Nigeria’s President Draws Criticism for Seeking Medical Care Abroad
Posted May 8, 2018 7:43 p.m. EDT
ABUJA, Nigeria — President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria, who has urged politicians not to go abroad to seek medical care, has traveled to Britain on his fifth official trip to see a doctor there.
Buhari, 75, left for London on Monday for a four-day visit, setting off renewed concerns about his health. His trip also comes after three weeks of strikes by health care professionals who are calling for better working conditions and more funding.
For nearly two years, Buhari has been receiving treatment for an unspecified illness, which he has repeatedly refused to discuss.
The president is scheduled to return to Nigeria on Saturday, at which point he will have spent more than 170 days in London on official medical leave since becoming president in 2015.
Buhari recently declared his intention to run for a second term next year, but many people in Nigeria, including some former presidents, have called on him to step down because of concerns about his health.
After Buhari visited Washington to meet with President Donald Trump late last month, he surprised reporters by not returning directly to Nigeria but instead making what his media team called a “technical stopover” in London. His aides later confirmed that he received medical treatment while in Britain.
Buhari’s aides have insisted that the president is healthy and capable of running for office again, claiming that his political enemies are exaggerating any health concerns to attack him.
In April 2016, months before his first medical trip to London, Buhari condemned the use of Nigerian resources on international medical expenses.
“While this administration will not deny anyone of his or her fundamental human rights, we will certainly not encourage expending Nigerian hard-earned resources on any government official seeking medical care abroad, when such can be handled in Nigeria,” Buhari said, according to a statement from the Health Ministry at the time.
During his campaign, the president promised to end “medical tourism,” the practice of Nigerian politicians receiving medical treatment abroad even as most citizens are forced to rely on underfunded state medical services.
After what was reported to have been a motorbike accident in January, the president’s son, Yusuf Buhari, was also treated abroad, although the president’s aides would not confirm where he was treated.
Nigerians see Buhari’s actions on health care as hypocritical, said Yemi Adamolekun, executive director of Enough Is Enough, a coalition of groups committed to building a culture of good government and public accountability in Nigeria. “As he’s getting a superior standard of health care for himself and his son, he’s done virtually nothing to invest in health care infrastructure and provision in Nigeria,” Adamolekun said.
This year, Nigeria spent 3.9 percent of its budget on health care, a fraction of the 15 percent target set by the United Nations.
“Health professionals have been on strike now for three weeks, and they aren’t even talking about it,” Adamolekun said, referring to the government. “So we have poor health infrastructure, an exodus of qualified medical staff and now a strike with no conversation on how to fix it, yet our president jumps off to the U.K. for his own health.”
A nationwide strike of 72,000 public health care workers has crippled medical services in state hospitals across Nigeria, and many more are expected to join the protest in the next few days.
Biobelemoye Josiah, president of a coalition of unions involved in the strike, said that health care in Nigeria had suffered under Buhari’s administration. “There has long been medical tourism because our hospitals are grossly underfunded, and that has continued,” Josiah said.