Nigeria’s first female Health Minister, Prof. Adenike Grange, opens up for the first time ever on the celebrated ‘N300 million unspent fund’ that led to her resignation. She spoke to TEMITOPE OGUNBANKE.
I believe there must be equity and with that in mind we went on and luckily for us an insurance scheme was already in place and many strategic plans were on ground for us to tap into and to bring all together as a comprehensive approach to reforming the health system.
You said you came in with a lot of determination to turn the health system around but you didn’t spend up to nine months in office before you quit. What do you think led to your exit from office?Several things went wrong. First, I would say that even the environment into which I was going was not conducive partly because nobody with my kind of background; a professional paediatrician had been there after Professor Olikoye Ransome-Kuti who had the full support of the Head of State. But I served in a democratic dispensation and a lot more preparation needed to be made.
A lot more preparation in the sense that we needed to decide if we really all shared the same vision or not. I knew what my vision was and I tried as much as possible to illustrate and present it. In fact I had my conceptual framework in a power point and at every opportunity I had, I presented this framework.
As a matter of fact I was so aggressive about it but the very person (my boss, the President) I should have presented to, never got to hear from me. I never had the opportunity to present it to him.
While I was trying to do what was expected of me, it seems that others had different ideas, goals and objectives. Unfortunately for me, that was the first time of working in a ministry and I did not get those signals that people had different objectives and they were not ready to move along with me. So that was the main problem. The second thing was that there were various camps and I didn’t understand the landscape at that time; people were doing different things and some had thought that I was not with them in their camp.
The way I was brought up is that if you are a leader you bring everybody together; you cannot afford to be in one camp or the other. And it was that kind of philosophy that I adopted for everybody in my relationship but obviously they were not used to that kind of approach, so they became suspicious of me.
Also, the way the job description had been divided between the Minister and Minister of State did not make me feel that I was actually in charge. There was a document which had been prepared prior to our assumption of office about who should be managing what in the ministry of health. We had no choice in this matter. Unknown to me, this led to a strained scenario.
There again nobody wanted to accept that this tension had to be resolved. Nobody wanted to resolve it because it suited them to create confusion in the ministry.
Are you saying that power tussle between you and some top officials was the genesis of your exit from office?I believe that it contributed to it. If I may speak frankly, I can now see that if we had all been able to work together closely and we had all appreciated our different strengths and had complemented one another, we would have been okay. But here you have a paper that does not even take the interest of the ministry and the people into consideration.
The paper simply divided the roles along an arbitrary line whether one was capable of playing that role or not and that divided the ministry into at least two or more. I tried as much as possible to cope under that condition but the system did not give me the opportunity to achieve my goals and vision for the ministry and the health sector as a whole.
I believe the scenario that led to my exit from office could have been mitigated internally if the ministry had not been fragmented.
I called it a scenario because till now I don’t know the details about the alleged N300million unspent fund. All they were saying was that the ministry spent the money they should not have spent or whatever. I did not know anything about such a fund. I was made to believe that whatever money was left over in the ministry had been returned and there was a certificate of clearance to prove it. So having received that information at the end of the year, three months later it came as a big surprise to me that the ministry was alleged to have continued to spend money when it was not supposed to do so.
There has been a lot of controversy surrounding the alleged N300million unspent fund that led to your exit from office?The incident was so mischievous because we did not even had N300 million in the account at that time. I had nothing to do with internally generated contracts because internal contracts are usually managed by other authorised officials of the ministry and subsequent decisions are based on their recommendations. There are also internal and external auditors who check the accounts at stipulated intervals and at the end of the year we were given clearance that the accounts were in order.
So, the issue of an alleged N300 million being spent came to me as a big shock. The reason I won my case was because all investigations did not reveal my involvement in such a thing which you will admit is a staggering figure which cannot be hidden anywhere. So the issue of alleged N300 million came to me as a big shock to me, my family and friends.
Everything I spent while I was a minister was from my salary and savings which were declared. It really hurts that nobody was interested in finding out the truth before jettisoning two ministers of high integrity.
It has never happened before. Having done that I was no longer able to even see the President, I was now tossed between the president’s aides and of course they had their own agenda. So because that case was in court, there was nothing I could say prior to the trial. The case had to be judged first of all.
The media did their job but they could not get at the truth even if they had tried because some people had already made up their mind that they would get rid of me through this obnoxious pathway.
Why do you think some people wanted to get rid of you?
I came as a stranger to the whole thing. I think they expected somebody who would play along with them. Somebody that would dance to their tunes.
Are you saying that your refusal to play along with the powers that be led to your exit from office?
As far as I am concerned, I thought that I was playing along because I thought we had the same vision but I didn’t know that in actual fact they had other reasons why they thought I wasn’t playing along. I am not blaming anybody per se but the system. It is that system that does not allow anybody who wants to change the system to function. A system that does not allow anyone who wants to change it to make it function will obviously have to get rid of that person.
Is it right then to say that Nigeria is where we are today because people are not allowed to change the system?Exactly; people are not allowed to change the system because many people want to maintain the status quo of corruption and other social vices. While coming to office I thought I could actually make changes and my reasons were that I did not ask for the job; I never lobbied for the job. I was called because they knew my profile and antecedents.
I had worked extensively both in Nigeria and abroad, and somehow they thought that I would help to change things. What I believe is that the President honestly wanted something to change positively in line with his Vision 2020 but somehow there were people around him that did not want the change and unfortunately his health failed him.
So, my own calculation was that when I was being asked to come on board, I thought they genuinely wanted me to come and do good work but along the line politics took over and I am not a politician.
While coming to office as Minister many people saw me as a round peg in a round hole and that I would do well. I did not know that they had prepared the way that whoever was coming in would not be able to change things because what was the essence of splitting my role in a way that I could no longer have full authority of the health system.
What actually led to your resignation from office considering that in Nigeria it is rare for ministers to resign from office?What led to my resignation was that it became impossible for me to lead the ministry after I had been charged to court. I could not be in court and be in the system at the same time. So I had to resign for the matter to be settled in court. Also certain things that were happening at that time were not supposed to be happening.
People were not speaking out because there was nothing like ‘Freedom of Information Bill” then, so people were not willing to speak the truth. Many people refused to speak the truth because they did not want to get into trouble with the gladiators behind the crisis.
How were you treated by the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) during the crisis?EFCC did their own investigation as expected of them. So I was treated like any other person that could have been in my position.
So I did not have anything against them except that they were an instrument to perform whatever it was expected of them.
What I have discovered is that if government made a mistake, they would not want to admit their mistake and certainly not at that point. I know that and that is why I also went to court to fight my cause. As far as I am concerned, I believe that that case was a total distraction.
You have blamed the system for some of the problems in the country, how do you think we can change the system?I have come to believe in “evolution” and that is why I went back to the grassroots and I am running an NGO – Ade Grange Child Foundation.
I believe there is a need to build critical masses who would share the vision of a better Nigeria. Another way is by “revolution” but revolutions always leave behind some level of destruction, which may take a long time and huge resources to rebuild.
We must not forget that some countries which have developed through the process of revolution are still languishing in misery today.
So a revolution to me is not an option. I still believe that there is need for the youth to see how they can influence one another to follow a path towards rebuilding this country and achieving the Nigeria of our dream