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When doctors’ death unearthed controversies

By Muyiwa Adeyemi (Head, South West Bureau)
08 May 2016   |   3:18 am
They were on a journey to Sokoto to attend the national delegates’ conference of the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) in Sokoto. They never arrived.


• Police, FRSC knocked over handling • Why similar disasters may recur

They were on a journey to Sokoto to attend the national delegates’ conference of the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) in Sokoto. They never arrived. Cut down by the Grim Reaper, some contradictions have trailed the entire saga. And there’s also a sad reminder that related misfortunes may happen all over again, somewhere, sometime, unless errors are corrected.

The doctors had assembled at their state secretariat, known as Doctors’ House, along Ado-Iyin road, Ekiti. Wives and children had accompanied some of them to the place. How were they to have known they were actually bidding their daddies a final farewell?

The Association’s driver of over four years revved the engine and the journey began, a smooth drive until around 4pm, when it dawned on the travellers that continuing would mean arriving uncomfortably late. They decided to spend the night in Kaduna.

Some 60 kilometres to Kaduna, the driver struggled to meander past potholes and ditches when BOOM! a tyre burst. The vehicle somersaulted twice, leaving the families, friends, colleagues, and loved ones of the ill-fated occupants to embrace agonising memories.

It was the end of the road for: Dr. Tunde Aladesanmi, a Consultant General Surgeon at Federal Teaching Hospital, Ido Ekiti (FETHI); Dr. Atolani Adeniyi, Senior Health Officer with the Hospitals Management Board; Dr. J.B. Ogunseye, who served as Senior Dental Officer at General Hospital, Ifaki; Dr. Olayiwola Olajide, President of the Association of Resident Doctors (ARD), Ekiti State University Teaching Hospital (EKSUTH); Dr. Alexander Akinyele, a Resident Doctor, Community Medicine at FETHI; Dr. O.J. Taiwo, a Consultant Anatomic Pathologist at EKSUTH; and the driver, Mr. Olowokere Ajibola.

But that is not the end of pothole-ridden death traps on Nigerian roads. Many yawning ditches on highways across the country lie in wait, like preying animals, to devour hapless commuters. And until a culture of timely and sincere road maintenance becomes part of the national psyche, someone could be next?

Even before the tears had dried from the faces of the bereaved, the role played by emergency responders came under scrutiny. Needless to say, there are questions: could more lives have been saved? Could the narrative have run with less traumatic paragraphs? The safety watchdog, for instance, blamed the accident on over speeding by the driver. The survivors, however, disagree, saying bad road and below standard performance of responders increased casualty figures.

A survivor and Chairman of the National Association of Government and General Medical and Dental Practitioners (NAGGMDP), Dr. Ekundare Folu, said the “comments credited to the FRSC Sector Head of Operations, Deputy Corps Commander, Salisu Galadunci, are very unfortunate. This is an FRSC that arrived at the scene of the accident more than 40 minutes after it happened.”

Folu said: “This is an FRSC that was reluctant to take us to the hospital, claiming they didn’t have fuel and didn’t budget (sic) until one of the injured promised to buy fuel for them. The Deputy Corps Commander was not at the scene of the accident. Neither himself nor any representative of his spoke to any of the people in the vehicle, six of whom, including me, survived. The Deputy Corps Commander did not even see the vehicle, either at the scene of the accident or at the police station.

“How he jumped at that conclusion is beyond me. The comments are an insult to my dead colleagues and a slap on those of us that survived. For his information, this is not a driver we picked off the road; this is a man that has been working with us for more than four years. He is indirectly telling the world that 12 doctors in a bus that had several senior consultants could not control a driver we employed and paid salaries to.

“I was in the same vehicle, seated in the row behind the driver. I checked the speedometer from time to time. The bus also made a beep once the speed exceeded 110km/hr. Let me state, categorically, that the bus driver was not speeding.”

The NAGGMDP chairman accused the FRSC of “probably trying to justify their intention to sell their speed limiting device to Nigerians, hence they are associating every possible accident with excessive speeding. It is sad they would attempt to use such an unhappy event for that purpose.

“Even the police would not convey the bodies to the mortuary in their van, until we parted with N4,000. I personally dropped N3,000. But the police officer rejected it. He dropped the money on their vehicle until the NMA chairman, Dr. Akinbote, added N1,500. The fuel tank of the second police vehicle that conveyed those of us who were unhurt also had to be topped with N3,500 fuel from the black market, paid for by me.”

