Despite securing a partnership agreement with a key organ of the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, about eight years ago, and raising billions of naira in cash and materials from public and private donors, the International Cancer Centre Abuja, ICCA, a pet project of a former Nigerian First Lady, Turai Yar’Adua, is in a state of abandonment overtaken by weeds.
At the sprawling centre built on 7.3 hectares of choice land donated by the Federal Government of Nigeria, rotting equipment, including about 200 donated mini-buses, scream a sad story of unfathomable waste at passers-by.
Last December, investigation by PREMIUM TIMES revealed that burglars stormed the centre strategically located along the Abuja airport expressway and carted away power cables worth millions of naira. It is not known how many other equipment have been pilfered from the locked up buildings that gape at the public from the centre.
Mrs. Yar’Adua had in July 2009, two years after her husband, the late President Umaru Yar’Adua, took office, flagged off the project with an elaborate fundraising event to mobilise N10 billion for the construction of the centre.
The exact amount raised from donors, including public and private officials, was not disclosed.
According to the then First Lady’s speech on the occasion, the ICCA emanated from her deep concern for the vulnerable and less-privileged Nigerians suffering from the burden of cancer.
“My resolve to stand up to the menace of cancer is occasioned by the devastating effects of the disease on our population,” she had stated.
“The more enlightened and financially capable among Nigerians suffering from cancer have been able to travel out to seek professional and medical attention in the form of diagnosis and treatment,” she added to emphasise she had been motivated to embark on the project by a concern for poor Nigerians.
This concern apparently resonated across the public and private sectors, given the support Mrs. Yar’Adua instantly received for the project from the federal government and state governors who donated huge sums, as well as from other philanthropists.
More support quickly flowed in from beyond Nigerian shores as Mrs. Yar’Adua in September 2009 signed an agreement with the Division of Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy (PACT), a department of the IAEA.
According to a press release on PACT’s website, the agreement covers public awareness raising and education, assessment of the cancer incidence profile, interventions and targets to strengthen national capacity, determination of priority actions, identification of successful projects/programmes in the short-term, resource mobilisation, including the elaboration of joint grant applications as appropriate, and monitoring and evaluation practices.
The then IAEA Deputy Director, Werner Burkart, was on hand to sign the agreement, which the agency believed was a major step towards fighting the cancer scourge in Nigeria and on the African continent.
When PREMIUM TIMES contacted PACT on the current status of the 2009 agreement with the ICCA, an official said no work has been undertaken under the agreement. The agency however stated that it considers the agreement to still be in force.
GREAT AMERICAN MODEL
According to reports, Mrs. Yar’Adua conceived the idea of the ICCA after an official visit to MD Anderson Cancer Centre, Houston, Texas on March 17, 2008.
The MD Anderson Cancer Centre has an interesting historical background which could have provided the ICCA a guide to becoming a centre of excellence for cancer care and research in sub-Saharan Africa.
The MD Anderson Cancer Centre was established with equal funding from the Texas Legislature and a private organisation, MD Anderson Foundation. The only condition made by the foundation for contributing fund was for the centre to be situated in Houston and named after Anderson.
Moreover, the centre was created by an act of the state legislature as part of The University of Texas system. It is currently affiliated with two research-based medical schools, The University of Texas Health Centre and Baylor College of Medicine.
On its part, the ICCA is totally under the private control of its funder and has no affiliation with any public institution in Nigeria.
It would be recalled that Mrs. Yar’Adua ceased to be First Lady of Nigeria following the death of her husband in 2010 following a prolonged illness. Since then, she has kept out of public view and has not attracted any further public support for the ICCA.
CANCER CARE AND MEDICAL TOURISM
Speaking to PREMIUM TIMES during the World Cancer Commemoration event organised by Project Pink Blue, a participant, Mohammed Usman, suggested that the founder’s change of political fortunes could have affected the ICCA.
“It is unfortunate. For instance, part of our problem in Nigeria is lack of continuity. If that cancer centre was completed, probably the number of deaths we have had would not have happened. But it was abandoned, maybe for political reasons”, Mr. Usman, the deputy chairman of the House of Representatives committee on health services, stated.
“I read that our former president, Ibrahim Babangida, just returned from outside the country where he went to receive medical attention and today, our dear President also is outside receiving what? Medical attention! You see, it is an embarrassment to Nigeria.”
Ironically, many of the “enlightened and financially capable Nigerian cancer patients that travel abroad for medical attention” mentioned by Mrs. Yar’Adua in her 2009 fundraising speech may no longer afford to do so because of the recession in Nigeria. Still, the ICCA that could have provided them succour has not been able to take off.
Efforts by PREMIUM TIMES to speak with Mrs. Yar’Adua for this report were unsuccessful as we were told she was in London.
Security men did not allow reporters into the centre or agree to facilitate contact with any of the officials.
The Director-General of the Shehu Yar’Adua Centre in the Central Business District of Abuja, Jackie Farris, agreed to forward our inquiries to Mrs. Yar’Adua and her spokesperson.
The questions were sent and no reply gotten after several weeks.
Meanwhile, the 200 mini-buses parked in the premises of the ICCA have been caked by dust.