By Chidi Nkwopara, Owerri
It is no longer news that activities in the Federal Medical Centre, Owerri, FMCO, have ground to a halt, courtesy of the labour crisis that has engulfed the establishment. The workers claim that they had been managing to smile in the face of suffering, harassment, denial of legitimate rights and the financial mess the hospital had been immersed in over the years.
The simmering labour crisis came to a head when the hospital’s Medical Director, MD, Dr. Angela C. Uwakwem, issued queries to labour leaders who went to a local radio station to debunk what they described as lies peddled by the FMCO boss.
Currently, the Association of Resident Doctors, ARD, the National Association of Nigerian Nurses and Midwifes, NANNM, the National Union of Allied Health Practitioners, NUAHP and the Medical and Health Workers Union, MHWUN, have all deserted their offices in protest to what they called “accumulated administrative pains and high handedness of the MD, Dr. Angela Uwakwem”.
According to a release, HU/GFM/01/07, dated May 19, 2015, made available to Vanguard Metro, VM, in Owerri, and signed by all the labour leaders, including the chairmen of NUAHP and NANNM, Comrades Ezeugwu Clifford and Uhiara Catherine respectively, the aggrieved workers insisted that Uwakwem should step aside for thorough investigation and audit of her administration.
“The House Unions have discovered that the personnel monies released by the Accountant General of the Federation last year, for the payment of workers’ 2013/2014 promotion arrears were vired into capital projects by the Medical Director of the hospital, knowing fully well that the money was meant to take care of personnel costs,” the labour leaders alleged.
While identifying the CT-Scan as the project which gulped the money, the unionists also alleged that the process of the purchase never passed through procurement steps, stressing that if virement of personnel costs to capital project is a serious offence, why couldn’t the Medical Director step aside? The labour leaders also alleged that the MD, a top level 17 officer, pays herself overtime, even as the extant rules made provision for workers on level 14 and below.
FMC workers accused the MD of employing staff and backdating their appointments, pointing out that the monies for the backdated months were never paid to the affected staff. The aggrieved unionists alleged that the MD pays monies generated from Amenity Wards, including the Okpara Nursing Home, to a special bank account that is not known to the Accounts Department.
“The Medical Director claimed in one of her transactions that she buys clinical dress to all clinicians in the hospital yearly at the tune of N15 million. Approval for the gas piping of wards has been done severally and such contracts were never executed,” the workers alleged.
Buttressing their allegation of victimization and high handedness, the workers said there is no job security in FMCO, stressing that the current hospital administration has administered more queries, warning letters, suspensions, termination of appointments, as well as witnessed withdrawals from service and resignations.
“In conclusion, the staff has lost confidence in her ability to manage men, materials, finance and resources and insist she should resign for thorough investigation on these weighty allegations, since she cannot be a judge in her own case,” the unionists insisted. Several efforts made to speak to the Medical Director when news of the impending crisis filtered out, failed as VM was never allowed access to her by her staff.
However, a three-page document written on her behalf by a group of veteran journalists led by Dr. Davey Ozurumba, was distributed to some media houses. “The issue of Public Private Partnership, PPP, is in focus at all levels of government because government alone cannot carry the burden of economic development within and outside the health sector. Therefore, bringing the private sector to partner with government is development-oriented and must be appreciated by those who care for innovations in the health sector,” Ozurumba reasoned.
Continuing, Dr. Ozurumba explained that the patients have noticed with anger, the incessant out-of-stock syndrome in our hospitals, only to see the professionals diverting patients to their private stores and clinics for pecuniary interest to the detriment of revenue coming to government. “The revenue leakage is what Dr. Angela Uwakwem appears to block that has triggered anger and venom on beneficiaries of this scam.
Otherwise, how does PPP adversely affect the workers welfare? Must the intellectual vision of Dr. Angela Uwakwem and the Board of Directors of FMC be wasted or put in a cooler because her counterparts from neighbouring states have remained moribund to this laudable project?” Ozurumba asked.
The MD’s spokesman also said that her vision to bring in staff that can match experience with those innovations, possibly within the contractual option, is acceptable for the best medical and other professional practices. However, while these allegations and counter-allegations continue, the hospital remains shut and patients forced to relocate to other health facilities in search of good health. It would be interesting to know who blinks first, Dr. Uwakwem or the entire striking workers.