 governors of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, drawing outrage from Nigerians.
While the community steadied through the controversies, it remained a top destination for high ranking federal government projects, as it effortlessly scooped key road, water, education and health projects, a review of the budgets since 2009 show.
A similar blend of projects is hard to come by in several other poverty-stricken villages across the Niger Delta.
Between 2010 and date, while other communities struggle to receive road and water projects, from the intervention agency, the Niger Delta Development Commission, Otuoke constantly got allocations. By 2012, its focus went beyond roads, and it was given a N2.08 billion “ultra modern market.” The job was handed to Kari Investment Company Limited on November 4.
This year, the community is listed in the budget for a new School of Midwifery, even though it already hosts a federal university.