•Rather than set up hospitals and diagnostic centres, NNPC should focus more on its essence
Although Nigeria is in dire need of world-class hospitals, we do not think it should be the duty of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to build such facilities, even if for commercial purposes. The corporation said it would, as part of its major intervention projects, build new hospitals and diagnostic centres in Nigeria. The project, which would be in three parts, includes a hospital to address the specific demands of the occupational hazards of its staff, their dependents and retirees. The second: the Abuja International Diagnostic Centre and the Benoni Hospital in Benin City, both being equipped, not only for NNPC staff but also outsiders because the two facilities have the capacity to service both.
According to the corporation, “The third leg of the medical project, which has been designated as ‘new business’, involves locations where state-of-the-art hospitals and diagnostic centres will be constructed on NNPC unutilised pieces of land in Kaduna, Mosimi and Port Harcourt, for commercial purposes.”
It is this third leg of the project that we are particularly averse to.
When the corporation was established in 1977, through merging of the then Nigerian National Oil Corporation and the Federal Ministry of Mines and Steel, it was, by law, supposed to manage joint ventures between the Federal Government and some foreign multinational corporations, including Royal Dutch Shell; Agip, ExxonMobil, Total S.A., Chevron and Texaco (now merged with Chevron), for the purpose of conducting petroleum exhibition and production.
Sad to note: even in its core sector, the corporation has not been able to exhibit a thorough grasp. More than five decades after exploration of crude oil began in the country; Nigeria still imports a substantial quantity of the petroleum products consumed locally. It is perhaps the only member of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) that depends on imports to meet local fuel demand.
We find it rather depressing that while NNPC’s counterparts in other parts of the world have since mastered their acts, ours is yet to. It may be true that NNPC’s equivalents in other places are diversifying into other businesses, thereby protecting their countries from the vagaries of the international crude market. But NNPC is still grappling with the basics, and making a bad job of it, that it cannot be said to have reached such lofty heights. Its activities are still shrouded in secrecy that many Nigerians see it as a cesspit of corruption. NNPC first has to correct some of these anomalies, so antithetical to good corporate image. It must make its books available to agencies of government with oversight functions on its activities.
The corporation certainly has a lot of money to play with. But that should not make it behave like an entity whose problem is not necessarily money, but how to spend it. If NNPC must continue to have hospitals, it should be for its members of staff only.
Rather than embarking on these hospital and diagnostic centre projects, NNPC would do well to upgrade its facilities and acquire the necessary equipment and expertise to enable it master its core responsibility, be competitive and accountable, and then become a reference point among its peers. The corporation has a long way to go in its core mandate. It has a long way to go with regard to transparency and accountability. It should master these key areas first before venturing into ancillary services, no matter how lucrative or tempting those ventures might be.
The corporation could make the money available to the Federal Ministry of Health if it finds it compelling to contribute to the health sector by building standard hospitals. If wsell equipped and well run, the effort could help in conserving scarce foreign exchange that rich Nigerians expend on medical tourism.