Sad Saga Of Enugu’s Unstable Psychiatric Hospital
Infighting Mars Operations
THE Neuropsychiatric Hospital Enugu is a battlefield. A lingering crisis between the management, under the headship of Dr Jojo Ugochukwu Onwukwe (who became Medical Director in 2011), and workers of the institution, has seriously affected operations. The result being that the premises of the hospital is home to uncompleted and abandoned projects, with inadequate wards to accommodate referred patients.
The main entrance to the hospital on New Haven Road has been under lock and key for over three years, following the inability of the management to complete the administrative block near the gate. Workers and visitors access the place using the rear gate. The dispensary lacks vital drugs, and patients have to resort to roadside pharmacies for prescriptions.
On two occasions, this year, workers shut down activities after peaceful protests over alleged anomalies perpetrated against them by management. In one of the protests in March, the workers disrupted a board meeting, alleging total breakdown in relationship between them and management.
In a statement they handed to the immediate past board chairman, Mr. Acho Nwakanma, during the March protest, they alleged grievances that included: “Non payment of 2013, 2014 promotion arrears; undue delay of 2015 promotion exercise; non payment of teaching allowance from May 2014; stepping Medical Laboratory Scientists down from CONHESS 8 2 to CONHESS 7 2; deduction of N30,000 from 2013 set of Medical Laboratory Scientists’ (This is excluding deduction of taxation and other sundries from their salaries).”
Others were: “Double taxation of staff, unpaid debt to the cooperative society to the tune of N60 million from January 2014; non availability of water and power in the hospital; inability to provide feeding for Medical Laboratory Scientists and Pharmacists on 24-hour non-stop call duty; suspension, demotion and interdiction of union members; non-availability of work materials including drugs for pharmacy and reagents for the laboratory; selective sponsorship of staff to international conferences and workshops; and non-annual salary increment for staff from 2014.
Nwakanma, who left the meeting to address the placard-carrying workers, had given assurance that their grievances would be looked into, and appealed to them to return to work. He told the workers that their complaints were unknown to his board and went ahead, same day, to fix a meeting with the labour leaders and the board.
It was learnt that several meetings and overtures aimed at addressing the issues collapsed, leading to another protest in June where hired thugs were allegedly used to dislodge workers, some sustaining injuries. The workers, who were said to have gathered early in the morning, had barricaded the hospital entrance, displaying their placards and chanting solidarity songs; insisting they would not leave the place until the Medical Director had addressed them.
Last month, the hospital again returned to the warpath with a petition by the workers to President Muhammadu Buhari, urging him to rescue them from alleged corruption, embezzlement, misappropriation and abuse of office under the administration of Mr. Onwukwe. They alleged that besides attaining the compulsory retirement age of 60 years on October 3, 2014, he should account for N254,138,616 million belonging to the hospital.
Addressing a press conference entitled: ‘Rescue From Corruption, Embezzlement, Misappropriation and Abuse of Office in Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital, Enugu’, officials of JOHESU, comprising: Medical and Health Workers Union of Nigeria (MHWUN), Senior Staff Association (SSA) and National Association of Nigeria Nurses and Midwives (NANNUM), threatened to close down the hospital, if the Federal Government failed to investigate the issues and remove the Medical Director.
Addressing journalists, Chairman of the National Association of Nigeria Nurses and Midwives (NANNUM), Comrade Ejimadu Alozie, alongside his colleagues in the union, alleged that N64,000,000 meant for arrears of staff conversion; and N110,138,616 meant for completion and
equipping of the multi-purpose clinical services complex were mismanaged. They called for an investigation into alleged withdrawal of N60,000,000 from the staff cooperative welfare scheme, claiming, among others, that the Medical Director withheld the union’s check-off dues deduction since January 2015.
In a statement, the union said: “If you come to our hospital, corruption stinks; it smells and you can still perceive it. That’s the problem we have there. Those that died and the workers, who moved to other places of work are still on the pay roll of the hospital and only the MD and the Chief Accountant know who collects their salaries.”
