Nigerians have reacted to Friday’s announcement by President Buhari that he had approved a foreign medical treatment for a former vice-president, Alex Ekwueme.
Mr. Ekwueme, 85, reportedly collapsed at his residence in Enugu on Sunday morning.
While some citizens praised Mr. Buhari for the move, others see it as having a political undertone and another reminder about the country’s lack of adequate medical services.
For starters, Section 5, Subsections 1 and 2, of Remuneration of Former Presidents and Heads of State Act 1999 allows for free medical treatment for former vice-presidents and their immediate family members:
(1) Free medical treatment for former Vice-Presidents and their immediate family within Nigeria.
(2) Treatment abroad for former Vice-Presidents and their immediate family and where necessary at Federal Government expense.
Ahmed Mustapha, a political analyst, said Mr. Buhari’s announcement was “only for the news value.”
“There’s nothing political about it,” Mr. Mustapha, who identifies with the ruling All Progressives Congress, told PREMIUM TIMES by telephone Saturday. “It was appropriate in the context of letting Nigerians, especially the people of the South-East, know that the former vice-president has been flown abroad.”
But a lawyer, Victoria Ibezim-Ohaeri, said the announcement was patronising and “highly unnecessary.”
“It was a very negative declaration,” Mrs. Ibezim-Ohaeri said. “I think the president needs to stop this eye service narrative to the people of South-East because it’s getting too hilarious.”
“When Mr. Buhari himself was a former head of state and he travelled for medical treatment abroad as par of his entitlements, was it ever announced by those in power then?”
The Remuneration Act gave former presidents and former vice-presidents similar entitlements.
A former head of state, Ibrahim Babangida, was flown abroad for medical treatment on at least two occasions in 2016.
Mrs. Ibezim-Ohaeri said Mr. Ekwueme, who was Nigeria’s vice-president from 1979 to 1983 when Mr. Buhari overthrew the Shagari administration in a military coup d’état, has sufficient resources to take care of his medical treatment anywhere in the world.
“Sir Ekwueme was a man of means who could afford to pay for his own care,” she said.
Mrs. Ibezim-Ohaeri said the decision to fly Mr. Ekwueme abroad should not have been announced because it marked the latest indictment on Nigeria’s worsening public health system.
“The president is basically telling Nigerians that he had lost confidence in Nigeria’s healthcare system,” she said.
Mr. Mustapha also expressed his sadness about the implications of the announcement.
“I’m really sad that our leaders over the past decades have failed to put our healthcare system in a good state,” he said.
Mr. Buhari detained Mr. Ekwueme on corruption charges after the December 1983 coup. The former vice-president has been a member of the Peoples Democratic Party since its creation in 1998.
Mixed reactions have also poured in on Twitter:
That announcement of Ekwueme's treatment (a perk to which he is entitled as a former VP) just screams of "notice me"
— Igala_Alan_Shore (@i_am_Anomeli) November 3, 2017
Ask them to contribute money to treat Dr. Alex Ekwueme now, they will crawl back into their holes
Awon alaini lakai
— Tunde Eneji (@iameneji) November 3, 2017
The sad thing is that someone actually thought it was a good idea to announce the Ekwueme thing…
— Ms Boateng (@JoyceOdukoya) November 3, 2017
Ekwueme can afford immediate treatment anywhere in the world .
A failed leader like Buhari is simply campaigning for reelection https://t.co/dtl5KUILfe
— IKECHUKWU (@iykimo) November 3, 2017
Some people are in the middle:
If the truth be told, the tweet from the Presidency was unnecessary. The reactions from certain quarters was equally overboard & ridiculous.
— Yinka Ogunnubi (@yinkanubi) November 3, 2017
Some also see it as a favour for the people of South-East:
Each time Buhari does any good for SE, it is because of 2019. Buhari won 2015 without the support of SE and can still win 2019 without SE.
— Sunday Ogo (@Sidac06) November 3, 2017
Even if PMB allocates the entire 2018 budget to the South East, he will be maligned for it with shouts of 2019.
He got 2015 without SE 🙄
— ZahrahMusa (@Zahrahmusa) November 4, 2017