When former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon declared immediately after the Nigerian-Biafra civil war in 1970 that there was no victor, nor vanquished, many people understood that it was more of a tactful statement than a truism. A group in that war was dealt with, with more of its casualties resulting from starvation rather than bullets of war. Someone will be wondering why I should draw such inference. Was there a war in FMC, Owerri? If yes, who is the victor, and who is the vanquished?
The crisis that has engulfed that medical center for the past 17 months or more is not quite different from a civil war. The only difference is that there was no deployment of troops, armored cars and other ammunition. But the acrimony exhibited by a group of workers towards the others who are sympathetic to the recalled CMD may not be found in some civil wars. However, no matter how bad or acrimonious anybody may feel towards another, it is important for all the players (both fringe and central) to understand that the war is over. Let the health of the ordinary for whom they were employed, unite all of them. It is important for all the players in this crisis to understand that none of them owns the medical center, and one day they must leave that hospital. Therefore, for the time anyone of them is still there, let them sit up and work for the people. I will suggest that those who do not like to see the face of the MD, forget about seeing her, but concentrate on doing their jobs to the satisfaction of their patients.
It is no longer news that the substantive but seriously persecuted Chief Medical Director of the Federal Medical Center, Owerri has been recalled by the Federal Ministry of Health Abuja after being asked to stay away from the hospital in order for some outsiders and supposed non-interest holders to return normalcy to the health institution and calm frayed nerves, while at the same time redefining the terms of engagement to all parties in the dispute and also investigating the several allegations leveled against the Mbieri born princess, Dr. Angela Uwakwem.
Dr. Angela Uwakwem’s return to her duty post was not without drama as the same group of workers who have seriously insisted that she would not return to the hospital made good their threats of causing confusion in the center, but in the end, normalcy was restored as the Commissioner of Police led his men to ensure that hooliganism does not reign supreme in the center.
It is actually ridiculous that close to two years after this group of staff within the hospital began their open protest demanding that Dr. Angela should be relieved of her duty, they are yet to see reasons to allow the woman enjoy some peace, after the relevant of authorities both within the Ministry of Health and outside have found her innocent of the several allegations leveled against her. One expects the ringleaders of the uprising to have seen the dead-end in their struggle and accepted defeat.
The Interim Management Committee which was set up by the Federal Ministry of Health with a mandate to ensure that normalcy returns to the hospital could be said not to have achieved the aim for which it was set up. If the members of this committee had taken up the assignment given to them with all the seriousness it demanded, we would not have seen the same group of staff of the hospital wanting to embark on another series of strike action just because the federal government decided to do the right thing by recalling the substantive Chief Executive of that hospital to return to her duty post. Could it be that the members of this committee were more interested in consolidating on their appointments than really working towards stabilizing that hospital? That will be a story for another day.
There is no doubting the fact that workers have rights to make certain demands of their employers, but this demand does not include the insistence that a fellow staff must be relieved of her duty, even when nothing has been established against such staff. Civil service positions are not elective, but appointive and most times these appointments are made based on merit. In the case of the Federal Medical Center, Owerri, the Chief Medical Director’s appointment was made with due recourse to relevant laws and guidelines. Fortunately, these protesting staff have not picked any hole in the processes leading to Angela’s appointment. The position of the CMD like all other chief executive positions in the Federal and State civil service is not filled through voting and those enjoying such position cannot be sacked as a result of what is mostly a vindictive mass action. Due processes must be followed and it is the president who has the final say through the minister of health, State. These protests would have made sense if the position was like that of the elected legislator who can be recalled, if majority of eligible voters in his or her constituency vote for the recall of such legislator.
I have written severally about the dangers posed by the incessant and mostly unprovoked strike actions being embarked upon by the Health Workers’ Union at the only functional tertiary healthcare institution in Imo State. If these strikes were for good reasons, it would have been more tolerable, but for a group of people to continuously endanger the health and even lives of the entire Imo populace is not only disturbing but also annoying. If we take stock of those who have avoidably lost their lives or had their health deteriorate as a result of this crisis, it will take only a stone-hearted reader not to join the call for peace to be restored to that hospital.
The union leaders at the medical center must understand the illogicality in going to the negotiation table with a closed mind. The insistence on Dr. Angela’s ousting from the center is being understood by a majority of observers as too rigid and vindictive. It becomes more curious when these unionists fail to tell us anything tangible that the woman has done to them or the medical institution. The only thing they tell whoever cares to listen is that the CMD is too high-handed. This high-handedness has been analyzed by many people to mean that the woman refused to play the game of corruption, impunity and mediocrity. The woman’s insistence that the hospital be run professionally and with utmost discipline is observed to be one of the major areas of misunderstanding between her and her staff. We all want a better society, yet very few of us are ready to contribute our quota towards actualizing such. The few people who try to insist on doing those things that are right are either derided or persecuted.
While it is not in doubt that Dr. Angela Uwakwem is not completely perfect, like no human ever is, even her worst traducers agree that she is the best thing to have happened to the Federal Medical Center, Owerri since its establishment. From being one of the worse run federal medical centers in Nigeria, Dr. Angela saw to it that the hospital became the best federal medical center in Nigeria. Anyone who has any business being in that hospital in the past eight years will attest to the fact that it is one of the best government owned hospitals in the country.
The people are already getting agitated over this unending crisis with some youths threatening openly to slug it out with any group of people who tries to disrupt the workings of the hospital. As much as I will not subscribe to any form of violence or any group taking the laws into their hands, I must admit that Imolites have been taken for granted for so long, and it won’t be completely misunderstood if they decide to teach those who deny them access to quality healthcare a lesson or two. I pray it never gets to that level.
It is understandable that some of the workers who are still proving heady over this issue could be those who are afraid that they might become victimized for taking part in the protestations. Even though some of these people went too far in their opposition to the woman’s return to her seat, I will appeal that no one is punished as a result of their participation in this struggle. Let bygones be bygones. The MD should begin on a fresh page in her dealings with every staff of the center and ensure that where anyone’s loyalty lies does not affect their jobs in anyway. The staff on their own part must rise up to their responsibilities and show good dedication to their duties.
Let us be happy that the war is over and be hopeful that the days ahead shall be better and more fulfilling than the days before. Let no one feel defeated, neither should anyone feel victorious, if there is anyone who has won, it is the truth. Lessons have been learnt and regrets must have been had, but the most important consideration should be humanity and the future.