The labour leaders accused the MD of victimising them by withholding salaries and allowances, and by demotions. They alleged that some of them have been “unduly redeployed” to departments where they were more or less irrelevant. “He started posting key officials from the audit to other departments, so that nobody will reveal his intrigues and financial pranks. The person heading the audit department studied banking and finance; she is not an accountant,” they said.
The seven-page statement was signed by officials of JOHESU: Comrade Ozurumba Anthony, Chairman, SSA of FNHE; Onu Bank-Anthony, Secretary, SSA; Ugwu Eric A., Secretary, NANNM; Eze Matthew, Chairman, MHWUN; and comrade Oduburu Friday, Secretary, MHWUN.
The crisis has also been extended to the hospital’s School of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing, where the Principal, Mrs. Cecilia Oduburu, was removed and redeployed to the ward for alleged insubordination and incompetence. Oduburu, however, is fighting back. In a petition addressed to the Nursery and Midwifery Council of Nigeria, she said she was being haunted for her refusal to compromise standards and clear unqualified students for registration.
In a petition entitled: ‘Wrongful Removal From The Office’, a copy of which was obtained by The Guardian, she accused the immediate board chairman of the hospital, Acho Nwakanma, and the Medical Director, Onwukwe, of being responsible for her ordeal.
She wrote: “My present problem was precipitated by my refusal to clear three students who were not qualified for registration with the Nursing and Midwifery Council. On May 20, 2015, while I was still on leave, the board chairman (now past) called me on phone and told me that he wanted me to allow three students who had refused to complete their compulsory two-week community posting, which is one of the pre-requisite for the completion of their programme, to register with the Nursing and Midwifery Council of Nigeria (N&MCN).
“I took time to explain to the chairman how the three students, out of the 30 in the set, refused to complete their posting. The board chairman, after listening to my story, affirmed that my action was right. Surprisingly, a few days later, the chairman called me and was pressurising me to waive the posting for the students, even when it had been duly explained to him that it was against the regulation. He told me that one of the said students had travelled to Australia and desperately needed the registration to enable her practice. He mounted so much pressure on me, but I insisted that those students must complete their due posting and be cleared by the school before registration with the Nursing Council, because that would amount to lowering standard of training in the profession.”
The deposed Principal, who said she had earlier written the N&MCN over the three students, noted that she resisted pressure from the management to withdraw the said letters, adding: “My refusal to waive the posting for these three students did not go down well with the chairman who felt that I had disobeyed his instruction, even when he knew he was wrong.”
She claimed that based on her refusal, the management summoned her to appear before a disciplinary committee alongside her lawyer. But sensing she might not get a fair hearing, her lawyer had gone to court where he obtained an injunction restraining management from sanctioning her.
“Despite the court injunction, Mr. Afam Ndu and Mrs. Buzo-Maduka, on the instruction of the erstwhile board chairman, Acho Nwakamna, and the Medical Director, Dr Jojo Onwukwe, changed the key leading to the entrance to my office and all the keys to the file and stationery cupboards, thereby denying me access to working materials and my office,” she said.
She alleged several other attempts to undermine her office including physical attacks, which she claimed, were reported but never acted upon by the management of the institution.
SO FAR, Dr Onwukwe has not responded to any of the issues raised against him. Several text messages and calls to his mobile line to respond to the allegations usually ended with one of his assistants, who happen to be in the centre of the crisis, claiming to speak for him, yet without addressing the issues.
The closet effort at tracking down Onwukwe was last month. This, however, almost ended in futility. Onwukwe, who had arrived the venue of the meeting he scheduled with journalists, to speak on issues about the hospital, stunned everyone when he simply said: “Fraternise with the journalists and not to react to any issue raised by petitioners. I am here, not for you to write any story for me, but to fraternise with you journalists. I have not spoken to the press, since I assumed this office and I have not come here to talk to the press on any allegation.” With this, he left the venue almost immediately, to the bewilderment of the reporters.
