Nigerian Government to restore services at Owerri Medical Centre

Gloria Essien, Abuja

Minister of State for Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire

After due consultation with stakeholders and relevant authorities, the Federal Ministry of Health (FMoH) has decided that the substantive management of Federal Medical Centre (FMC), Owerri, led by Dr. (Mrs.) Uwakwem, shall resume its functions immediately and shall be supported by a team from the Federal Ministry of Health (FMoH) Abuja.

This was disclosed by the Minister of State for Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire.

He said that the move was aimed at bringing peace to the medical centre for it to commence statutory governance to enable it deliver healthcare service to Nigerians, and especially, Imo State citizens.

The minister urged all staff members of FMC Owerri to cooperate with the management and abide by the law.

“Any person unable to accept this decision is free, and indeed encouraged, to tender their resignation or apply for retirement. No individual or group should attempt to hold a public institution hostage or cripple essential services on account of their own personal grievance. There must be no hindrance of access to, or movement within the facility. Acts of intimidation of staff willing to work will draw consequences. Unruly behaviour shall be squarely confronted,” he said.

Dr.  Ehanire explained that the  Interim Management Team (IMT), inaugurated on 4thJanuary, 2016, has completed its assignment and submitted its report and recommendations, which the Ministry needed to analyse in detail: hence the delay in taking these conclusive steps.

He said that having now outlived its mandate in July 2016, the IMT is hereby forthwith dissolved, to make room for a final lasting solution and that the Ministry appreciates their services.

“Following the administrative baton change here today, the Interim Management Team is hereby directed to conduct the technical handover to the Medical Director and substantive management in FMC Owerri premises, in the presence of an Assessor Team from the Federal Ministry of Health (FMoH) to oversee the process. Additionally, a management Support Team is to be deployed from the FMoH to assist in settling in, within the shortest time”, he directed.

The Minister also stressed that the goal of the Federal Ministry of Health (FMoH) is to restore peace, harmony and lawful governance in order for full service to be rendered to the people and for development to come to FMC Owerri.

“All staff are enjoined to put acrimony aside and work together; and citizens of Imo State are asked to contribute to peace building at FMC Owerri. The MD is also urged to embrace peace and work towards efficient service delivery,” Dr. Ehanire appealed.

He however reiterated that “it is important to note that Dr. (Mrs.) Uwakwem, like all medical directors, is a presidential appointee. The due process that was followed in her appointment must also be followed, should there be a case for termination. Should evidence of misconduct be found against her, Dr. Uwakwem will answer for it and face the law. No person shall be protected from justice. Since Dr. Uwakwem’s 4 year tenure is valid until 2017 and no evidence of misconduct against her was raised by a ministerial fact finding commission, the Ministry desires rule of law to prevail over mob action”.

He said that despite efforts of the IMT, FMC Owerri has been unable to regain its stature or perform to its potential, whereas it was previously the celebrated hospital in the entire state. The mandate of the IMT has expired by now and there cannot be a vacuum.

It should be recalled that the impasse at the Federal Medical Centre (FMC), Owerri, Imo State, has seriously crippled service delivery for the better part of 2 years. Until then, Owerri medical centre was one of the best hospitals in its class of the federal government’s hospital system. The standard has now crashed as the result of a protracted union-led industrial action that could not be resolved with appeal to reason.

The Medical Director (MD) of the hospital, Dr. (Mrs.) Uwakwem, had embarked on a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) programme to entrench transparency and accountability around April 2015.

Such collaborations are allowed by law and supported by the Federal Government; the Ministry of Health even has a department for it.  However, the initiative was rejected by the Workers’ Unions of FMC Owerri, who went on a series of strikes and disrupted hospital services.

They raised several charges against the MD, including financial mismanagement and “highhandedness,” and demanded her removal from office. The Federal Ministries of Health and Labour intervened, after sending the MD on leave, with a joint official inquiry to investigate the accusations.

A detailed report was released on 3rdNovember, 2015, that absolved the MD of guilt and recommended her recall to duty. However, the unions were implacable; they ignored the pleas of Ministers, His Excellency the Governor and of the Chairman, Federal House Committee on Health, Hon. Chike Okafor. They embarked on another strike with menacing demonstrations that virtually shut down the centre, so that no meaningful work was done for much of 2015, truncating the centre’s mandate of healthcare delivery.