Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Another false start...a chronology of reports

by chikwe ihekweazu

After days of rumours and anxiety, the Minister of Health, Prof. Adenike Grange resigned her office with this statement:


“I am leaving this cabinet because I consider my dignity, reputation and legacy -values that I have worked hard for and hold dearly. I am returning to my unblemished career which I have assiduously laboured for over the years with resounding success nationally and internationally and to the business of which I am familiar with – saving the lives of mothers and children across Nigeria and the world in general ~ Adenike Grange ."










It all started on Sunday the 2nd of March when Martins Oloja of The Guardian published a story that a female minister...in a ministry with an architect as Minister of State had been arrested....put 2 and 2 together

On the 3rd of March, THISDAY reported that it was confirmed that The Health Minister, Prof. Adenike Grange, who was arrested last Thursday on the orders of President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua over the handling of unspent funds in the 2007 budget.

On the 14th of March it was picked up by the Scientific press, when SciDev one of the most respected scientific journals when they reported that Nigerian health ministry was dogged by fund misuse claims — as a 'Christmas bonus'.

On the 15th of March The Independent reported on the details of how officials at the Federal Ministry of Health in Abuja intended sharing the unspent funds, totaling N300million in its possession prior to passage of the current budget has been revealed.

On the 18th of March, The Punch reported that Dr Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello, Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Health was named as one of the beneficiaries of the unspent budget of the health ministry, allegedly shared by ministry officials and senators.

Finally, on the 26th of March it is announced by the Special Adviser on Communication to the President that the Ministers have resigned. A detailed account by The Guardian can be found here.

Thisday reports that Professor Grange has insisted that while she has accepted responsibility for what happened during her brief tenure, she was not accepting guilt ...

It is no secret that we were excited about Prof Adenike Grange on this blog...obvious from this post, this one and especially this one...at the Lancet Lecture.

There is obviously deep seated corruption in the health ministry. It is especially sad that public servants and Senators from the supervisory Committee on Health could be sharing money when millions are dying from lack of access to life saving drugs, lack of necessary equipment at public hospitals and incessant strikes by under-paid health professionals.

It is indeed sad that Prof. Grange has paid the price, BUT THE BUCK ENDS ON HER TABLE.

Prof. Grange now faces the challenge of clearing her name... when she does...we hope she shares her experience of being introduced to the turbulent corrupt world of the Ministry of Health from the quietude of a teaching hospital.

...and Nigeria faces a BIGGER challenge of looking for a credible, honest, capable, forthright individual to give health of Nigerians the attention it deserves.

...therein lies the challenge!

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

RESIGNATION OF NIGERIA'S HEALTH MINISTER
Which Way Nigeria?


I read the initial news of the resignation of the Health Minister, Dr. Adenike Grange, and her Minister of State with frank disbilief. Since then I have been even more distraught to find that this was purportedly because of an accusation of corruption - the age old hydra that has refused to be laid to rest in today's Nigeria.

I had brief contact with Dr. Grange as the HOD Pediatrics while a medical student at the College of Medicine in Lagos. While I cannot pretend to know her personally she struck me as a cultured and obviously well-educated lady. While this may not rule out any underhand dealings on her part, I must admit that I'd be very disappointed to say the least if indeed she was involved.

I remain without a clue as to our nation's direction. Everytime I am optimistic about Her future I get a rude awakening - and then this! Even if the ministers end up being exonerated, I am not sure anything will remove the stain this will leave on their persons and careers. In a time when we should aspire to provision of basic and advanced health care facilities to our people, we are again sidetracked into a discussion of the probable rot within our government - this time in the Health Ministry.

Nigeria remains bountifully blessed with natural and human resources. Since independence we have failed multiple times over to channel these resources towards the greater good of the entire population. In a world today with record oil prices, and hence Nigerian revenue, I cannot say that we have seen the translation of ths into better delivery of ammenities to the Nigerian population. Or are the problems with electricity, potable water, and even food and genuine medications are now a thing of the past? I remain ashamed that as a physician and surgeon myself, I am in fear of returning to Nigeria because I do not see how I could avoid the frustration of the system, especially with the 'Business as usual' mentality that seem prevalent.

This last straw only goes to reinforce that corruption remains a virus deeply embedded in the blood and tissue of the Nigerian government and, if truth be told, of Nigerians as a whole. We are our government, and indeed our government represents us as a people.

If Nigerians do not realize that life can actually be better, then it is unlikely they will ever agitate for a greater future. Therefore the tired rhetorics from people in government, that change and improvement take years and years, will remain in our collective heads. But these are the same government officials that, at government expense, buy property overseas, train their children in foreign schools, live lavishly, and have huge foreign bank accounts. So if our collective progress requires time, why do they take a personal short cut?

