By Akorede Habeeb Lawal
His name is Francis Eluaka. Young and versatile lawyer, he is of my branch – Asaba. Francis is severely sick and to survive this illness, he needs to undergo a bone marrow transplant. This means a whole lot of money.
Nigeria has been frequently described as a failed nation and one reason this fact is indubitable is the palpable state of the nation’s healthcare system. At the moment, resident doctors have downed tools because the Government has failed to keep to its end of some particular bargains they both had. But in actual sense, Nigerian doctors and hospitals lack the necessary tools to save lives. The citizens know this, hence tourism for most Nigerians is mainly medical.
It is the Government’s failure and irresponsibility that has pushed persons to look somewhere else. For many lawyers, the first place to look at is the Nigerian Bar Association. For the patent reason that no association should and could take the place of Government, the NBA has over the years been unable to live up to the expectation of her sick members and their relatives. The consequence of this incapability is the frequent round of messages we behold on social media of lawyers needing financial help to attend to some life threatening illnesses. Francis’s message is the latest, before his, it was Adesola’s – another lawyer from Ikeja Branch – who needed 14 million Naira for kidney transplant, while some of our colleagues had passed away without a whimper of their health challenges.
The only indication of the fact that the NBA was aware of this tertiary healthcare need of some of her members and was responsive to same is the insurance policy it maintained. However, the fact that the policy was only a life assurance scheme that gave 1 million Naira in cases of death and accidental permanent total disability underscores the abysmal level of responsibility that the NBA had opted to accept in this regard. In fact, an NBA administration failed to pay requisite premium amounts in 2017 and 2018 and while the last administration paid the premiums in 2019 and 2020, it beggars reasoning that the scheme only became benefitting upon a lawyer’s death or permanent disability. We certainly needed more. And Mr. Olumide Akpata has commendably come with more.
Olumide Akpata – the NBA presidential candidate – made many popular and populist remarks as well as some personal ones. Chief of such personal remarks was that his administration would ensure affordable health insurance scheme for lawyers. Mr. Akpata hardly spared any opportunity to tell whoever was listening that he was and remains a testimony of an efficient health insurance policy. True to his words, the Akpata administration has improved on the existing insurance policy structure by negotiating a 100% increase and raising the life assurance cover to N2 million while introducing a novel N1 million cover for critical illness.
However, the most telling of the present administration’s efforts in this regard is the NBA National Health Insurance Scheme. This negotiated coverage provides NBA members and their families with the Health Insurance Scheme operated by NHIS at a subsidized rate of N15,000 per annum. The NHIS scheme which covers various primary and secondary health concerns is mainly available to civil servants and salary earners whose premiums are deducted from their salaries. Therefore, to negotiate this coverage for all NBA members, majority of whom are unsalaried private practitioners, fully earns the Akpata leadership the right to have this initiative christened ‘Akpata-care’ as aptly expressed by the Chairman of the NBA Welfare Committee – Y.C. Maikyau, SAN – at the last NEC meeting in Abuja.
‘Akpata-care’ is undoubtedly the most significant members’ welfare endeavour ever undertaken by any NBA administration. In its essence, it fully answers the recurring and popular question “what has NBA done for me?” To pay the sum of N15, 000 for a healthcare coverage that offers maternity care, out-patient care, eye examination and care, afford prostheses, dental care, 6 sessions of dialysis, 50% cost of CT Scan and MRI Scan amongst other benefits is a momentous deal under the present and foreseeable future Nigerian economic circumstances.
Olumide Akpata’s NBA Presidency would be remembered for many reasons, but seeing Mr. Akpata’s dedication to this NBA-NHIS, evidenced by sanctioning the pilot scheme to afford free health insurance scheme to 1000 members, Akpata-care would most likely be at the top of the pile. But Francis and other members hanging on the faint thread of life and in urgent need of help would hardly blink an eye at Akpata-care. They need more. And this NBA leadership has shown that they could get more.
It is high time the NBA set up a medical aid fund to provide financial help for deserving and eligible lawyers with urgent and critical medical needs. It would mean that if Mr. A needs N50 million for urgent medical attention, the NBA could dig into the purse and grant him all or part of the sum he needs. Raising this fund is a valid concern, but the NBA enjoys a whole lot of goodwill both from her privileged members and outside the Bar that could be transformed into millions of Naira. Also, the activities of the NBA like the annual conference when well managed could turn into huge commercial success. Few persons are adept at working this out than Mr. Olumide Akpata who was the co-chair at the 2019 annual general conference that saw NBA recorded almost N200 million in profit.
The medical aid fund might not answer all the questions and concerns. Truth is, it must not answer it all. The fund may not save the lives of every eligible lawyer deserving of aid. No, it may not. But if a single lawyer’s life is saved for the simple reason that the NBA avails him or her medical aid when it is needed, then, it would make it all worthwhile. It will not be a straight and smooth ride, but with a driver that has the will, we shall find the way. Mr. Olumide Akpata has definitely shown the will.
Meanwhile, young Francis Eluaka, Esq still needs our help. Please be kind to donate by sending whatever amount to his account – Francis Eluaka ; 2084263056 ; Zenith Bank .Thank you as you do.
Akorede Habeeb Lawal is the immediate past National Assistant Publicity Secretary of the Nigerian Bar Association.