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TNG Interview: Federal health institutions in deplorable state nationwide – Hon Paschal Obi

…says out of the 89 institutions none is completely okay

…I curbed insecurity in my constituency by teaching the youth how to fish

Hon Paschal Obi, Phd holder represents Ideato North/South Federal Constituency  in the House of Representatives, of Imo State, Chairman Reps Committee on Health, a former Principal Staff Officer, PSO to former Governor Rochas Okorocha in this interview with, (TNG) Regional Editor, Emman Ovuakporie , he spoke extensively on the state of health institutions across Nigeria, insecurity in Imo State and his Constituency. Excerpts:

Q: So far in all these your oversight visits to health institutions, what are the challenges you encountered when you go on such visits?

A: At the closing remark at the end of this public hearing. I told them the promise I made to Nigerians when I took over as the chairman of this very important committee on health institutions.

I promised Nigerians that I am going to leave these health institutions better than I met in 2019 and that was what made me  to embark on that tour of the health institutions where I visited all of them, interface with the operators of the institutions one after the other.

I was able to ascertain their peculiarities because the challenges facing Ahmadu Bello Teaching Hospitals might be different from the one facing Nnamdi Azikiwe Teaching Hospital and things like that and so I know what the challenges are.

And when I came back I made a recommendation to the Federal government. One of the greatest challenges that health institutions in Nigeria have is inadequate funding. Our institutions are underfunded, that is the truth of the matter.

We have the manpower, very qualified manpower but we don’t have the facilities, the equipments to take care of the health needs of our people, that is the truth.

Like when we visited University College Hospital, Ibadan, that is an institution that is as old as 60 – 70years, so the facilities there are worn out, so dilapidated and you know the Nigerian factor, we don’t have good maintenance culture. So even the pipes are broken, the sewages are broken, everything, so how do you address such situations.

And the federal government continues to do what we call envelope budgeting. We sit down at Abuja here and we say all the federal teaching hospitals will give them capital vote of N500million without going to know whether that N500million will be able to address one need and without taking into cognizance the peculiarities of these institutions, they are not established them same time.

So when you say you are giving federal teaching hospitals N500million or N1billion, without going to ascertain their peculiarities, what are they going to use it for.

So I am saying that there is the need for us to visit these places, know what their challenges are and then help them to even prioritize. Even if you are giving them the same amount of money, you have a ceiling of what you are giving to them, you can also assist them to prioritize.

If it is to use it and maintain the existing structures that are dead or dilapidated or they are using it to build new ones and you find out that most of the operators of these institutions are more interested in new projects that will spring up where they have interest which at the end of the day they will say it was built

Q: Can you tell us a thing or two about yourself? 

A: Before I became a member of the House of Representative in 2019, I was a civil servant and I started my civil service career in 1998 from the General Hospital Owerri and from there I moved to the Imo state ministry of health where I became state coordinator national programme for prevention of blindness, from there I became the director of public and primary health care and from there I was appointed a permanent secretary and posted to the government house by the Owelle Rochas Okorocha’s administration where I now served as the principal secretary to the governor for almost 8years.

So as a technocrat, of course I supposed to have still been in service now because if I had remained in the service of Imo state government I would be retiring in the year 2030 July.

But having served the state up to the capacity of principal secretary to the governor, permanent secretary government house, I felt there was no need for me to continue that it would be better for me to exit the service and then join politics so that I would be able to give representation to my people.

Of course my people called on me severally, I refused their delegation a number of times urging me to come and run for federal house and when I gave them my consent, I ran the election, I lost my ticket in APC where I won the primary election but the APC decided to give automatic ticket to seating members of the House.

I was forced to move into one obscure party called Action Alliance from where I won the election very overwhelmingly because all my people wanted to hear was Dr Pascal Obi and not the party I was contesting from.

So I promised them that as soon as I was elected into the office that I was going to change the narrative; that as a technocrat I know the necessary buttons to press at every particular point in time to get results and that is what I have been doing.

I do not restrict my presentation of my constituency at the chambers. Most times I am in town, going to ministries, departments and agencies, speaking the language my colleagues permanent secretaries will understand better and that is how the magic, all those magic you are seeing, that is how it is happening.

I go out and I embark on diplomatic shuttle most times, I meet the authorities, I prefer giving jobs to unemployed youths of IIdeato South and Ideato North to giving them money to share because it is better to teach people how to fish than giving them fish since you will not be there at all times to give them fish when they need to eat fish, so it is better you teach them how to fish and that is what I am doing.

And I have given employment to so many of them, a lot of them. I don’t think there is ward, you have 27 wards in Ideato federal constituency, I don’t think there is any ward I have not given appointment up to three or four. So I have really touched the lives of my people and that I must continue to do because it is a promise I made and it is a promise I am bound to fulfill.

Q: In recent times there has been the issue of insecurity and all in Imo state; what have you been doing to educate your constituents on how to stay indoors or to work without being a hoodlum, that is one. Then two, what is the special message that you have for your constituents now that you have done all these things?

A: Insecurity was at its highest level in Imo state for the first time since I was born in that state. What we experienced in Imo state between the months of April to June, honestly it was quite unprecedented and it is something…

Q: What does this committee entails and what you have achieved so far?

A:  I said it is house committee on health institutions, by health institutions we mean all the federal government owned health institutions, that are funded by the Federal Government of Nigeria like all the teaching hospitals we have in Nigeria, all the federal university teaching hospitals, all the federal medical centres, all the neuro-psychiatric hospitals owned by the Federal Government, like we have national hospital in Abuja here, it is under the committee, all the national orthopedic hospitals, we call them specialist hospitals, national eye centre, national ear centre, those are the specialists hospitals we are talking about. We have about 89 of them in total in the country, they are all under this committee on health institutions for oversight activities.

As a legislator we have three cardinal responsibilities. The first one is law making, the second one is representation and the third one is oversight activities.

So by oversight activities we visit these institutions to ascertain firsthand what their challenges are because most of them are too far from the federal ministry of health or the federal government.

It is only when we pay such occasional visits that we interface with the operators of those institutions and examine their activities, interrogate them and then know what their challenges are.

In that same manner we also help to find out how they utilize the little resources allocated to them by the federal government of Nigeria because the federal ministry of health cannot sit down there to know what is happening at Nnamdi Azikiwe University Teaching Hospital in far away Nnewi or University Teaching Hospital in Calabar.

When we visit those places, we look at their budgetary provisions, both the capital, the overhead, the recurrent and then know how those budgetary provisions are utilized whether there is due process in the utilization of those funds or whether those funds after allocation to them they go down the drains and end up in private pockets and things like that.

We also look at their manpower and know whether they have adequate manpower to cater for the health needs of the citizenry; so those are the things we do.

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