The jury is still out. There is still no agreement on the thorny issue of journalists honoring politicians, be they appointed or elected into office. The debate on the appropriateness of the media handing out awards to highly placed individuals came to a head, when the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), recently banned beat associations. The NUJ’s ban of beat associations, just like certain laws, which society’s nuisances make nonsense of , has been ignored by the much the more influential beat associations.
The seeming failure of the NUJ directive, hasn’t totally stamped out the disdain, some journalism purists feel over the proliferation and the wanton manner in which a number of beat associations award individuals (most especially without involving the NUJ at state and national levels). Many observers believe the different awards events staged by beat correspondents is one of the major reasons the union took a hard stance on beat associations. But how about newspapers, magazines and broadcast stations who stage some of the most colourful award ceremonies?
Let me honest by saying, I am one of the ardent admirers of the Nigerian media, who supports journalists and media houses honoring deserving individuals and organisations . Though, individuals and organisations that qualify to be called deserving is quite debatable , sometimes some public officers stand out. It therefore comes across as a moment of earned recognition when they receive awards.
With my current position on the raging debate, it didn’t take too much persuasion to get me to attend the recently held, House of Representatives Press Corps, dinner and wards night. As mentioned earlier, seeing well known members of the Green Chamber take turns to receive awards from the reporters that cover them was a welcome development. For me, the event held at the International Conference Centre, Abuja was quite an interesting experience.
Popular members of the House such as the highly eloquent, Nnenna Elendu-Ukeje, the articulate Ossai Nicholas Ossai, the hardworking Uzoma Nkem-Abonta and the smooth talking spokesman of the House, Abdulrazaq Namdas were recognised on the night.
But one award that stood out for me was that of the Most Dedicated Committee Chairman, handed Chike John Okafor. First, Okafor was one of the few first term members who received an award on the night. Seniority, ‘ranking’ in the Nigerian legislature as well as in the U.S, from which we adopted our bi-cameral legislature, makes a newbie lawmaker getting an award a significant achievement. Also important is the fact that Okafor received this award as chairman of the Health Services Committee. Not necessarily regarded as one of the lucrative committees, also by the Nigerian thinking the health committees aren’t worth competing for in the legislature. At best, they are left to doctors or other healthcare professionals.
States and the Federal Government haven’t met the U.N suggested ten percent budgetary allocation to Health. In Nigeria, we pay lip-service to healthcare. We hardly place importance on this integral sector unlike developed countries do. The media is not completely free of the indifference shown the health sector and this explains why it is worthy of commendation that a first term lawmaker, who chairs a health committee, was picked by the critical members of the House Press Corps as the most dedicated chairman of the 97 heads of committees in the lower house.
Okafor going home with one of the awards on the night, made me curious, leading to a little research to check if he is deserving of such recognition. Yes, the lawmaker led the House Health Services Committee in insisting on the reinstatement of the controversial Executive-Secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), Prof. Usman Yusuf and there a number of publications with Okafor commending President Muhammadu Buhari for returning Yusuf to the NHIS. The lawmaker, described the controversial reinstatement of the professor as good for Legislature-Executive relationship. The Health Services Committee should take credit for the headline making investigation on the shabby treatment of Nigerians enrolled under the NHIS, despite the N351 billion paid Health Maintenance Organisation (HMOs) for ten years.
The National Assembly is empowered by Sections 88 and 89 of the 1999 Constitution (As amended) to expose corruption, inefficiency and waste in government and a committee investigating allegations of fraud and standing by a key witness, Yusuf, in this case, is enough to earn the leader of the team high recognition. But for me, the clincher is the work that led to the much needed increase in allocation to healthcare for capital expenditure. In an interview, the member representing Ehime Mbano/Ihitie -Uboma/ Obowo Federal Constituency of Imo State, disclosed that there was a N56 billion increase in the capital component of the health budget in 2017. “What we have is a difference in the area of over N56 billion. Yes, we are not where we need to be but we have made progress and I believe we are going to begin to see the impact of the improvement in the vote for healthcare. We hope to sustain the momentum for the 2018 budget”, Okafor told Daily Sun.
Equally pointing to a considerable level of dedication to duty is the discovery that the House Committee on Healthcare Services has an active sub-committee on the revitalisation of primary healthcare in tandem with the Buhari administration’s health reform agenda of dealing with the problem from the bottom to the top.
With Nigeria having the unenviable reputation as one of the countries with the poorest health outcomes and dilapidated infrastructure, the recognition from the House Press Corps, is a call for Okafor and his Senate counterparts to show even more dedication to serving the Nigerian people. I end this piece by reminding the Imo lawmaker and other members of the National Assembly of a quote from U.S senator and the first woman to serve in both Houses of the United States Congress, Margaret Chase Smith, that, “Public service must be more than doing a job efficiently and honestly. It must be a complete dedication to the people and to the nation”.