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The Treasurer, Nigerian Medical Association, Enugu East Zone, Dr Rosemary Uzowulu, tells RAPHAEL EDE about the crisis that occurred recently during the state election of the NMA.
What led to the crisis that occurred during the recent NMA election?
The current crisis was merely an act of rascality of few doctors who failed to recognise the constitution of the association they are part of. It’s a simple issue. In 2018 when this present leadership of Dr Ike Okwesili assumed office; he told all the members in Enugu State that he would be accountable and transparent. He told everyone that since we practise individual membership, according to the NMA constitution, those who have outstanding dues or levies should pay before May 30 preceding any election period. But, the Association of Resident Doctors, Enugu State University Teaching Hospital, Parklane, refused to remit the money being deducted from the members’ salaries. That issue lingered for years and this present chairman said the impunity should not continue, so he set up a disciplinary committee and referred the leadership of ARD, ESUTH (Parklane) to them to explain why they collected money from members and refused to remit same.
What was the response the leadership of the ARD branch?
The explanation offered by the then president of that branch, Ani Okechukwu, wasn’t good enough, so after a series of Annual General Meetings and Extraordinary General Meetings on the issue, their leaders were suspended. A formal letter was written to the ARD – Parklane congress notifying the members that they were not financial members of NMA and as such would lose every right and privilege, including their right to vote and be voted for. In 2018 when they had their zonal election, Dr Okwesili didn’t allow them to vote because of the issue of dues and since then, they had not found it necessary to sort out the issue on their own. They waited till now that they have interest in NMA state election and started making payments. Now, the money they owe has accumulated to over N10m and the chairman told them that they would have to clear the debt because this money had already been collected. They then started calling people that Ike Okwesili didn’t want them to participate in the election.
Did that help to resolve the issues in any way?
All the past chairmen of NMA had a meeting to look into the matter and when Prof Emmanuel Ejeme, who chaired Ethics and Disciplinary Committee, tried to intervene, they started hurling abuse at him. During our AGM last Wednesday, a decision was taken that if you are not a financial member, in accordance with the constitution, you are not entitled to any right and privilege, including the right to vote and be voted for.
What led to the fight and disruption of the election?
They said since they had remitted some money, they must vote, but it doesn’t work like that. As a medical doctor, you have to be disciplined, responsible and learn to follow due process. Now that election has come, those who have not been paying their dues cannot partake in the exercise. The Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital, Enugu has not been paying and National Orthopedic Hospital had a problem in remitting the dues and the chairman told their Chief Medical Director that doctors in their hospitals would not vote or be voted for and they understood and kept away. Now, he applied the same measure to ESUT-Parklane and they said no. They held a meeting, called it EGM and said they had suspended the chairman and appointed an acting chairman. The chairman then said ‘if you claim you have an acting chairman, you can be having your meetings while those who believe I’m their chairman will be having meetings with me.’ Now the branch is conducting an election, he chose the venue for his election and you came to the venue to say the election would not hold. We were invited to see the commissioner of police and after explanations, the commissioner told the acting chairman to conduct their own election, while the other group should do the same thing. We went to the Michael Okpara Square, finished the accreditation, and the consultants voted and were leaving in peace, then they suddenly said they must vote.
When that happened, did you call the attention of the police commissioner to it?
Policemen were sent to the venue but their activities got us worried that they might have been compromised. So instead, the chairman of the electoral committee, Dr Agunwa, told them that they could not vote because they were not eligible and they insisted they must vote.
Then what happened afterwards?
When it was getting to 3pm, when the voting process would stop, they got on the table and started scattering everything, destroying the electoral materials while policemen watched them.
The chairman asked the electoral committee to gather the materials and relocate to another venue to conclude with the election. They collected the materials, relocated to Toscana Hotel where the chairman had booked a small hall for the committee to conclude with the process. When they got there, the committee chairman, Chief Agunwa, called all the contestants and asked them to send their representatives so that they could count the votes. While they were waiting, instead of sending their agents, one of the candidates for the chairmanship position, J. O. T. Onyia, led young ARD – Parklane members to attack people at the hotel. This contestant used his head to break the glass of the door and forced himself into the room where the committee was collating the results. The chairman had to run for his life and most of the consultants also ran away.
Dr Onyia accused the chairman of trying to install his opponent, saying he wants to compensate him for stepping down for him (chairman) in 2018. How true is it?
You cannot install anybody in NMA. Dr Okwesili has no interest in who becomes the chairman. How do you install someone when it is an elective position? When Okwesili contested the chairmanship with this young man that is contesting now, Dr. James Akpe, NMA members in the state pleaded with Dr. Akpe to step down for Okwesili, that they would support him in the next election and he said okay. It has nothing to do with Okwesili as he was not the one who urged him to step down.
He said ESUT-Parklane doctors had paid up to N7m, and that the members the money covered should have been allowed to vote…
Now, how do you know people that have completely paid their dues in a situation where you take money from everybody’s salary and they are up to 290 members? What will be the criteria? You said you have paid some money and that you would bring out the list of those it covered. Are you going to say the older doctors should come up first and the junior should wait? Tell us the modalities you would use. You owe the money because as you were collecting it, you were not remitting it.
He alleged that the person who sponsored the doctor contesting the General Secretary position is from the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital and that their members’ financial records were not up to date. Is that true?
The person is not from FNH. The person contesting the General Secretary position, Dr. Aloy Ifedinso, is from UNTH and Dr. Sunny Okeafor is also from UNTH. He didn’t have the correct information. These are the people who have religiously been paying their dues and levies.
What do you think about this crisis?
It is very shameful.