April 13, 2024

Exclusive: Contrived Controversy Trails National Orthopedic Hospital in Edo State

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Orthopedic Medicine

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The administration of former president Mohammadu Buhari made some last minute appointments in the Federal Ministry of Health for existing and some newly created health institutions across the country. A total of thirteen medical officers were shortlisted and given letters of appointments on August 7, 2023.

The memo which conveyed the appointments was signed by the then Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Senator George Akume and was addressed to the Permanent Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Health.

In the said memo, a copy which has been obtained by Midwest Herald, Dr. Philip Ibukun Ogbodaga was listed number 12 as the Medical Director for the newly created National Orthopedic Hospital in Edo State. The initial term is for four years.

Controversy soon set in after the expiration of Buhari’s administration and exit of Dr. Osagie Ehanire as Minister of Health.

One of the several complaints is an unsigned petition that credited Dr. Ehanire for the sighting of the troubled orthopedic hospital in Benin City. The petition stated that, “…it was Dr. Osagie Ehanire, a renowned orthopedic surgeon, who as a two-term Minister of Health, that had ample time to conceive of a National Orthopedic Hospital in Benin City. 

“Considering the time of parliamentary consideration and Presidential approval for the project, the official Gazette came in at the twilight of his tenure.

“He had taken time out to liaise with the Edo State Government on the provision of temporary sites/facilities for the immediate takeoff of the project.

“The Edo State Governor made strenuous efforts to deliver on needed facilities for the new hospital, pending federal budgetary allocations for the permanent site.

“Of course, for such magnum opus coming to his home State, it was his prerogative to appoint a new CMD for the hospital. But an errant junior Minister in the same Ministry pulled the carpet from under him to appoint a CMD without clearance.

The person so appointed was one Dr. Ugbodaga who was then a Special Assistant to the erstwhile Minister of State for Budget and Planning, Mr. Clem Agba, both of whom are also from Edo State.

“This junior Minister had not spent sufficient time in the Ministry as to have sufficiently found his feet in major policy decisions, not to talk of appointing a CMD for a new national hospital in the home State of his senior Minister without clearance.

“However, Dr Ehanire as senior Minister went ahead to appoint a practicing Orthopedic surgeon in the person of Prof Ogbemudia as CMD of the new National Orthopedic hospital Benin City. Prof Ogbemudia resumed office as CMD and had since paid working visits to various authorities including the Governor of Edo State and the Oba of Benin.

“Soon after the Buhari Ministers stepped down, the Permanent Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Health, along with his team, invited the two CMDs (so appointed to the same hospital), for screening. Dr Ugbodaga is a dental and facial surgeon, which is a mismatch for a nascent Orthopedic Hospital.

“It was therefore crystal clear to the helmsmen in the Ministry that Prof Ogbemudia, who was appointed by the then substantive senior Minister, was head and shoulders above the other candidate. Prof. Ogbemudia was therefore given a letter of appointment as Chief Medical Director.

The petition stated that, “However, intrigues were about to thicken. While Prof Ogbemudia went about mobilizing resources from relevant agencies for the speedy takeoff of the new National Orthopedic Hospital in Benin City, a publication emerged from the Presidency appointing Dr. Ugbodaga as the CMD of the same National Orthopedic Hospital.

“For a second time, the location was simply put as Edo State, not Benin City, meaning that the new hospital can be sited anywhere in Edo State.

“The fact that both Dr. Ugbodaga and Mr. Clem Agba are protégés of now Senator Adams Oshiomhole, all from the same Senatorial Zone of Edo North, underscores the intrigues of blatantly trying to snatch the project from where it was intended, as well as allocating the CMD position to their tribal crony.

Adding to the twist, the petition exclaimed that: “This is the kind of intrigue for which some charlatans would like to lay claim to leadership superiority in Edo State.”

In the tradition of the World-Wide Acclaimed Community Newspaper, our Correspondent visited the Federal Ministry of Health to earth this week to obtain the facts surrounding the yet to start health institution.

It will be recalled that, there were two ministers in the Federal Ministry of Health, the Minister and the Minister of State; they both represented their different states. In operation, junior ministers do not report to the substantive Minister in the ministry. Both have their mandate and responsibilities.

There is often some schism between the Minister and Minister of State in carrying out the mandate of ministries. But their roles are assigned by the president through the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), with proper delineation of duties and responsibilities for both ministers within the ministry.

