How lack of political will stalled Edo hospital project for 40 years (Part 1)

Despair is the word as Otuo residents in Edo state await endlessly the commissioning of women/children hospital 40 years after the foundation was laid. AIDELOJE OJO takes a look at the political intrigues associated with the project.

It was 40 years ago and the occasion was the foundation laying ceremony of the General Hospital in Otuo town located in Owan Division of then Bendel state now in Edo.

The former governor of the state, Professor Ambrose Ali (of blessed memories) stood amidst a jubilant crowd of Otuo kingdom and laid the foundation stone of the general hospital.

For Otuo communities and its environs, it was a dream fulfilled towards getting access to medical facility of such magnitude. Blueprint however, learnt that to the utmost disappointment of the people, the dream of having the hospital died just as the project was abandoned as soon as it took off. Sadly, most of the people that witnessed the foundation laying ceremony have also died with their dreams within this period of waiting in vain for the hospital to come to fruition.

Why the project suffered first abandonment

 Available records show that the construction of the general hospital had attained reasonable percentage of completion before the civilian administration of Ali was toppled by the military regime of General Muhammadu Buhari in 1984.

 It was learnt that although skeletal services had commenced at the hospital by this period, successive administrations paid no deserving attention to the completion of the project until it was totally abandoned. Blueprint gathered that political game play soon crept into the execution of the project with politicians using it as gimmick to gather votes during election from the concerned communities while failing on promises to complete and commission the hospital.

However, it was learnt that not a few of the sons and daughters of the kingdom including elders who had witnessed the foundation- laying ceremony several years ago still kept the hope burning for the hospital despite the setback.

According to some residents of Otuo town who spoke with Blueprint during a visit, their hope refused to die even when a former governor, Chief John Odigie Oyegun, under the military president of General Ibrahim Babangida in 1992 pronounced the hospital dead while on tour of the state. Oyegun’s pronouncement, according to the residents, was not based on the slow pace of development of the hospital but greatly influenced by political vendetta.

Oyegun was said to have claimed that the people of Otuo did not vote for him in the governorship election but instead voted for the son of the soil, Ambrose Ikpefua, who contested for the governorship under another party but lost to him in that election.

 If the people took the vituperation of the then governor for a joke, then it was a costly mistake as government turned its back on the hospital for decades.

Reports also indicated that soon after Oyegun’s visit to the town, the evacuation of the few staff that was hitherto providing skeletal services commenced and within few days, the hospital was a shadow of itself. It was learnt that this had devastating effect on communities which depended on the services of the fledging hospital for medical needs, especially pregnant women who were having ante natal appointments with doctors at the hospital. Many of such women were said to have returned home to traditional child birth attendants for delivery of babies with inherent consequences.

 In addition, for lack of medical facility in the entire Otuo kingdom and other surrounding towns of Ikhin, Ikao, Ake, Arokho, Igue and so on with the population of over one million, people began to suffer untimely death from treatable diseases.

It was learnt that only few who were able to trek long distances in their illnesses to Auchi and Afuze hospitals survived. Speaking with our correspondent, a 57 years old farmer, Ohimai Otuogbai said, “My wife gave birth to our first child in that Otuo General Hospital in the 80s and we were happy about it. But when my wife was in labour for our second child, we rushed there from the farm only to discover that the place has been locked up and abandoned. I was told to go to Auchi or Afuze towns for medical attention. However, I thanked God that my wife delivered safely as soon as we came back home to get ready for the long journey. In fact, we hired a traditional birth attendant.”

 It was a mixed feeling as former governor, Comrade Adams Oshiomole upgraded and reconstructed the hospital to Women and Children Hospital only to suffer second abandonment.

Investigations revealed that the hospital remained locked up for almost two decades as successive administrations turned blind eyes to the project. At the inception of democratic government in 1999, the communities hoped for dividends of democracy in the completion of the hospital but again it turned into wishful thinking as the administrations of Lucky Igbinedion of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) from 1999 to 2007 and the brief stay of his successor, Oserheimen Osunbor (May 2007 to November 2008) did not give listening ears to the plight of the people. However, the jinx on the hospital appeared to have been broken when Comrade Oshiomohole assumed office in 2008 and was said to have listened to the plight of the people. It was learnt that this was made possible because a son of the kingdom, Parry Iriase, became the pioneer secretary to the state government (SSG) under the comrade and probably exerted some influence to get the ears of the governor. The administration reportedly commenced massive reconstruction works with the status of the hospital elevated from general to Women and Children Specialist Hospital.

Again, the hope for the take-off of the hospital and the joy of the people were shattered when Comrade Oshiomhole could not fulfil the promises of equipping and commissioning the facility before the end of his second tenure in 2016. Blueprint gathered that at the time the comrade governor was leaving office, infrastructural development of the hospital had attained over 90 percent while some vital equipment and facilities were also on ground reading for installation.

Health analysts, who closely monitored the development of the hospital, claimed that the process of deploying some medical workers and other auxiliary health workers to the hospital had commenced before Oshiomhole handed over in 20016; however, no government official could till this moment explained what happened to the deployed staff as they failed to report for duty at the hospital. It became obvious that the hospital had suffered second abandonment in its chequered history as it was a bitter pill for Otuo people to swallow.

 Visible efforts by former deputy chief whip in the House of Representatives, Parry Iriase, towards resuscitation got stuck in acrimonious political web

Analysts believe that as a son of Otuo with impressive political profile, Hon Iriase has no other option than to see to the fruition of the hospital which has eluded his people for decades. They are of the view that having served as member of the state House of Assembly, Chairman Owan East local government, secretary to the state government and a high-ranking member of the National Assembly, Iriase was already conversant with the health needs of his people. Therefore, expectation was high on him to do something about the problem.

Blueprint investigation reveals that Iriase responded to the yearnings of the people and ensured that the project was captured under his constituency projects funded by the federal government. Checks revealed that under this arrangement, world standard health facilities worth several millions of naira were procured and imported from Germany and delivered to the hospital premises in Otuo town. Medical experts confirmed that with the facilities of international standard on ground and ready for installation, the hospital would be one of the best in Nigeria and the continent if commissioned.