Another survivor, Dr. Stephen Ayosanmi of EKSUTH, added: “By the time men of the Road Safety Corps came, some doctors that were severely injured had died. Five of them! But we had two other victims who could still survive. We rushed them to the nearby Doka General Hospital, about 70 kilometres to Kaduna.

“I was surprised when they said there was no doctor there. I even told the nurses, ‘Ok, give me a pain reliever and let me put you through on how to resuscitate that man that was lying near me.’ But none of them attended to us. They were just running around, saying there was no this, no that.

“I pleaded with the Road Safety officials to take us to another hospital. I said they should take us to Suleja or Kaduna, wherever. But they said they didn’t have fuel. I told them that I would pay for the fuel. We left the place in search for fuel and bought some. But before we arrived at St. Gerard, Kaduna, one more person had died. That brought the number to six. Later, another died, making the figure seven.”

The Ekiti State chapter of NMA, meanwhile, has threatened to drag the FRSC to court over the latter’s comments on the cause of the auto crash. During events to mark the 2016 Workers’ Day in Ado-Ekiti, NMA’s Assistant Secretary (Ekiti State), Dr. Kayode Ariyibi, accused the agency of merely attempting to conceal its incompetence.

But there was still another contradiction in the waiting. While other health institutions that lost consultants trudged on, giving care to patients, it was a different scenario at Federal Teaching Hospital, Ido Ekiti (FTHIE), where staff went on a rampage, blocked all roads leading to the hospital, and left patients stranded.

The death of two of their doctors, Dr. Aladesanmi and Dr. Akinyele, inflamed them to start a protest against the management. The demonstration paralysed the day’s activities, even as entreaties by the family of the patients and management failed.

FTHIE has a history of good medicare in Ekiti State, with patients visiting even from neighbouring states. It used to be Federal Medical Centre (FMC) but partnership with the Afe Bablola University (ABUAD), Ado Ekiti, changed its status to that of a tertiary educational institution.

In a bizarre twist, yet, the staff of FTHIE blamed the management for the accident. Dr. Aladesanmi was a former chairman of the NMA in the state and many saw him as an activist, always ready to take on the establishment over the welfare of his colleagues. Besides, they also alleged diabolical powers had been at work, suggesting the management had pushed some voodoo buttons.

One of the protesters cried: “How do you expect us to react to the sudden death of six doctors? Do you want us to continue working as if nothing has happened? The truth is that we are protesting against some diabolical forces in this institution. Many ugly things have happened here. Some of our staff have been kidnapped and not all of them survived the ordeal. Some were afflicted by strange diseases; some died in motor accidents. There are evil forces working here!”

But investigation by The Guardian revealed that the institution had been embroiled in a tussle over whether the Chief Medical Director (CMD), Dr. Lawrence Ayodele, whose tenure ends this year, should enjoy a renewal.

Members of staff are polarised. While some said the CMD had done remarkably well to deserve a second term, others insisted he had had his day and should, therefore, make way for another.

Reacting to the protest and insinuations the accident was mysteriously ‘concocted’, the CMD warned the workers to desist from politicising the death of his colleagues.

He said: “We received the tragic news of the death of my colleagues with a deep sense of sadness. This is a trying period for all of us… But it marvels me that people could link me with a death that happened in an auto crash in a modern world like this. This is very unfortunate and barbaric. The doctors of other hospitals were involved in this very sad incident. Should we then conclude that my colleague, Dr. Kolawole Ogundipe and the state government killed those who died in EKSUTH and Ekiti State Hospitals Management Board? What they wanted to do is heat up the hospital and create an atmosphere of unrest, which will not be in the benefit of anybody.”

The cold or hot war between the management of FTHIE and the staff is simply a microcosm of a larger rumbling in the nation’s ailing health sector, one that now and again, has translated into industrial actions, while sick patients are left to die unattended. Could some patients, somewhere, soon find themselves on the receiving end of agitations by medical workers?

And like salt on injury, the family of late Dr. Tunde Aladesanmi, last week, petitioned the Inspector-General of police, following what it said was a death threat and an ultimatum to pack out of the house left by the deceased.

In a statement, it said: “It is highly bizarre and unexpected that the family of such a gentle and peace-loving man would receive such threat…It is pertinent to note that while the deceased was alive, he had a cordial relationship with everyone. Quite a lot of people, including his co-workers and professional colleagues, can attest to the fact he lived a selfless life, served humanity devotedly, and did everything within his power and according to the ethics of his profession to save a lot of lives even at odd times.”

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