By Fredrick Nwabufo
On April 28, US President Donald Trump in his accustomed cadence said his administration would send 250 ventilators to Nigeria, according to him ‘’Nigeria will do anything for ventilators’’. On May 21 while touring the Ford Motor Plant in Michigan he summarily ballooned the figure of the medical equipment to 1,000. It has been three months since this pledge.
Ventilators are not apples. They are expensive – a single unit can cost as much as $5,000 or $30,000 – depending on the brand. I have always wondered – who foots the bill for the medical equipment — 1,000 of it? Is it the US or Nigeria? There is absolutely no information on the particulars of the ‘’deal’’.
I know the US itself is in dire need of ventilators. Or to toe into Trump’s snobbery –‘’the US will do anything for ventilators’’. I recall, in the heat of the COVID-19 morass, Trump had told governors of the US states to “try getting it yourselves’’ when they demanded support for COVID-19 response within their borders.
“We will be backing you, but try getting it yourselves. Point of sales, much better, much more direct if you can get it yourself,’’ Trump told the governors during a conference call, according to the New York Times.
So, I am puzzled. Will Trump who was insouciant to governors of his country in their demand for medical supplies be doting on Nigeria, a country he once labelled a ‘’shithole’’? And will the US president who is notorious for extracting a toll from any country America gets involved with dispatch the medical consignment to Nigeria at no cost? I do not think so.
On May 29, Lai Mohammed, minister of information, said no specific date was given for the materialisation of the medical items. “On when the ventilators promised by President Trump will arrive, to the best of my knowledge, they have not arrived. When they do arrive it will be made known to the public,” he said. Again, it has been three months since Trump’s promise.
But why are there no specifics regarding the medical items? There is zero detail on who is paying for the supplies and when they will reach the country. Even Mary Leonard, US ambassador to Nigeria, appears to be confounded. Speaking on the ventilators in May, she said: “I don’t have an arrival date or specifics about it.’’
So, could it be that there is unsettled business concerning who pays for the medical equipment? I do not think Trump has milk of magnanimity in him. He is an illiberal business man who understands ‘’the Art of the Deal’’. Everything must be paid for. Or could it be that Trump played a fast one for the cameras? He is capable of the unimaginable, you know.
Seeking answers, I shot an email to the US embassy. But I am yet to get a response. I also reached Nigeria’s ministry of health but without healing for my curiosity.
Here is what I think. I surmise that Trump’s promise of shipping ventilators to Nigeria could be one of his many harebrained jabbers. While Nigeria said the US president made the offer, Trump himself said the Nigerian government called to beg for the items.
The US president is notorious for making unprocessed statements and walking them back. He could have blurted out a promise he did not intend to keep while giddy on the phone with President Buhari. A fact check by the Washington Post shows ‘’Trump has broken more promises than he has kept’’ since he became president.
So, it is possible that Trump could be walking this back. But I want to be proved wrong. It is narcissist to crave the ‘’I said it’’ trophy in this case where hundreds of lives are at stake.
And with over 400 new COVID-19 infections reported on Saturday; nearly 40,000 cases recorded so far, and with fatalities inching to 1,000 – one of the highest in West Africa — Nigeria really needs the medical equipment. Time is of the essence. But we do not have to grovel to Trump.
Fredrick Nwabufo is a writer and journalist. @FredrickNwabufo.