The Niger state government early this year issued an executive order for a “compulsory medical check-up” for the state’s public servants. It said too many people have become nonchalant about their health. “Many of us, including myself, are lousy about our health and doing exercises”, the state governor, Dr. Mu’azu Babangida Aliyu, was quoted as saying. “I know many people don’t want to go for medical check-up because they do not want to know their status.If you ask people to do HIV test, they are so afraid. They prefer not to know. So maybe we will take this year as a year of (medical) test for every civil servant, no matter how much it will take us. We must do it as a record and foundation to know who may need further medical attention and who may not.”
In our editorial comment on that decision, we noted that “A good initiative the Niger governor has taken, but he needs to know why many people “prefer not to know” their state of health. If we must tell him, it is because a good number of Nigerians, working or not, are too poor to afford a medical check-up which sometimes runs into thousands of Naira. This is not to talk of paying for treatment if a major, life threatening ailment is diagnosed. For this category of impoverished citizens, the immediate concern is putting a meal on the family dining table. This is why we often hear of a sudden death from “ordinary headache”. People collapse and die on the road or at the workplace, not because they have been hit by a sudden illness but because they have been “managing” it for years.
As for public servants, the monthly salary is not sufficient to pay children’s school fees, buy food and new clothes. Worse, the money does not come as at when due. Many state governments are in arrears with their workers’ salaries. The case of retirees is even more pathetic; many have not been paid their gratuities years after they left the service. That was the story of Hajiya Bilkisu Mahmoud, a former officer of the Niger State Emergency Management Agency, who reportedly collapsed in the waiting room of the governor’s office in Minna while waiting to see him in connection with her unpaid disengagement entitlements.
A report has it that Bilkisu was an asthma patient and had a crisis in the governor’s office. She slumped there and was rushed to Minna General Hospital but was pronounced dead on arrival. Reacting to the 46-year-old woman’s death, Gov. Aliyu implied that she was negligent about her health. “Doctors said she died of cardiac asthma, even though she had been receiving treatment for pulmonary asthma,” he said. “I am sure if she had gone to seek second opinion, another doctor would have found out that the drugs she was given were not the ones she should have been given”. If the governor must know, Bilkisu badly needed money for treatment, a fact that took her to his office in the first place.
It is lamentable that it had to take the death of that middle-aged woman for the government of Niger State to recognize its duty to its workers, including ensuring they are in the best of health. Sometimes one person’s death can make many corrections”. All the same, we hope the “year of medical tests” is not just a vote-catching slogan with elections up in a year’s time.
Almost a year on, what can we say is the health status of the state’s public servants? Are they healthier today?