For as long as we cannot look beyond our own personal gains Nigeria will continue to flounder in mediocrity, with national progress - as evidenced by better living conditions for the common Nigerian - being a goal that the majority of our government and people do NOT know enough to aspire to.

GOD BLESS NIGERIA.

Uzoma Ben Gbulie, MD FACS
Washington DC.

mcneri said...

When we say the buck ends with the ex-Minister, I wonder whether Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello is above the law. Personally, I am eagerly awaiting Dr Grange's vindication, if a proper investigation will ever be held. Every twenty-something years or so, we have an opportunity to revamp our health ministry. This one has been blown. The last one before this was Olikoye Ransome-Kuti. Let us hope the cycle will be shorter than 20 years this time. Nigeria we hail thee.

mystoriesmytestimonies said...

this is sad news...
u wrote alot about her and i had hope for naija health...

who is the new minister?
deka

Anonymous said...

It's indeed sad that the temptation of Eve in the garden of Eden is still irresitibly strong and potently alive in our lives and conduct as citizens of Nigeria, the minister has seen herself naked and was ashamed, just like Eve, others out there thinking they are immunned to be corrupt or feeling they have perfected the 'acts' should take care,
Nigerians are more alert, sick of oppression caused by selfishness and corruption inflicted wounds on innocent citizens. Others should learn from her downfall now, or the same shame awaits them too, soon and not later anymore.

bukola Azeez,
Institute of tropical medicine , dept of public health,
antwerp

chikwe ihekweazu said...

There have been lots of interesting commentaries to this story in the Nigerian papers. I found this from the Punch most poignant

Thursday, March 27, 2008 Printer Friendly Version

Not a clean bill of health

By Steve Ayorinde


There can be no exaggerating the fact that the sword of Damocles over the unspent budgetary allocations for 2007 was going to fall on the Ministry of Health. It was not a question of why and how; but when. And when the bubble did burst on Tuesday, claiming the jobs of the Minister of Health, Prof. Adenike Grange and that of her deputy, Mr. Gabriel Aduku, two issues expectedly have arisen, which are bound to generate further reactions: First, President Umaru Yar’Adua now appears serious about his wish to clean the rot in public spending, by making sure that all unspent funds in the 2007 budget are returned to the treasury; if, indeed, Tuesday’s double resignations were more about his capacity to mete out sanctions than providing the media with the week’s scandal ration.



File
Not a clean bill of health


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The second consideration, bordering on the human element and the ‘Nigerian factor,’ concerns Prof. Grange’s acceptance of responsibility but not the admission of blame. Ostensibly, under her watch, N300m of her ministry’s 2007 allocation had been hurriedly and spuriously utilised, in contravention of the President’s order that it would not be business as usual in the thorny issue that civil servants have termed ‘Christmas Bonus.’

No one needs a tutorial in public accountability to know that the thefts at most federal ministries have been perpetrated over the years through the Christmas Bonus syndrome. Budgetary allocations are deliberately inflated so that ministries get more than they normally require, and a good chunk of it is delayed and treated as left-over, so as to make it easier to either siphon through spurious, 11th hour contracts or simply shared among staff. The amounts involved are sometimes sufficient enough to go round as bonuses to even messengers and gatemen, who may take home as their ‘13th month’ a sum often fatter than their total basic salary for the year.

So legendary is the reputation of a certain minister, a rolling stone across at least three ministries, who is considered so generous with government largesse that his subordinates would go praying for his retention. It is an open secret that has endured, and has served as a reminder of our fascination with the seemingly incorrigible nature of the civil service, until Yar’Adua came with a plausible new tune to the anti-corruption mantra.

Those who know the Abuja offices well would swear by the Due Process Act that virtually all ministries are involved in the lucre, and it had gone on since those years of surplus when plunderous leaders had declared that our problem was not about money, but how to spend it. Not until in recent years when bribe-for-budget scandals began to consume top government officials such as ministers and permanent secretaries, and even a former President of the Senate that it dawned on us that Nigeria had been losing several billions of naira to a few individuals in government through the unspent budgetary allocations.

And so when it first filtered into the media in February that a certain document being circulated in Abuja had the details of who got how much within the health ministry’s unwholesome conduct, it was only a matter of time before heads would begin to roll.

Given the current ambivalence in how Grange and Aduku resigned, only a few things seem certain. But it is indeed a healthy thing to throw in the towel when, to paraphrase Michael Dukakis during the American Presidential election in 1988, the heat in the kitchen becomes too hot to handle.

