By Felix Abugu
Once Channels TV’s fastidious anchorwoman , Maupe Ogun-Yusuf, her incredulous facial expressing staring into the camera, almost jeering at it, got Abia State Governor, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu to repeat, in that recent famous or infamous Channels Sunrise interview, that he actually meant N500 as ‘maternity allowance’ for rural women in his State, she intentionally or unintentionally created in the minds of viewers a very poor image of a primary (rural health) programme that may well be serving the people of Abia State exceedingly well.
In journalism as in advertising or psychology, we say that context is everything. Although the Abia Governor provided a context in which the N500 health allowance to rural Abia women was viewd as both plausible and viable, that context as a path to a better appreciation of the reasonability of that policy was rendered useless in the vortex of Maupe’s sniggering incredulity. And that is how N500 became too useless a denomination to be given to someone in contemporary Nigeria (forget the rural thing) to solve a problem!
But is it, really? Now, this is what Governor Okezie said: “Abia State has keyed into the basic health insurance for pregnant women. If you give birth in any of our centres, you get N500. Delivery is free; they give you a delivery pack and N500, which is running for the vulnerable members of the society.” Did anyone listen or cared to, what with a powerful TV anchorwoman on a powerful channel already casting doubts, in words and facial expression, on the wisdom of it all?
Ok, let’s do the math here. From Alhaji 7 & 8 Bus-stop on Airport Road, Isolo, to Obalende bus-stop on Lagos Island, a distance of about 21 kilometres, a commuter pays N500 by bus. From Canoe bus-stop by Chivita, the food drinks company in Ajao Estate, to 7/8 bus-stop on Ariport Road, about 2.4 kilometres and a commuter pays N100 by Keke Marwa (4 passengers) . When the Governor was asked what the money would do in the life of a new mother, he said…”At least it will pay their way back home.” Exactly.
The most important gift to a pregnant woman is safe and affordable delivery. If a State government runs a healthcare system where expectant mothers are delivered of their babies free of charge and are, in addition, given a pack of baby things, including towel, soaps, wipes, powder, milk and the like, could there be a better deal for pregnant women anywhere else? After paying for her delivery in its health facility and giving her baby things, what else would government be giving a new mother money for? Feeding, clothing or make-up allowance? The last time one checked, Nigeria was not yet one of the countries where women were paid to have children; if anything, Nigeria would more likely pay women not to have children or, well, not to have more than enough!
When one did the math about transport fares on certain routes in Lagos, it was just to show that if N500 could take one so far in cosmopolitan Lagos, it could even take one farther still in typical rural Nigeria. It means, in essence, that in rural Abia State, for example, N500 is more than enough to take a new mother and her child from her maternity ward to her home, even if her home from a health centre in Abia would be as far as 21 kilometers (which is very unlikely), assuming her husband is too poor to come take his wife and their new baby home. Pray, how could such a gesture of government’s be such a negative development in a State’s healthcare system as to attract such scurrilous attacks as the Abia system has done from mischievous, not to say undiscerning, social media assassins, taking a cue from Mrs. Maupe Ogun Yusuf’s negative framing of N500 as a possible maternity allowance to pregnant women in rural Nigeria?
In political Nigeria, I sometimes wonder, even as media person, if the media isn’t the problem. Do we help the reading/viewing public to understand or do we every so often confuse them the more? In an era of citizen journalism where everyone with a camera phone and enough money to buy data mounts the Facebook to spew out nonsense as a ‘journalist’, it is a matter of debate if the traditional media practitioners are still any better.
Abugu, a foremost journalist writes from Nigeria