A government without reliable data cannot sufficiently plan for its people; distributing resources may become unwieldy. Even if the government is ignorant; what about the many universities and research institutions in the country? With more than 30 universities, yet, one can hardly find reliable data on most matters.
Two social phenomenons ought to have caught the attention of social scientists, or pricked the interest of statisticians in Nigeria. But alas, that’s not the case. As a result, there are no known studies or data set to enable one make a definite pronouncement on the issue of Nigerians who go abroad to give birth or those who go overseas to seek medical care -- only to die in transit or die in foreign hospitals.
Because of this limitation, one has to rely on the oral account of a dozen immigration officials at two main airports in Nigeria, and on first-hand account of female friends and acquaintances that are familiar with these observable facts -- facts that are at times subjects of discussion in some of the Nigerian social events.
In addition to not knowing the official number of women who go abroad to deliver babies, or of those who go in search of treatment and die, no one can tell, with any degree of certainty, the amount of money that is transferred abroad (for payment of services). Still, it is estimated that Nigerians transfer about $2.5 billion every year to clinics and hospitals in the US and six other western nations.
In recent years, more and more of such money is ending up in South Africa and Ghana. It is reasonably estimated that in another decade or so, the money spent on giving birth and dying abroad will surpass the amount spent on foreign education.
Several decades ago, I spent a few years at both Ilu Drive and Queens Drive. To my knowledge, pre-1990 Ikoyi was home to some of the owners, rulers, and shakers of Nigeria. It was an oasis. Within that setting, it was not uncommon to hear of people going to and or returning from trips abroad. This was also the case with those I knew in other wealthy enclaves around the country. The UK, especially, seem like an adjourning state.
Outside of those communes however, going abroad on vacation or just for the fun of it, was a dream. At best, a rarity. Outside of the wealthy enclaves, most of those who hopped on the plane had specific reasons for doing so: to study, going on short courses sponsored by their employers, or going to join loved-ones. Most didn’t go abroad just because “abroad was there.”
On my street and on the many streets I was familiar with, some kids claimed to have been born in Germany, the UK, France, or the US. But mostly the UK. In my early years, it was rare to hear of people who died in transit or who died abroad in search of medical care. This rarity may have been due to the fact that the Lagos had quality clinics and hospitals like Saint Nicolas, IGBOBI, LUTH and many others. Neighboring Ibadan has the University of Ibadan Teaching Hospital.
True, some people may have gone abroad for medical care, but it was not the obsession it has become. Some kids may have been born abroad, especially the UK, but it was not the fixation it has become. Today, going abroad to have babies has become a national pastime; going abroad for medical treatment has become a status symbol. Sadly, some die in transit or die on hospital beds because of delayed or poor medical care at home.
For some, going overseas to have babies is an objective that must be met at all cost. It doesn’t matter what country. Overseas is overseas so long as it is not Nigeria. Pregnant wives and pregnant mistresses who can’t secure visa to their preferred destinations settle for third rate countries. South Africa is fast becoming a destination of choice for everything and anything.
The pull and push factors behind these trends are a telling evidence that Nigeria is sick. The pull and push factors behind these craze are a telling evidence that most Nigerian leaders (and leadership) since 1979 has been a collection of deranged knots. The mad dash abroad to have babies, and going abroad for medical treatment, is a symptom of what Nigeria has become: a failed, crumbling and disappointing entity.
It is a sad commentary on the leadership of a country -- of any country -- when the most basic of all fundamentals can not be provided to the overwhelming number of the masses. It is an irony of fate that some of the leaders from yester-years, along with their kids and immediate family members are also now suffering as a result of the inadequacies of the Nigerian State they presided over. Some now swim in the cesspool they created.
Not minding the absence of the fundamentals of development, the Cross River State Government has, since 2005, spent more than $700 million constructing the Tinapa Business Resort. Not minding the futility of white elephant projects, the Lagos State Government is scheming to build the Lagos Mega City Project; Imo State is bent on the Wonderland Lake Resort and Conference Centre at Oguta, with a price tag of $100 million. This is senselessness beyond comprehension.
In Bayelsa State, the move is on to build an airport (not an airstrip) even though the state has no sewage system, no portable water, no science laboratories, and no access to quality education and healthcare. Somehow, Governor Timipre Sylva has decided that an airport is more important in an atmosphere of abject poverty and seamless hopelessness.
Even after N550 billion in oil money allocations, much of the state is stuck in the 18th century. The Governor is illogically in search of illogicality. It is this kind of thinking, this kind of awful and lawless governance that has contributed to the failing and crumbling state that is Nigeria.
By Sabella Abidde
Sabella, a PhD Candidate & SYLFF Fellow, is with Howard University, Washington DC. Sabidde@yahoo.com