Minister of Health, Professor Isaac Adewole says but for President Muhammadu Buhari taking over the reins of administration in the country, Nigeria would have landed into the cliff. In an interview with Forefront magazine, he says he was surprised at his appointment since he was not a card carrying member of any political party just as he stressed that he did not pay anyone a kobo to get nominated or screened, saying; “My appointment was divine.” The interview with the former Vice Chancellor of the University of Ibadan, which took more than two months to be granted paid off, as he answered questions posed to him with clarity. Excerpts:
How has it been so far?
Interesting, but challenging. Interesting because we have an opportunity, because one has worked for many years in the hospital, in the field but now we have the opportunity to influence policy, and make some of those things you could not do, happen. Challenging because we are dealing with a bigger field, the whole country is now my constituency. We are also dealing with an era where there are lots of challenges probably due to global warming things are changing. Some outbreaks we never thought of in the past are now occurring. So, that makes it challenging. We are also working within a constrained fiscal space. The amount of resources available is also reducing. As a minister I must be conscious of that. Government cannot give me all the resources, because if health takes all the money, what do you give to other sectors? So, that’s the challenging aspect.
Before your appointment, what was your vision for the office and what do you want to achieve before you leave?
What I planned to do was to go and write my memo as a Vice chancellor. That was my plan. I was entitled to one year sabbatical, and I planned to write my memos during that time, so I could guide other vice chancellors. I was on page 184 of my memo before I was appointed, so I stopped.
So, how did you receive the news of your appointment then?
Well, initially it was disbelief, and I asked my wife to check properly, and eventually it became a reality, and I said I am going back home. Getting home I wasn’t too sure of the portfolio, and the chairman of APC said I could even be made minister of Women Affairs. The truth is that Mr. President can put you in any portfolio.
Were you a party man?
No. I got the party card after being appointed as a minister. I never had a political card. I was never a member of any political party, until I became a minister.
So will I be right to call you a politician now?
Now, yes. I am a technocrat cum politician now.
So how is politics in office?
I am still learning the ropes. I have masters and superiors I am learning from.
There has been so much talk about two years in office of this administration. As an insider, how would you assess it?
To me, this administration has done extremely well, trying to bring back Nigeria from the edge of the precipice. This country was almost gone, truthfully. Mr President brought back Nigeria from the edge of collapse, and it seems we have forgotten that easily. The government inherited an economy that was prostrate, a country that was near collapse, threatened by a group of rag-tag insurgents, soldiers were running away, deserting their camps. Part of the challenge is that human beings have short memories. I am sure Abuja would have been overtaken if Mr President did not come on board. He came on board with an agenda to restructure the economy, promote socio-economic improvement, and eliminate corruption and ensure security. He has done well with security, he has restored confidence with the military, because you can’t be proud as a Nigerian if your soldiers are deserting, but that to me is now history. We now have soldiers we are proud of. The terrorists are on the run now, we are advancing. We have degraded them to a level they cannot wield a conventional weapon any more. I used to cry when I see video clips of insurgents driving about in SUVs and it is hardly believable. But we thank President Buhari for restoring confidence. He is fighting corruption like no man’s business.
I got in as a minister without paying a kobo to the security service, I was screened and cleared by the national assembly, I did not pay a kobo. I am aware of the stories in the past where ministerial candidates would be asked to pay money for clearance and screening. We paid nothing. So, we must commend the leadership, from the presidential, to National Assembly. It is a success story. I am not saying things are perfect, but we must also count our blessings. When we look at the economy, when we came on board, the reserve was down, the peak was when former President Obasanjo handed over-close to about 64 billion dollars or so. It dropped to twenty-something. At a point it became so bad that we were doing about 600,000 barrels per day, as against our capacity of over 2 million barrels per day. The price dropped to about $28 per barrel. The economy was almost grounded. We have been able to restore some confidence, Niger Delta militancy is under check, oil is up once again, I think we are on the path of recovery. Now we are talking about diversification. We must understand the amount of devastation in the country. Any one will appreciate that it takes time to restore sanity. What we are currently doing is to award contracts for abandoned projects. Many of the contracts we are awarding are old contracts, some ten to fifteen years ago. So, things are happening.
There are two issues that Nigerians are worried about. One, that there is hardship in the land, and that the anti-corruption war is selective. How would you react to that?
I do not believe it is selective. Anyone who is involved, I am sure Mr. President would not hesitate to say, grab him or her. Accusations were laid against the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), against the Director General of the NIA, are they not part of this administration? So, how can anyone say it is selective? It is certainly not. PDP has been in office for 16 years, so there will be many more culprits in PDP than in the APC. To me that is the simple logic. If APC will be in power for the next 15 years too, there will be more offenders. Then when you look at it, the military, is it selective? I think that over time, discoveries would be made, whistles will be blown and people will be caught and tried. Concerning the hardship, what we are seeing is some restoration. There cannot be gains without pains. If PDP were to be in office the pain will be more.
The economy would have collapsed totally.
What makes you think so?
The corruption would have continued, the Boko Haram people will be closer, the Niger Delta militants will still be up in arms and no one will buy our oil. Many of us knew we will have problem with our oil, with the discovery of Sahel oil. There was a documentary on CNN titled; “The Day There Was No Oil.” The day I watched that, I told myself we must be careful. Somebody is sending a message to us. When you have oil and nobody buys it, its like you don’t have it. We should be able to ask ourselves what will happen when we can either not produce or sell the oil, because we run a monolithic economy, and our taste for foreign goods is so much that we do not like made in Nigeria things. That’s why as a ministry, we are promoting locally manufactured drugs. If Nigerians can set up industries, I will patronize them. I said I will write to NAFDAC, BPP, that drugs we will use will be manufactured locally. There is nothing Nigerians cannot do if they are committed.
What will you say is the achievement of the health sector in the past two years?
One, we put in place a policy on health. Nigeria has had three since independence, in 1988 and in 2004, we just approved the new one. It speaks about the vision for the health sector. There is a component of compassionate health care for poor people, free surgery, free screening, which has never happened at the federal level. We said we will do 10,000 free surgeries for poor people, and we will roll it on and continue. We initiated a programme of saving the lives of our mothers and children; quite unique. At FEC, we ratified a policy of going into local vaccine production. Nigerians started producing vaccines in 1940, we stopped in 1991. We used to export smallpox, yellow fever and anti-rabies vaccines. Then we stopped because everyone started importing. Then we said no, we will go into joint venture agreement with May and Baker. In two years we will be producing vaccines we need locally. That plan has been there since 2004, and we said we can’t be incubating a plan for 15 years. We gave life to it. It is a major credit to this administration. We decided to revitalize the primary health care we started. We are starting with tertiary health care centres, one from each geo-political zone, so that many people who travel out can access health care here.
What will you want to be remembered for when you leave office?
Well, my vision is to leave behind a patient, caring and responsive healthcare system. If I can achieve that, and you as a Nigerian can be confident to go to a public health centre I am okay. If I can achieve that, then I am okay. My job is to build trust and restore confidence in the Nigerian health care system.