Alhaji Sulaiman Atolagbe Alege is a blue blood from Ilorin royal family and he is also a politician. Years back, he took a daring step and ventured into a difficult situation when he dropped a letter of resignation at the Federal Ministry of Health and consequently dipped his hands into the murky water of politics. Political luck has, however, continued to smile on him, he has been quite fortunate and he has had a good political career. The easy-going and soft-spoken man, who is the Kwara State Commissioner for Health, in this interview with AKINLOLU ABAYOMI, assesses health services in the country, the state government’s plans for the health sector, among other issues. Read on:
Honourable Commissioner, as a stakeholder in the health sector, how would you assess healthcare system in Nigeria vis a vis what is obtainable in developed countries?
Assessing health services in Nigeria could be done through two points of views, the first is the area of personnel, I mean the professionals on the field; the medical doctors, the pharmacists, the physiotherapists, the medical laboratory scientists, the nurses, the medical record officers, the community health workers, the environmental health officers and others.
If you are talking in terms of areas of specializations and personnel, we have it in abundance in Nigeria and this set of people are working assiduously to see that the delivery of good healthcare in Nigeria is attained and we have these professionals handling the primary healthcare centers, the secondary health care centers, the tertiary healthcare centers, the ministry involved in the discharge of health duties and all other allied ministries and research centers. All these personnel are there and they are doing so good even in the aspect of treatment of patients in the hospital. We have professionals in Nigeria that even other countries have had cause to extend invitation to them with the aim of sustaining their health services and health systems. We have so many of our doctors, pharmacists, radiologists, physiotherapists outside Nigeria and they are managing health systems and services in the countries that sought for them.
The other area is what is called health financing. Health financing in Nigeria is still at a fair level because there are so many things that needed to be done. There is need for the government at all tiers to improve on health financing. We need to improve on it with the aim of having our budget for health improved and targeted at providing good health services.
What really is the problem in the health sector, considering the explanation and the analysis you made, where are we getting it wrong?
I think the area we are getting it wrong is the area of policy, most of our administrative policy systems on health are not encouraging, but I think President Muhammadu Buhari is working towards that because there are so many administrative panel of enquiries that have been set up to look into issues of health services administration in Nigeria and I believe when those reports are submitted, the government will look into it and hopefully, we will have a very good health policy in Nigeria.
You staged a return into the cabinet and people talk about putting ‘a round peg in a round hole’, what do we expect from you, considering your status as a stakeholder in the health sector?
People should expect good and positive things, I believe His Excellency, the Executive Governor of Kwara State, Alhaji Abdul Fatah Ahmed has the confidence in me to drive the health policy of the state and drive the Shared Prosperity Agenda of his administration, so he wants us to continue to have it good in Kwara State; that is why he put me here as a stakeholder in health sector, as somebody who retired from the department of health planning and research, federal ministry of health. He believes that I can continue and sustain the pace as regards the mission of having a good health system in Kwara State and we have hit the ground running and we are moving. You can see that recently, two private hospitals were closed down because they didn’t meet the criteria of operating a private hospital, we have a very good health plans for primary, secondary and tertiary health centers in the state, so if the government is performing and up and doing in the area of rehabilitation and improvement on equipment and staffing of the hospitals that are government owned, our people that are accessing health needs in the private hospitals should also enjoy a good health system because the ministry of health is here to do proper monitoring and evaluation of all these places. So, definitely we want to continue to have it good in Kwara State. I am here to drive the policies of His Excellency and we make sure we drive them and ensure that health system will continue to be in proper shape in Kwara State.
In specific terms, can you let us into the government plans for the health sector?
The government has many plans to improve on health system in Kwara State. First of all, we have selected some general hospitals for rehabilitation apart from the five that were rehabilitated during Oga’s first term, we have selected close to seven hospitals and health facilities for rehabilitation.
It will be rehabilitated and equipped and it would meet the required standards. We have improved on our essential drug system in which all our health facilities will have all the necessary drugs required to be on shelves. As we speak, His Excellency has approved the employment of some health personnel, like medical doctors, medical technicians, pharmacists, medical laboratory scientists and even to the level of health attendants in government hospitals. So many other things are in the pipeline in form of programmes like child and maternal care in the state. There are other ones like distribution of vitamin A drugs to our mothers, children and almost everybody in the state, distribution of treated mosquito nets, reproductive and trauma cares and others. Most of these are areas of importance and we will continue the proper monitoring of our health facilities and private health facilities in the state. We would also ensure all stakeholders are carried along in our decisions, plans and programmes. We would be having regular stakeholders meeting with the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA), Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria, Nigeria Nurses, Medical and Health Workers Union and other relevant associations. Although, we are at lowest indices in Kwara State in term of disease classification in the state but still we want to reduce it to the lowest minimum and we want to go for preventive this time around and not curative. As far as we are concerned, we are moving and active and His Excellency, Alhaji Abdulfatah Ahmed is giving us the needed total support.
You are a civil servant turned politician, how did you venture into politics?
I belong to Saraki’s school of thought and for somebody who has a father like mine, that was very close to the Saraki dynasty, I will say I was born into politics, so I am a grassroots man that is well known in my ward, local government and Kwara State and to God be the glory, we have a leader in the state, Dr Abubakar Bukola Saraki, the President of the Senate who from his thought and his feelings wants the youth in Kwara State who are politicians to play roles in moving the state forward and create a system in Nigeria where we can have a perfect political system, so I belong to the dynasty.
What has been your experience in politics and what are the things that are being done that you believe should have been done in different ways in terms of the way we play politics in the country?
Let me say this, it is good that the APC slogan of change is what everybody in Nigeria has embraced, men and women, the youth and the elderly ones. Everybody embraced the change slogan and in enjoying the ‘change’ system, I believe all of us have joined a good team to move the country forward. Presently, the federal government is doing its best to move the country forward, state governors are doing their best and ditto for those at the local government level. At the federal level, we in Kwara State are happy because we have a Senate President, who is our son, who is our leader, who is for us and we believe in his confidence, we believe in his ability and we believe in his leadership. We believe he can work things out between the legislature and the executive and make the two arms of government have good plans and good programmes for the country.
Tell us about yourself, your educational background and your personal details
I was born into the family of Alhaji Salaudeen Alege some years back. I attended Oke-Aluko Primary School, Ilorin, Ajumoni Secondary School, Omole, Fufu area, Ilorin, from where I moved to the College of Health Technology to study medical record and I qualified as a medical record technician. I was later at the University College Hospital, Ibadan for my OND and HND in Health Management and Bio Statistics and I did my NYSC at Abia State Teaching Hospital, Aba, I was employed after the NYSC programme and deployed to the Federal Ministry of Health, Abuja. I was at Concept University, London and got a B.Sc. in Sociology and later at the Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma for M.Sc. degree in Strategic Study; I also returned to Concept University, London where I got M.Sc. in Public Health Management .I am a member of Nigeria Institute of Management and a member of many professional organizations. I once served as Secretary to Ilorin South local government and also served as Commissioner for Commerce and Industry during the first term of Governor Abdul Fatah Ahmed.