As persons whose careers depend upon the support of the public, public officials, especially women, by definition are required to be concerned with the management of their public impressions. I imagine that this was the basis of Prof. Grange’s terse statement yesterday, in which she made an emotional confession of being overwhelmed by the rot in her ministry. She said her resignation became necessary in order to keep her honour and reputation for lapses and intrigues that took place under her watch, for which she was not ‘well versed in.’

Only those who have been at the centre of the vortex of a breaking scandal can appreciate the import of what this 67-year-old professor of paediatrics was saying. Her competence could not have been in doubt; nor could her integrity as a professional of more than 45 years. But in an environment where graft has become customary in government, an accomplished outsider may require more than expertise in technocracy to succeed in administering a ministry in a country such as our. So I imagine Grange’s decision to quit to be just slightly less than onerous than the overwhelming ordeal she must have faced working in company with the monstrous corruption in a ministry that ought to be primarily concerned with the wellbeing of the populace.

But this is less of sympathy for a victim in government as it is about empathy for a nation in distress, held by the jugular by those being paid from the public purse. Sympathy, as Mrs. Grange must have learnt, is a cold flame: the further off you stand from the event, the less you engage with those involved.

Still, I wonder just how much this whole scandal might have an effect on women representation in government appointments, given the fact that women tend not to be judged as harshly as men when involved in a transgression. I do not foresee the kind of savage media scrutiny and public humiliation that trailed the scandal involving the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mrs. Olubunmi Etteh, over the residence renovation saga. On the contrary, Prof. Grange may have made the right decision to save her name and protect her integrity in nearly the same way that the former Finance Minister and later Foreign Affairs Minister, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, did when it became apparent that the Obasanjo administration was through with her expertise.

In getting to the bottom of the current scam, therefore, the anti-graft agencies need not be reminded to be thorough and unsparing in recovering the loot and bringing culprits to book. However, what the government of the day should not neglect to address is the bastardised public service work environment where the nation’s treasury is treated as the proverbial buffalo that everyone is helping himself to a share.

I may be eager to join those who would long for Prof. Grange’s memoirs, say, at 70, in a couple of years. But to be hopeful for the full account of what actually transpired under her watch, I am afraid, is to be expectant of reading the complete account of the Ikoyi houses scandal of 2005 from the former Minister of Housing, Mrs. Mobolaji Osomo.

It just may never happen, sadly.

chikwe ihekweazu said...

Another insightful article by Reuben Abati



Friday, March 28, 2008

Grange's Unhealthy Ministry and Pastor Living Water
By Reuben Abati

"WHAT is Professor Adenike Grange saying, the woman formerly known as Minister of Health, and now a guest of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC)?"

"She resigned. Or rather, she and her Minister of State, Gabriel Aduku were directed by the President to resign, or be dismissed, for disobeying the President, and secondly, for supervising the misapplication of N300 million of unspent public funds in the Ministry of Health in December 2007".

"I know, I know those details. What I am interested in is what she is now saying. I read her statement, and I thought rather than show contrition, she was somewhat cheeky".

"Be careful. That Madam is 68 years old. A distinguished Professor of Paediatrics and certainly, one person who had a real chance of standing out in the Yar'Adua Government".

"Which, in fact, makes her case, a Greek tragedy. And it is a pity that she does not seem to understand what has happened to her?"

"How?"

"You take a look at her resignation statement which the papers have published. She says she accepts responsibility, but not the blame. Meaning what? She says her resignation is not an admission of guilt but rather a path of honour; Empty play on words if you ask me. What is clear is that a priona focie case of corruption has been established against her. For someone of her status, this is a tragedy already. She is leaving office in disgrace."

"But let's get something straight. She insists that she did not collect the N7 or N10 million she was offered as her share of the loot".

"So, she was aware that money was she being shared?"

"The point is that she did not share out of the loot. And I believe in her statement, she complained about the level of decay and corruption within the Ministry and the whole Nigerian system".

"I see. I didn't know she is also a Pastor. I don't like public officials grunbling and passing the buck. She was made Minister of Health so she could help set standards in the ministry and deliver service. If she went in there, and blew her chance, the only thing she should offer, first and foremost, is an apology. I'm sorry. I failed. I disappointed you all. Simple."

"The woman is a professional, she says she is not into the culture of politics and intrigues."

"Let her say that to the EFCC or to the courts."