So far, also, statements emanating from the management have not addressed the issues raised by the workers, especially alleged embezzlement, corruption and abuse of office. One of the statements signed by Emmanuel Idika, on behalf of the management, had clarified why it removed and redeployed Oduburu to the hospital ward.
“The embattled Mrs. Cecilia Oduburu is not a stranger to controversy. This is not the first time Mrs. Oduburu has been asked to vacate her office. On March 2, 2015, she was asked by the Medical Director to hand over to Mrs. Grace Anoliefo, who is the Assistant Director of Nursing, as Interim Coordinator of the School of Nursing, because she locked a male colleague in her office, which within the confines of law, is tantamount to false imprisonment. Each time she has been asked to hand over, she always refused to hand over on the order of her husband, Mr. Oduburu, who is a nurse working in the Hospital. Instead she runs around the whole of Nigeria complaining of maltreatment by the management of the hospital, and in some cases will lock the office for one week without handing over.
“Also, earlier this year, the Anti-Corruption Awareness Organization of Nigeria, in a separate memo, petitioned the Management Board of Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital, Enugu on the fact that Mrs. Cecilia Oduburu studied at the university full-time for six years without official permission nor release, while working full time and collecting salary and promotions for this same six years, which, according to the Organization, is a gross violation of the Civil Service rule. She obtained B.sc in Nursing from the Department of Nursing, University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus, for four years full-time and M.Sc in Community Nursing from the same university for two years, also full-time. This was one of the reasons cited for her removal from her position as Principal of the School.
“The first hospital final council exam by the Nursing and Midwifery Council of Nigeria was cancelled by the Nursing Council because Mrs. Oduburu did not inform the Council, and the entire students had to repeat the exam, putting the cost on the students and the hospital. The board of the hospital viewed this as incompetence. She increased the school uniform fee of the students from N10,000.00 to N15,000.00 without consulting the board members of the school. She unilaterally brought in a tailor and conspired with the tailor to defraud the students. When other members of staff complained, she brought N90,000 and shared it to the members of staff, giving them N15,000. And she made them sign their names before giving them the money,” the statement said.
The second statement came from a splinter workers’ union in the hospital, which passed a vote of confidence on the management under Onwukwe, and frowned at the activities of some of its members. The three affiliate Unions: Graduate Nurses Association, Association of
Psychiatric Nurses of Nigeria (APNON) and General Welfare said they had not mandated any group or persons to probe into the day to day activities of the hospital other than the welfare of the workers.
The statement, signed by Grace Anoliefo, Chibuzo Maduka and Alphonsus Mba, noted: “The management of the hospital, ably led by Dr Jojo Onwukwe, has always paid our salaries as at when due. He has paid all the union check off dues. We make bold to say that any pending arrears are the same in all the hospitals in Nigeria and is in line with the current economic situation of the country.
“We want to make it equivocally clear that they do not have the mandate of the workers; that no congress has ever met in the past five months. Therefore, it is impossible for them to have the mandate of the workers. They only meet with their masters, who want them to install the next Medical Director, who are the engineers and sponsors of this problem and thus their resolve in sending out inflammatory and defamatory statements about the hospital and it’s Medical Director, with the sole aim of throwing the hospital into confusion.”
Another member of staff, who spoke to The Guardian, said Onwukwe, “is being haunted because he has insisted on doing the right things. Certain persons, especially among the labour leaders, were promoted beyond their level. He came in and insisted that they be allocated offices in accordance with their qualifications. He is a good man and frank to a fault.”
A member of the Nursery and Midwifery Council, Enugu State, Odome Louis, lamented conditions at the hospital, saying: “The situation at Psychiatric Hospital, Enugu is becoming one mad moment in a centre that should call for lucidity of the mind and decorum. This is totally unacceptable. Flagrant display of indecorous conduct in the hospital of this magnitude runs foul of all known ethics of administration and of a rehabilitation institution. The Federal Ministry of Health should, as a matter of urgency, wade into the crisis at the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital, Enugu, before it claims human lives. There is need to create a platform that will bring an end to this face-off.”