By: Avwerosuoghene Onobrakpeya for Swedish Organization for Global Health (SOGH)
A multi-diverse country, made up of over 200 million citizens, and about 250 ethnic groups, where more than 500 languages are spoken. This is Nigeria.
And so, we have coined many ways of describing ‘wellbeing’. To mention just a few:
The Yorubas call it Alafia, Omakpupo is what the Urhobos say, Tivs say Mlu u dedoo, it is Odimma in Igbo, and Lafiya describes wellbeing in Hausa.
Still, even with the differing beautiful translations of wellbeing, the message remains the same and we all want the same thing – a Wellbeing Economy. An economy where the health and Alafia of people and the planet come first. So, what will a Wellbeing Economy look like in Nigeria?
A Wellbeing Economy can be described as ‘yôu-yôu u uma’ in Tiv
My vision of a Wellbeing Economy in Nigeria cannot be attained while Nigeria’s two main problems of health and insecurity exist.
“The groundwork for all happiness is good health”Leigh Hunt
Good health is paramount to accomplish the wellness of people. When good health institutions are not put in place, healthcare is going to suffer greatly. This is the situation in Nigeria today. The two foremost health problems are inadequate health institutions and hospital negligence. In recent years, there have been thousands of deaths in Nigerian hospitals, for reasons such as a nonexistent healthcare database to verify health insurance, which leads to treatment refusal; no wrenches to turn on oxygen cylinders; and unqualified personnel who are handling care. All being forms of negligence.
Thousands of health institutions litter Nigeria, but they are mostly unequipped, either in manpower or equipment. Industrial strike actions by medical personnel are a norm. These healthcare practitioners constantly demand better working conditions and better pay. How can the people be cared for, when the healthcare professionals lack the facilities to handle care? How can the health of the people be achieved when healthcare workers themselves are not well cared for?
Rather than invest in Nigeria’s health sector, most government officers are ‘medical tourists’, globetrotting in search of good healthcare for themselves, which the people back in Nigeria are deprived of. It is sad that government officials have experienced the true definition of working health systems, yet refuse to work towards it in Nigeria.
Thankfully, progress has been made in recent years.
Firstly, in some states like, Delta state, free medical care for pregnant women and children aged 0 to 5 has been introduced. Additionally, healthcare used to be very difficult to access, because it was unaffordable. In recent times, the government, as well as private firms, have implemented insurance schemes, making healthcare more accessible. The current health insurance scheme implemented by the Nigerian government covers employees at government parastatals, their spouses, and their dependents between the ages of 0 to 18 years. Today, most private employers give their employees comprehensive health insurance. Most private educational institutions also provide insurance for students. During my secondary school education, I was actually a recipient of the Salus Trust health insurance scheme, paid for alongside my school fees.
Though many in Nigeria own health insurance today, there are more without this privilege.
Those in the rural areas, the average Nigerian working at a small establishment, the jobless, the students. Health insurance remains a luxury. It is no wonder that pharmacies, rather than hospitals, are the first stop whenever most Nigerians are sick.
Still, more has to be done. A yôu-yôu u uma cannot be achieved if the people are unhealthy. I envision a Nigeria where access to good healthcare will not be a luxury, a Nigeria where people are not reluctant to get care for their health, because it would rip a hole in their pockets. I dream of a Nigeria where hospitals will not be considered death traps. To achieve this, there has to be:
- Greater investment in health.
- Employment of more healthcare professionals.
- Higher pay and benefits for healthcare workers.
- A facelift of existing healthcare infrastructure, with facilities made suitable for patients, and medical technologies provided.
- Health campaigns, to educate the public on health issues and subsequently, aid prevention.
“The safety and security of the citizens of a country is so important. If the citizens are unsafe, the nation cannot move forward”Tonye Cole
A yôu-yôu u uma in Nigeria is kept at bay by the insecurity that persists. Insurgency, banditry, terrorism, cattle rustling, police brutality, these are the insecurity issues that plague our everyday lives in Nigeria. In October 2020, police brutality by a particular unit of the Nigerian Police Force, Special Anti-robbery Response Squad (SARS) birthed the End SARS movement. Nigerian youths were exhausted by the wanton killings by SARS and with one voice, rose to say, “Enough is Enough!” Peaceful protests took place in states across Nigeria, as we called for not just the removal of SARS, but also the overhaul of the Nigerian Police system and justice for the lives lost. Unfortunately, even during these peaceful protests, the protesters were still victims of police brutality. Our security, our safety, our peace of mind, this is part of our alafia, our wellbeing, and when they are lacking, we are miles away from being a yôu-yôu u uma.
Some efforts are being made by state governments to curb insecurity. Currently, there exists local policing in states across Nigeria, such as Amotekun in western Nigeria. Local vigilante groups also work in conjunction with police. This has helped beef up security a bit, although we are still lacking in many areas.
My vision is that Nigerian youths will be able to walk the streets without being profiled as criminals, just because of their appearance or their gadgets. I hope we can walk the streets without fear of a stray bullet. I hope to not be greeted with images of deaths and attacks whenever I watch the local news. This can be accomplished by:
- A total overhaul of the police system.
- Routine mental health assessments of cadets and those in the police force.
- Investigation of police brutality cases and punishment of the guilty.
- Development of a criminal database, to make policing easier.
- Increased pay and provision of benefits for security officers.
The image of a Wellbeing Economy that I have every morning when I wake, is of a Nigeria with healthy and safe people. We need to improve our health systems and uproot insecurity. Healthy people equate to happy people and this is the only way we can achieve a yôu-yôu u uma.
Avwerosuo is a blogger at Swedish Organization for Global Health (SOGH). She is currently using her voice to speak against, discuss and enlighten about gender-based violence, health inequalities, women’s health and planetary health. She hopes to contribute to creating a safer and better Nigeria for youths like her.