"I think you are a bit harsh. This is a woman who has distinguished herself as a paediatrician saving the lives of women and children and who has made notable contributions in the field of maternal and child health. President of the International Paediatric Association, and an active member of The Partnership for maternal, newborn and child health.

"Is that what the EFCC is investigating? Who is doubting her credentials as a professional? What is being questioned is her leadership ability and her integrity?"

"I think she is just unfortunate. The truth is that public service is a rather slippery terrain for professionals. This is not so much about Professor Nike Grange but about the Nigerian system. The matter really goes beyond her. You'd recall that she had also made the point that she was misled by the civil servants."

"Every political appointee who makes a mistake is forever quick to blame the civil servants. This is Patricia Etteh all over again. Mrs. Etteh also blamed the civil servants around her. And only recently, Dr. Olusegun Agagu, Governor of Ondo State, while giving account of his stewardship as Minister of Power and Steel before the House Committee on Power which is probing the $16 billion scam in the power sector said it was not his duty to check if contracts were being awarded to ghost companies or not. He too blamed the civil servants."

"But you know the Nigerian civil service is rotten."

"I agree. And I think it is a good thing that all the Directors, the Chief Accountant and the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health under Adenike Grange are all being questioned."

"It is really a comment on the Nigerian system. There is an established culture of money sharing at all levels of government. And what perfect time to share money than December, the end of the year, under the cover of Christmas bonus".

"Civil servants are not entitled to Christmas bonus. There is no such thing. In this particular case, what we are dealing with is the abuse of privilege, and subversion of due process. Every December 15, Ministries are required to stop all further expenditures. By December 30, they are required, according to existing rules to make returns to the Presidency, to give an outline of budget performance for the year ending. Whatever monies remain unspent are to be returned."

"Yes. In December 2007, President Yar'Adua gave such a directive."

"That rule has always been there. Yar'Adua didn't invent it".

"But it was not observed in the past. Ministers and their civil servants simply found ways of sharing whatever was left."

"In the case of this unhealthy development in the Ministry of Health, the Minister and her people disobeyed the President and flouted the regulations. Two, no Minister can approve money above the limit of N50 million, but Grange and Co. found a way of spreading N300 million on phoney contracts and gifts to themselves and others. Tell me, what has that got to do with being a professional?"

"The Senate Committee on Health, chaired by Senator Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello, the former First Daughter, also received a gift of N10 million from the Ministry of Health. The House of Reps Committee on Health also got a gift of N10 million."

"Some Senators are saying this is in order."

"Well, I don't think so. How can the legislature perform its oversight functions if it is always collecting gifts or receiving sponsorships for seminars etc from the same government departments it is expected to monitor? Something is not quite right there."

"Baba's daughter keeps showing up in the news for all the wrong reasons. First, the Schneider controversy. Then, VAMED. And now, this unhealthy thing from the Ministry of Health."

"What is really curious is that the Ministry of Health spent N300 million on frivolous things: furniture, security device, generator, smoke detectors, fire extinguisher. If the money had been used to build a hospital, to buy drugs, or to provide some useful service in pursuit of the original fucntions of government, I would be the first to defend Professor Grange. But to sign away public funds on phoney contracts and to approve the distribution of gifts and now claim that you are blameless, that's pitiable."

"One thing though. The investigation of the abuse of public funds should be system - wide."

"You are quoting the Action Congress."

"No. I am expressing my own view. Because in matters like this, it is easy to turn a few persons into scapegoats. This thing is not just about the Ministry of Health. The Ministry of Health is in the news only because some aggrieved persons blew the whistle. Are there other Ministries where money was shared? Are there other National Assembly committees whose members collected kickbacks from Federal Ministries.? There are questions to which President Yar'Adua should demand answers."

"The worst that would happen is that the whole thing would be swept under the carpet. Very soon, everyone will forget. Including the media."

"And it'd be business as usual, again."

"It is a crazy country. I know. Here, anything and everything is possible."

"Look at the comedy of errors, in the aviation sector, for example, over the disappearance of Beechcraft 1900D belonging to Wings Aviation Limited."

"Which I hear is owned by a certain former Governor."

"The way the authorities have been mealy-mouthing over the disappearance of the Aircraft mid-air, between Lagos and Obudu airstrip makes me feel like having instant hypertension."

"By all means, please do. It's good for you."

"Hypertension good for you. I be I dey craze?"

"Sorry. Try a heart attack then. That'd be better."

"Look. I am serious. First they said they had found the aircraft. Twenty-four hours later, the Ministry of Aviation and the Civil Aviation Authority then came around to say that they were misled. It is about 13 days now, and there is absolutely no trace of the aircraft."

