EDO CENTRAL HOSPITAL CONTRACT: THE RAGING CONTROVERSY.
By Gabriel Enogholase
A stone throw from King’s Square, which is in the heart of Benin, is the Benin Central Hospital, a medical facility built by the colonial masters 115 years ago. The hospital, which is conspicuously located on the Sapele Road, was at inception named Benin General Hospital before it was changed to Specialists Hospital and later Central Hospital in the 1980s.
Just like its name, the ownership was transferred from British Government to the Western Governments, Midwest and Edo State government.
Though modern structures have been added to the colonial buildings left behind by the imperialists, the colonial buildings are the most noticeable in the hospital, dotting its landscape and reminiscent of the facilities at the Nigerian Railway terminal. Expectedly, many of the structures had long seen their best days and are now decrepit. The structures, a typical cone-shaped early 20th century building, till today house the major departments of the hospital such as Out-Patient Department (OPD), the wards, Maternity and Gynecology, Dentistry, Pharmacy, laboratories, Accident and Emergency among others.
Piqued by the lack of development in the hospital more than 100 years after it was established, former Edo State governor, Adams Oshiomhole, moved to give the hospital, that had become the largest medical facility owned by the state government, a facelift. Oshiomhole regretted that since the hospital was established in 1902, successive administrations had tried to change the face of the hospital unsuccessfully. He pointed out that he was embarrassed by the state of the hospital and rather than continue with the “piecemeal renovation work, we decided to demolish and rebuild the hospital.” With this, parts of the old hospital building was demolished to give way to a modern building, which commenced in 2012. However, tragedy struck in June, 2012, as the hospital collapsed leaving one person dead and many injured. It took about two years for work to be restarted at the site, culminating in the commissioning of the hospital by President Muhammadu Buhari in November 2016, just days before Governor Oshiomhole vacated office.
Speaking during an inspection of the hospital just before it was commissioned, Oshiomhole assured that the 200-bed Central Hospital which had attained 98 per cent completion as at that time would be adequately maintained to ensure its durability and effective service delivery to the Edo people. He said, “when I said at the beginning that our intention was to build what I called a five-star hospital, most people tried to imagine what that meant, but I am sure just looking at the building, I don’t know of any hotel in Nigeria, in terms of aesthetics, that has a better appeal than this. And this is the sort of thing you find in Europe, and some other advanced economies. If you are in the 21st Century, begin to think as if you are in the 22nd Century because the world has changed and it will keep changing. The pace of change will keep accelerating… I think we provide a hospital that can provide for everyone, both the rich and the poor. There won’t be a difference in treatment for the poor and the rich.
However, about nine months after the commissioning of the hospital, the place has remained under lock and key, raising questions at to the reasons why the hospital had not been put to use. The answers to the questions soon came for those seeking to know. Governor Godwin Obaseki, who took over from Oshiomhole was the one who provided them. According to Obaseki, the state government cannot afford to run the hospital due to lack of manpower and huge resources needed to equip it. At a health workshop last month, the governor said the state government would partner a private firm to equip and run the hospital. He said, “I am prepared to open up the reconstructed Central Hospital and give it to whoever will be able to manage the facility”.
This has, however, not gone down well with many in the state. In the forefront of the opposition to the planned partnership is the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). At a media briefing days after Obaseki announced the planned partnership with a private firm, state chairman of the party, Dan Orbih, said it was shocking that Obaseki was looking for private partners to equip the hospital after contract had been awarded by the Oshiomhole government to equip the hospital. He pointed out that former Governor Oshiomhole publicly admitted that he awarded contract to equip the hospital but brought President to Benin to commission an empty hall and not a hospital. He said Oshiomhole used the hospital as a drain pipe to siphon money belonging to the state and that Obaseki wanted to continue from where Oshiomhole stopped. He alleged that a total sum of N1.67 billion was appropriated for the hospital in the 2014 Edo State budget, N3.5 billion in 2015 and N5.1 billion in 2016. In all, he said a total sum of N10.27 billion was appropriated to the Accident and Emergency ward of the hospital in three years and that the Obaseki government also provided the sum of N500 million for the hospital in the 2017 Edo State budget. Orbih noted that it was inconceivable that a private firm that did not contribute fund in the construction of the hospital was being invited to manage the hospital. He said, “what is the financial equity contribution of the faceless partners in Edo State Central hospital ward? The cost for the construction of the Calabar Specialist Hospital with a comprehensive package of secondary, gynecology, obstetrics, pediatrics, internal medicine, general surgery, orthopedics laboratory services, basic neology and basic cardiology, dermatology, urology and eye surgery was N6.4 billion. The state government’s capital outlay was set at N3.2 billion while the balance of the financial requirement would be sourced by the concessionaire, UCL HealthCare Services Limited, as its equity contribution to the project in true spirit of Public Private Partnership (PPP). “The Ibom Specialist Hospital in Akwa Ibom State will cost N12.75 billion with 303 bed facilities, VIP and VVIP Ward, 1.5 Tesla MRI 640 slides CT Scan, Digital Mamography, Endoscopy Surgery, open heart and transplant surgeries, highly sophisticated intensive care unit, Paperless and Pneumatic delivery Services, Fully automated labs and dialysis units, Medical Gas Plants and Helipad for Emergency Evacuation.”
On the plan to equip the hospital, he said, “how can Governor Obaseki say that the Edo State government cannot afford to equip the hospital when former Governor Adams Oshiomhole paid 75 per cent up front for the supply of hospital equipment. Just who is fooling who? In an interview this week, Oshiomhole said forex scarcity delayed the supply of equipment. I guess the duo of Oshiomhole and Obaseki did not harmonise their thoughts before speaking to the public.” He also noted that it was scary that expert recommendations on the reason behind the collapse of the building in 2012 was never followed. Orbih said the team of expert recommended a total bringing down of the structure or massive reinforcements through the construction of expansive beams in order to avert a future collapse, but that the then state government disregarded the recommendations. He said, “After the collapse of the building, a team of experts put together recommended a total bringing down of the entire structure or reinforcements with beams that could be as expensive as reconstructing the structure. Neither of the recommendations was however followed. This is scary and I seriously pray that innocent lives will not be lost in that place due to the negligence of some people.”