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Rivers’ Doctors Seek Medicine For Kidnapping

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Protest Doctors USE CopyMEDICINE is a noble and enviable profession. Such is its allure, when young ones are asked what they would like to become in the future, they look up with bright eyes and answer: “I will like to be a medical doctor.”

In Rivers State, however, persons hoping to wear the spotless white overall of these practitioners and flaunt the proud I-am-a-doctor smile have good reason to court a rethink: no thanks to the rate at which doctors are either being kidnapped or killed.

In 2014, nine doctors were kidnapped in different parts of the state. And this year, 2015, within two weeks in February, four doctors were kidnapped. One death was recorded, while two escaped with serious injuries.

On September 5, 2014, six health workers were taken hostage at Okolomabo community in Abua/Odua Local Government Area of the state. They had gone to the area for a free healthcare programme organised by the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).

Within the period, heavily armed men in Tai Local Government Area of the state also abducted Sam Kinaka, a doctor at the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital.

A list of kidnapped medical practitioners include: Dr. Omodu Jack, Dr. Wordu Ovunda, Samuel Okpara, Dr. George, Dr. Adewile Olugbenga, Dr. Pearse, Dr. Azubike Okara, among others.

Reason for the ugly trend, according to watchers, is the belief that medical doctors, especially those in private practice, rake in huge sums of money. In some private clinics, for instance, patients are mandated to make initial deposits of between N20,000 and N50,000.

The umbrella body of the practitioners, the Nigerian Medical Association, will, however, not take the development lying low. Fuming at the rate its members are being whisked away by men of the underworld, it has threatened to down tool. The doctors, last week, actually staged a protest march through the streets of Port Harcourt, expressing their disapproval over the trend and calling on government to boost security.

In an interview with The Guardian, the state’s NMA chairman, Dr. Ibifuro Green, wondered why kidnappers target doctors. He said, the doctors dress well and smartly, not because they have so much money, but because of the demands of their profession.

He explained: “It is obvious that hundreds of patients leave the country for medical treatments abroad. As a result, some of the private doctors obtain loans of N10 million and above from banks to buy and upgrade their equipment, in order to serve the people. And such loans are paid back with interest.

“So, it is very wrong and unfair when someone sees a doctor and concludes that he has money, kidnaps him and demands N150 million as ransom. Where is such money? Doctors only receive N5,000 as hazard allowance, apart from their call duty allowance. So, for all the risks and hazards we encounter, like Ebola, HIV, Tuberculosis, it’s just N5,000. And note, doctors do not have free medicare; we pay for our treatments.”

While calling on all stakeholders to join hands and fight the upsurge, the NMA boss said: “Hard work should be encouraged in this country. How can a doctor who put in eight hours in a place of work and later engages in another thing that will yield extra income be a target? It’s the same thing with a civil servant who owns a shop in the street and has someone running it.”

The Executive Director of the Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, Anyakwee Nsirimovu, described kidnapping as terrible and criminal. He noted that it is most disturbing when doctors become the target of kidnappers.

“A situation where the police are not proactive and in control poses a big threat. A lot of people no longer believe that the police can protect them anymore, hence the spate of kidnapping. The hoodlums know that there is a loophole.”

Similarly, the Chancellor of International Society for Justice and Human Rights, Omenazu Jackson, blamed the trend on the inability of the police to arrest and prosecute kidnappers. He stressed that the proposed strike by the doctors would have grave consequences for persons in desperate need of healthcare.

Some medical students of the University of Port Harcourt told The Guardian that the menace is a huge threat to the profession. According to them, kidnapping of health workers is capable of creating a psychological scare, and that they are worried about what the future could hold for them. Asked whether they would like to become medical doctors, some primary school pupils in the state answered in the negative. Doctors are often killed or kidnapped, they said.

Recalling the trauma she went through during a strike by health workers, few months ago, a pregnant woman, Linda Onyeka, prayed God would touch the hearts of the kidnappers and move them to repent.

The Ijaw Youth Council (IYC), meanwhile, has described as “satanic and wicked” the kidnapping of medical doctors in the state.

The organization, during a solidarity protest in Port Harcourt, said the situation has created an emotional and psychological trauma for doctors.

The Secretary General of IYC, Emmanuel Bristol Alagbariya, said the Council, in conjunction with other groups, embarked on the protest, to say, “Enough!” to the kidnapping of doctors in Rivers State.

The Chief Medical Director of the Rivers State Hospitals Management Board, Dr. Okikere Nicholas Iragunima, said the board is deeply worried by the issue. He called on those involved in the act to desist, in the interest of the state.

The state Police Command said, it killed one of the persons that abducted and killed Samuel Okpara, a medical doctor in Port Harcourt.

The late Okpara was kidnapped at his hospital in the D-Line area of Port Harcourt on February 18. His corpse was later dumped behind the Government Comprehensive Secondary School, Borokiri.

Commissioner of Police, Mr. Dan Bature, while addressing medical doctors who staged a protest march to the police headquarters, disclosed that a corporal sustained injury during a gun battle with the abductors.

Bature said the police have stepped up surveillance. He warned the police are battle ready to stamp out kidnapping in the state.

Furo Green, who led the march, said medical doctors would no longer sit down and endure the kidnap of their colleagues.

He disclosed that four other medical doctors in the state have received kidnap threats from unknown persons, and that all the unfortunate incidents have made it difficult for doctors to practice safely.

While briefing journalists on the heels of Samuel Okpara’s death and the ‘March of Sorrow’ by the protesting doctors, the state Commissioner for Health, Dr. Sampson Parker, expressed condolence to the families of the deceased and those still held captive by the kidnappers. He implored the security agencies to intensify efforts and ensure a safe working environment for doctors.



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