"Some people are saying may be there is now a Bermuda Triangle around the Obudu Cattle Ranch."

"That is silly talk. The truth is that in this country we cannot manage emergencies or accidents. Our air transportation system belongs to another century in a remote period. The Obudu Cattle Ranch is a major tourist destination and yet the Obudu airstrip does not have a radar system."

"The entire country does not have an efficient radar system. Many of our airports don't even have runway lights, or well-equipped control towers. Why won't a plane vanish into thin air, mid-flight?"

"But I read a story indicating that planes also disappear in other countries.."

"Is that the irresponsible propaganda the Ministry of Aviation is peddling instead of doing something about this mysterious aircraft?"

"No. I think they are doing something to be fair to them. All the villagers around the Obudu Cattle Ranch for example, are being mobilised to scout the area for any crashed aircraft. They say it is the trekking method of search and rescue. People are being asked to trek all the way to Cameroun, if possible."

"Thirteen days after the aircraft disappeared like a needle!"

"Herdsmen have also been taken to the area. The government is counting on their skills as nonads."

"I believe they should also involve the local hunters."

"Really everybody is involved in the big search for the missing aircraft. Housewives, artisans, even old men in retirement who can still move their limbs. The Cross River State Government is offering a reward of N47 million."

"Kai. Africans!"

"But you know, it is possible no aircraft is actually missing. This may just be an insurance claim gambit. Or something worse."

"I won't put anything beyond our people. But the bigger issue is the lack of capacity. When the Bellview plane crashed in 2005, five minutes after taking off from the Murtala Muhammed Airport, you'd recall the authorities first went on a wild goose chase to Ilorin. It took ordinary villagers and an AIT television crew to locate the aircraft, not too far away from the airport."

"When I reflect on all of this, I think what we really need is a strong intelligence gathering system. Many of the problems we face can be prevented by a functional national security system like the FBI in the United States."

"But the FBI was there and there was 9/11? We have the SSS. We have the NIA."

"I beg."

"Well, if the SSS had been up and doing, perhaps they would have been able to prevent the killing and maiming of innocent children in that school in Ibadan, where a wall collapsed and a school compound made up of sheds and iron sheets fell like a pack of cards."

"Living Water Nursery and Primary School, Olomi, Ibadan, owned by Pastor Living Waters."

"Pathetic."

"That is what you get in a country where public officials are busy sharing money instead of providing service. The international price of crude oil is over $100 per barrel, and yet Nigeria has nothing to show for this."

"At Pastor Living Water's private school, the children pay N1,500 per term. I guess the parents of those children patronise the private school because the public schools are worse."

"The State Police Command first announced that 13 pupils died, then we were later told that only two children died."

"Only two?"

"Yes only two, they said."

"I give up."

martin said...

I personally feel terrible for Dr Grange.She's had an unblemished career as a pediatrician and an international health expert and she may have been the one to actually lay the framework for better health for all Nigerians ,if anything she would have revived some of the good policies initiated by another great professional,the late Olikoye ransome -Kuti.

Innocent she may be for not receiving any cash gift, but she committed a greater error;lack of judgement,for allowing such embezzlement to take place right under her nose.

It is that judgement that makes ordinary surgeons to become legend and it makes ordinary leaders to become great.DR Grange for all her professional accolades,lacked simple leadership judgement.

Nigeria may be corrupt and things may appear hopeless as suggested in some of Dr Grange's statements however remember that every great nation has had its tribulations, even the US had to weather crippling economic depressions in the 1940's ,but the recurring key to success is always strong leadership,which means putting the interest of the nation before personal gain

You cannot be an appointed Minister of the federal replubic catering to 140 million nigerians if you are more interested in the welfare of a few civil servants who are already being paid with taxpayer money.

She should be the arrow head that rids that ministry of any kind of corruption,rather she stood by and watched it happen ,if it was a felony crime ,she would be named an accessory.

My solution is simple,a generational change,our current crop of leaders and professionals have witnessed too many false hopes that they may begin to think that nothing can save our country.

I encourage Nigerians under the age of 35 to take active interest in the affairs of Nigeria because if we can not find leaders of the future in this group then we are doomed

M.Kuye

chikwe ihekweazu said...

Excellent balanced comment Martin, I have been compiling different reactions to tis event from different sectors of society and we will discuss these soon. But for now...there are lessons in this episode. As with events in the power sector and the House of Reps at present...unlike previously...we could all be held to account for our actions; both those for which we are directly responsible and those that "happen" under our watch. BUT I hope that the key actors in this epidsode tell thier side of the story at some point...
Aluta...