‘Why science, health should be declared national emergency’
In this interview with CHUKWUMA MUANYA ahead of Democracy Day, May 29, 2017, Tomori examines the science and technology and the health sectors since 1999 till date especially under the watch of the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari. The virologist answers the question: “So far how far?” He explains the challenges and way forward. Tomori said the competing interest of corruption and blatant, barefaced looting have reduced our health to Stone Age status and our science to pre-historic era and that the current state of our science and health is a national emergency that we are yet to recognize. The virologist said our national penchant for upgrading mediocrity and accepting poor standard, have affected the way we treat our science and deliver our health care. He, however, said we could still make Nigeria a nation we can still make Nigeria a nation we can be proud of, but it takes our individual commitment to integrity, honesty and a striving for excellence. Excerpts:
Can we say we have made progress in science and health sectors after 17 years of unbroken democratic rule?
The answer is No. We have made little or more correctly, no progress in science and health sectors these past 17 years. It will be unfair, or rather too early, to expect any positive results from the efforts of the current administration. These past 17 years all we have done is to continue unashamedly, the importation and consumption of other people’s achievement and discoveries in science and health. At home we have paid scant attention to issues of science and health. Whatever funds we have allocated for science and health have covered the recurrent expenditure of salaries and emoluments, with little left for providing the most basic level of health care or building the environment for science to thrive.
The competing interest of corruption and blatant, barefaced looting has reduced our health to Stone Age status and our science to pre-historic era. Take a look at the statistics – our infant mortality rate, under five mortality rate, the number of our mothers dying from child birth, the annual festival of death from disease outbreaks of Lassa fever, cholera, meningitis, measles, lead poisoning etc.- all point to lack of progress. Compare the current state of health services and health care delivery with the pre- and immediate post-independence era, and you will need no one to tell us that we have made no progress, but rather deteriorated as far as health of our people is concerned. Let us not even talk about science. What we call science in Nigeria has been and remains a joke.
Why have we not made any progress?
Why we are so backward as far as science and health are concerned? We have never really cared about science in Nigeria, nor have health being an issue of national importance. The current state of our science and health is a national emergency we are yet to recognize. Our national penchant for upgrading mediocrity and accepting poor standard, have affected the way we treat our science and deliver our health care. We have people at every tier of governance who are ready to sacrifice the health and science of the nation for personal gains; I mean at every level – from the local dispensary across to the so called centres of excellence, and from the local up to the federal government. Do not forget the “almighty” civil service. Some consider Nigeria a conquered nation to be looted and decimated. They are “siddon looting”, while the rest of us are ‘siddon looking”.
What are the challenges?
The challenges are many and all hang on the people, First is our attitude to the “amalgam” we call Nigeria. There is no patriotic zeal in our people; there is no commitment to building a nation we can be proud of. We see Nigeria as an ATM dispensing stolen money. One day the machine will be empty. At heart, we remain committed to our sub nationalities to the detriment of the nation. When we are unable to cannibalize Nigeria, we talk of marginalization and dream of secession tour ethnic caves.
How can Nigeria advance in science and technology, research and development, and in health care delivery?
Science and technology, health and research are just components of the whole. When we take care of the whole, the other components will be taken care of. When we change our attitude to making Nigeria a nation we can be proud of, then we will do what needs to be done to make us proud of our health care delivery, we will invest in our research to make research findings advance and tailor the technology required for national development and transformation from a backward nation to a well-developed nation. Underlying all of these is the institution of baseline accountability and integrity at every level of every aspect of our nation, in both our private and public life. Nigeria has never been perfect, but it is not perfection we need, just a ‘mustard’ seed of nationalism with accountable integrity. We had such at a time, when it was possible for an individual like me, from a highly polygamous home could go to school anywhere in the country enjoying free or partially supported education. We can still make Nigeria a nation we can be proud of, but it takes our individual commitment to integrity, honesty and a striving for excellence.
Born February 3, 1946, in Ilesa, Osun State, Oyewale Tomori, received a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria as well as a Doctorate degree, Ph.D in virology from the University of Ibadan, Oyo State, where he was appointed professor of virology in 1981, the same year he received the United State of America Department of Health and Human Services Public Health Service Certificate for contributions to Lassa Fever Research. Three years (1984) after his appointment as a professor of virology, he was appointed the head of the Department of Virology. At the University of Ibadan Tomori’s research interest focuses on viral infections including Ebola haemorrhagic fever, Yellow fever, Lassa fever. He served as the Regional Virologist for the World Health Organization Africa Region (1994-2004) before he was appointed as the pioneer vice chancellor of Redeemer’s University, Ogun State, tenure that ended in 2011. Tomori is also a former President of the Nigerian Academy of Science (NAS).