As ventilators go into popular demand around the world due to increasing cases of coronavirus, governments are looking for help from manufacturers to fill the demand from hospitals. Each country affected by COVID-19 pandemic has a need for more ventilators now than it previously had, but the need appears higher in Europe and the United States.
On Friday, President Trump said he was invoking the Defense production Act to make General Motors (GM) accept federal contracts to produce ventilators and make it a priority. A couple of automakers in the U.S. including Ford, Tesla and Toyota had agreed to venture into production of ventilators just to make enough for hospitals struggling with overwhelming cases of coronavirus patients.
On Wednesday, Elon Musk tweeted that Tesla has enough vent machines to distribute as it hopes the gesture would help in cutting down the number of deaths resulting from the pandemic.
“We have extra FDA-approved ventilators. Will ship to hospitals worldwide within Tesla delivery regions. Device and shipping cost are free. Only requirement is that the vents are needed immediately for patients, not stored in a warehouse.”
Upon this tweet, the Federal Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning responded:
“Dear Elon Musk and Tesla, Federal Government of Nigeria needs support with 100-500 ventilators to assist with COVID-19 cases arising every day in Nigeria.”
In a matter of minutes, this conversation generated a heavy backlash that forced the Finance Ministry to take down its tweet. Nigeria has only one coronavirus patient on a ventilator, according to Nigeria’s Ministry of Health, and would likely keep the ventilators in store waiting for the need to arise if they are shipped.
But that’s not why the Federal Ministry of Finance is receiving backlash; Nigeria evidently needs more ventilators than it has. It has more to do with what happened in the past, leadership and management of public funds. After all, Ukraine, Argentina and Spain begged Musk for ventilators too.
“I’m ashamed that the Nigeria Ministry of Finance is begging for ventilators on Twitter. This is the same ministry that released $15.3 million to buy cars for 469 lawmakers but can’t release just $2.7 million to renovate hospitals for over 200 million people,” an angry Nigerian tweeted.
That appears to be the major reason why many Nigerians are livid with anger over the solicitation made by the Finance Ministry. It is believed that the plea has resulted from misplaced priorities that have plunged the Nigerian health sector, among others, into rot.
“Not much here, just Nigeria’s Ministry of Finance begging Elon Musk to assist Nigeria with 100-500 ventilators,” tweeted Jack Robinson, another concerned Nigerian. “We budgeted N37 billion to renovate National Assembly this year; this could have gotten us 3,807 units of ventilators.”
The Ministry of Finance has since issued a statement of regret over the tweet: “An unauthorized post was made on the verified Twitter handle of the Federal Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning. The fact of the post is regrettable because of which it is brought down. We have made sure our internal processes are strengthened that such doesn’t happen again. The error is highly regrettable,” the Special Adviser, Media and Communications to the Minister of Finance, Yunusa Abdullahi said in the statement.
However, the damage control statement failed to settle the dust that the original statement had erupted. The whole controversy appears to be part of the wounds that Nigerians have been nurturing in painful silence before now, which has been brought to bear before the entire world.
Nigerian elites have always found their way out of the dilapidated health system through medical tourism until the whole world got caught in a health crisis that is forcing everyone to stay in his country and make use of what he has.
While some believe there is nothing wrong in appealing to developed countries for medical help, as desperate times call for desperate measures, others believe these events are presenting opportunities for Nigerians to put their leaders to shame.
“If Elon Musk has ventilators to give to Nigeria, for the sake of the common people, I hope they give us. However, you have to understand the criticism. A country that can afford to pay its senators $450,000 per year in allowances should not be begging for ventilators on Twitter,” a Twitter user said.
In December 2019, President Buhari approved N37 billion for the renovation of the national assembly complex, a development that like many others, drew outrage and condemnation. The dissenting voices had been voluminous based on the fact that there are so many more important things to do with such a huge amount of money, and the healthcare system was an example of such.