Nigeria: N10 billion scandal rocks Turai Yar’Adua’s cancer centre project

TuraiWhen Hajia Turai Yar’adua organized a fundraising event for an International Cancer Centre (ICC) in July, 2009, many Nigerians saw a ray of hope, they looked at the near future when the number of Nigerians lost to cancer annually would be reduced to the barest minimum. To the average Nigerian, the then First Lady deserved all the support. Hajia Yar’Adua was lauded for conceiving the idea of the best cancer centre in the African continent. The centre is expected to provide services in the areas of cancer diagnosis, treatment and research. The projection for its initial capacity was put at 128 in patient beds and 20 terminally ill patients. At the end of the fund raising ceremony, well over N10 billion was realized. The ceremony attracted very important personalities in Nigeria as it was graced by people in the business and governmental circles. Alhaji Aminu Dantata emerged as the highest donor with a handsome donation of N 1.2 billion while his nephew, Aliko Dangote donated N 1 billion on behalf of the Dangote Foundation. Dr. Muazu Babangida Aliyu, the Governor of Niger State spoke on behalf of the Governors’ Forum and their contribution towards the project was N 720 million (an average of N 20 million from each of the 36 Governors). Fifteen members of the National Assembly also donated N 7.5 million.

Before the fund raising event, the former First Lady had warmed herself into the hearts of Nigerians as someone ready to help in fighting the cancer scourge in Nigeria. In December 2008, she inaugurated the National Cancer Walk with a two-kilometre walk. She walked from the Millennium Park to the Eagle Square along with some ministers, including the then acting minister of Health, Dr Hassan Lawal. Not a few people looked forward to the commencement of the First Lady’s dream project because people were becoming aware of the dangers associated with cancer by the day. Hajia Yar’Adua further gave cancer patients more hope with her speech at the cancer walk. She said “we have provided a waiting home for those who undergo cancer operations to enable them to receive the required chemotherapy. Some of them could not afford to wait for the very important therapy for some economic and social reasons, thereby making the surgery useless.” Not only was the proposed hospital expected to have facilities for support and treatment of cancer patients, it would also provide breast cancer screening done by clinical breast examinations and mammography, facilities for which are not evenly spread in the country Street Journal’s investigations revealed that Hadjia Turai Yar’Adua went as far as Vienna, Austria to raise funds for her project. It was also found out that she was received by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The body reportedly assured of partnership. The plans and projections of the project did a lot to raise the hope of Nigerians and expectations were high that at last, a top grade cancer centre would be available in the country. Fifteen months have gone after the fund raising, power has changed hands, Hadjia Yar’Adua is no longer in office and all there is to show for the proposed N 10 billion project is the parcel of land allotted as the site of the hospital and it is still as it was more than one year ago. Nothing has been built on it. No single block has been laid to signal the commencement of the programme. No one even knows whether the project has been abandoned or not. The only indicator that the International Cancer Centre could still see the light of the day was the project website, . Investigations conducted by Street Journal revealed that the site was last updated around June, 2009 and presently, it is no longer functional. While some of Hajia Yar’Adua’s loyalists disclosed that some donors are yet to redeem their pledges, a source told Street Journal that “even if some of the donors have not redeemed their pledges, that is not enough reason to prevent the project from kicking off”. Meanwhile, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 100,000 new cases of cancer are reported in Nigeria each year. Already it is being said in some quarters that the project might end up not seeing the light of the day. Some have even opined that the funds realized would probably serve as Hajia Turai’s “severance benefits” since she had to leave the office of the First Lady unexpectedly and unceremoniously too. Those who saw the project as a white elephant project from the outset hinged their opinion on the fact that in Nigeria, pet projects embarked on by First Ladies only thrive while their husbands are in office. As soon as the tenure of the husband of the facilitator of any pet project lapses, the project fizzles out and nothing is ever heard of it again. Vivid examples include late Mariam Babangida’s Better Life for Rural Women, Maryam Abacha’s Family Support Programme and even the late Mrs. Obasanjo’s Child Care Trust. The fact that there is nothing on ground to show for the project after fifteen months has generated a lot of questions about genuineness of the former First Lady’s intentions as regards making life better for cancer patients. Some wonder why the funds realized could not be used to upgrade facilities in existing hospitals. Teaching hospitals in Ibadan, Enugu and Kano could have been allowed to ben

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