Whereas the Minister is in charge of the ministry, and supervises activities, including appointments for all the Teaching Hospitals in the country, the Minister of State has mandate over the specialist hospitals, including National Orthopedic Hospitals, Federal Medical Centres, Federal Psychiatric hospitals and others.

So in the case of the National Orthopedic in Edo State, the appointment of Dr. Philip Ugbodaga was made by the former Minister of State, Dr. Joseph Ekumankam, thereafter, a memo was forwarded to the former president for confirmation of all 13 newly appointed medical directors.

According to the Permanent Secretary, the president has the power to either confirm an appointment suggested to him, or appoint anyone else in exercise of his powers.

But in the case of Dr. Ugbodaga, the president confirmed his appointment alongside 12 others and his approval was conveyed to the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation in a memo dated 7th August, 2023.

Dr. Ehanire would have been able to influence the appointment of Prof Ogbemudia or any other candidate of his choice at the presidency, if he had shown interest. He never did.

Midwest Herald was also told that the only qualifications for appointment as head of a federal hospital are 12 years post qualification as a doctor registerable with the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN) and five years as a Consultant/Fellow of the Postgraduate Medical or Surgical College.

It was also gathered that the National Orthopedic Hospitals’ Management Act that guides the setting up of the hospital made no reference whatsoever to the headship, let alone being headed by only Orthopedic Surgeons.

Our Correspondent was told at the ministry, that Dr. Uche Achebe, a Plastic Surgeon was the Medical Director of the National Orthopedic Hospital, Enugu from 1997 to 2005 and that, precedence exist where an Orthopedic Hospital was headed by a non-orthopedic surgeon.

From our investigations, the author of the said petition is orchestrating tribal hate through misinformation. The claim that Dr. Ehanire attracted the hospital to “Benin City” or that he appointed Prof Ogbemudia is a phantom imagination as there is no evidence showing any trace of any Prof Ogbemudia in correspondence between the ministry and the presidency. Likewise, the misconception of an attempt to redirect the location of the hospital from Benin City to different location is also diversionary because the approval memo did not specify a city, but Edo State.

What Ehanire did with Prof Ogbemudia was to save his face from the colossal failure that greeted his eight years tenure as minster of health. Agreed, Prof Ogbemudia is very qualified for the position, but sadly like in several other cases, his name never left the ministry of health. After Dr. Ehanire issued him his personal appointment letter, without approval from presidency, it ended on his table and simply walked away.

The mandate to establish Primary Healthcare Centres across Nigeria is the mandate of the substantive Minister of Health which Dr. Ehanire failed to use to improve the terrible state of health facilities in Edo State, particularly Primary Health Centres in rural areas.

In the course of our investigation, Midwest Herald was told of how the former ministers combined two positions allocated to the minister’s office into one, which he gave to his daughter – Ms Itohan Ehanire as Personal Assistant. We were also told that no request for employment came from his office that was rejected by the Permanent Secretary.

In 2022, No fewer than 221 primary healthcare centres were recorded by the ministry as being completed, across 31 states of Nigeria. 43 others were also under construction as at then. Ehanire only attracted only three to the entire Edo State.

According to the information contained in the ‘Health Facilities Registry’ of the Federal Ministry of Health, out of the 31 states that benefitted, Borno State had the highest number with 94 of such facilities.

Bauchi and Taraba States had 14, Abia -1; Adamawa -2; Akwa Ibom -1; Bauchi -3; Borno -8; Delta -6; Ekiti -1; Enugu -1; Gombe -1; Imo -1; Jigawa -3, Kaduna -1; Katsina -2; Kebbi -1; Kogi -1; Lagos -1; Niger -1; Osun -3; Oyo -1; Plateau -1 and Taraba -2.

Other beneficiary states were: Edo -3; Ekiti -2; Enugu -4; Imo -1: Jigawa -9; Kaduna -2; Kano -6; Katsina -3; Kebbi -8; Kogi -1; Kwara -2; Nasarawa -1; Niger -2; Ogun -3; Ondo -2; Osun -3; Oyo -4; Plateau -3; Yobe -6 and had Zamfara with four.

The number of PHC attracted to Edo State by Dr Ehanire speaks to his success as minister for eight years.

According to the World Health Organization, primary healthcare centres serve as the first points of access to healthcare by individuals, families and communities, bringing health services as close as possible to homes and workplaces. WHO describes it as the “Bedrock of Universal Health Coverage.”

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