Restructuring’ll strengthen nation’s unity –Kalu Ulu, US based medical doctor and activist

By Sunday Ani

Dr. Anuma Kalu Ulu, Founder, Kalu Ulu Memorial Foundation, activist, public commentator and US based Nigerian medical doctor, and geriatrician was in Nigeria on a medical mission. He took time out to talk to a select group of journalists on the Nigerian condition, and what needs to be done to salvage the country.

He also spoke on other national issues including the health sector, restructuring and more.

You have always been on a medical mission in Nigeria, almost on a yearly basis offering free medical services with your team. Speak on the nation’s health sector, giving your candid observation?

Just like any other sector in the nation, the health sector is evolving when you compare it to what happens in other climes; like in the Western world, you will want to dismiss it because there are stark differences but some giant strides are being made. In fact, in the past 10 years, probably, there have been a lot of people who came back with expertise from abroad to establish here to make some changes. It is not yet wholistic, there are still some areas that are lagging and compared to what obtains in the Western world, we are still elementary but we are making progress.

What do you think that the government should really be doing at this point in time? Do you think the government is committed enough in the health projects?

I will not go as far as saying that they have committed enough, it is just that in the other sectors, there are glaring deficits, so the health sector cannot work in isolation. All the other parts also make up the whole system like: the health system will depend on good road network for ambulances to bring sick people in time. They will depend on power to run the machines that are used to check people; so all these things are militating against the progress of the health sector and the government has been found wanting to a great extent, just like in the other sectors.

What exactly has been the impression of Nigerians in the US, when they talk about our country in the areas of elections, or governance generally?

We know that elections have not been free and fair to a reasonable extent. It is still part of the malady that has befallen the entire nation that nothing really works the way it should. It is not as if it is a perfect system anywhere but when the negatives are in the minority, then the positives will overshadow but in our own system, it seems that the negatives overshadow the positives, making a mockery of the entire exercise. It is sad and I think it is the challenge of leadership.

You are widely travelled to almost all the continents. When you look at your country Nigeria, do you have fears?

Could you be more specific?

I mean fears in terms of things that you dread concerning the way the country is being run or fear of certain things that make you panic about your country?

There are indeed, certain things that can make one feel sad and to have fears. It is depressing when you travel far and wide and come back to see how things are meted out to the people here. It is sadening, I mean the insecurity is sky-high, lack of medical care, the kind of injustice projected in the political system. Look, one of my greatest fears when I come back to the country is falling sick or getting into an accident and I will be taken to a hospital where my medical care will be bastardised and balkanized. Of course the insecurity, issues of kidnappings, armed robbery, banditry, lack of power, bad roads that are death traps, I mean the whole system is depressing and we need to rise to these challenges. Yes, I have fears for all these inadequacies, the way life is wasted and all that. The absence of justice and fairness in the conduct of governance makes me fear.

Where do you situate the problem with Nigeria?

Just as the legendary late Prof, Chinua Achebe said yester-years, the problem of Nigeria rests squarely on leadership. The Nigerian populace will adjust and they are resourceful enough to adapt to injunctions and edicts and good leadership and rules and decorum if they see transparency at the top. You see, if there is no transparency, people won’t be committed enough because they will say, at the end of the day, everything will be wishy washy, so nobody will bring out his or her mind to participate in things that will bring a paradigm shift. The change in status quo, they have to see commitment at the top and the rest will follow. Remember, there is this saying that when an illness captures the head, it conquers the body. Leadership must be exemplary because the people are looking at your sincerity, your transparency, your selfless commitment as a leader and once they found out that you are not committed as a leader, they will no longer trust you, and will no longer believe your promises. So as I said, the problem of Nigeria rests squarely on leadership.

Some critics are saying or suggesting that there is the need to restructure the country for better governance result. Do you share in such option?

I believe that restructuring is good and restructuring with specific ideas and ideals. It is not just uncontrolled restructuring but, no matter how you look at it, the system as it is now is not working and if it continues in that way, it’s not going to work. There is so much of denial of peoples rights based on where they come from, how they look and their affiliations and cronyism. These things have to be eschewed, they have to be annihilated, there has to be restructuring. Restructuring of the mind, restructuring of physical structures and space, fiscal restructuring, governance. In fact, the entire system needs restructuring. When you restructure Nigeria, you get the best from the country. There will be positive competition for genuine development. The entire system needs to be restructured for it to move forward. Some people are afraid that it will lead to the balkanization of the country, no, it will actually strengthen it because each region or zone will strive to develop at its own pace.

Let’s zero down to your state, Abia with a new Labour Party, LP, government in place led by Dr Alex Otti. So far, what is your assessment?

There is a popular saying in America that the jury is still out on a particular case because the legal system over there is adjudicated by jurors who are just regular people, from the streets and other professions and then they can either convict you or discharge you. And in the discharge, they just impose punishment commensurate. So, if the jury is out, it means that they are still deliberating, there has not been any verdict. But so far, what we are seeing looks good or positive. Although it’s still early days but there seems to be a compass, there seems to be a direction, that is what the people want to see and there seems to be transparency going on. There have been some strides that the government has made that are fulfilling. So in the next few months to years, I believe, Abia State will be raised on a pedestal that people will be envious of. For now, I say, the Abia leadership is on right track.

If you meet with President Bola Tinubu now, what will you advise him?

To lead, rather than to rule. The president must at all times have it at the back of his mind that he is the president to all Nigerians, not perhaps to a section of the country or his religion. To provide visionary leadership, effective leadership which is all about fairness, equity, vision, progress, and egalitarianism. So, if you are leading, you are not going to be selfish, you are not going to steal, you are not going to be corrupt, you are not going to favour some people, do cronyism and all that. You just have to be fair, equitable and treat all with same measure. When you project injustice into a system, there will always be protest, and clamour to revolt, clamour for agitations.  We have all that it will take to build a great country, both human, natural and material resources. It is left for leadership to harness it adequately. Engage the right people with the right knowledge to do the job, and avoid tribal, ethnic and religious sentiments, biases. Leadership must focus on things that unite the people rather than on things that divide us. When we get the leadership right, all this Japa syndrome of Nigerian youths trying to escape by any means will naturally stop and die down on its own. Opportunities for the youth needs to be created, educational sector needs to be properly addressed, just like every other sectors. It is not good for Nigeria to be continually addressed as a sleeping giant. It’s time to wake up and take our place as the largest black race. We can achieve it with sincerity of leadership.  There is the need to give priority attention to critical sectors that will make the economy grow. No nation of our standard can afford to build a strong economy with insecurity of this magnitude ravaging every part of the country. The government must rise to the challenge of insecurity, because you cannot make any good progress with such on the ground. The lives of Nigerians must be safeguarded.

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