Prolonged crisis at Federal Medical Centre, Owerri
PROLONGED CRISIS AT FEDERAL MEDICAL CENTRE (FMC), OWERRI; TERMINATION OF THE INTERIM MANAGEMENT TEAM (IMT), REINSTATEMENT OF SUBSTANTIVE MEDICAL DIRECTOR AND MANAGEMENT TEAM, EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY
This is a Press Release from the Federal Ministry of Health. The subject matter, as you might know, is the impasse at the Federal Medical Centre (FMC), Owerri, Imo State, which 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.
A brief background will refresh your memory: The Medical Director (MD) of the hospital, Dr. (Mrs.) Uwakwem, 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 3rd November, 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. Added to this was a growing feeling of insecurity and threat to life and property within and outside hospital premises and intimidation of some workers by groups acting with impunity.
With a state of near anarchy, the Honourable Minister of Health, Prof. Adewole, announced the temporary closure of the facility at a press conference held on 16th December, 2015, to avert imminent breakdown of law and order. In another press conference on 25th December, 2015, the Federal Ministry of Health placed the MD and her management on administrative leave and set up an Interim Management Team (IMT) to administer FMC, Owerri for 6 months, with terms of reference to, among others, restore clinical services as soon as possible, to this premier medical centre in Imo State. 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.
This centre must have peace and statutory governance to enable it deliver healthcare service to Nigerians, and especially, Imo State citizens. This is the mandate for which over 2,500 people in this centre are on government payroll with tax payers’ money.
The Interim Management Team (IMT), inaugurated on 4th January, 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. Having now outlived its mandate in July 2016, the IMT is hereby forthwith dissolved, to make room for a final lasting solution. The Ministry is grateful for their service.
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. 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. As President Muhammadu Buhari said in his 2015 Independence Day address, “You and I and all of us must appreciate that we all have our part to play if we want to bring change about. We must change our lawless habits, our attitude to public office and public trust. We must change our unruly behaviour in schools, hospitals, market places, motor parks, on the roads, in homes and offices. To bring about change we must change ourselves by being law-abiding citizens.”
All staff members of FMC Owerri are thus urged 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.
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.
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.
The Federal Ministry of Health thanks His Excellency the Executive Governor of Imo State, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, for his support throughout this period, and his continuous efforts in reconciling staff with management. FMoH also thanks members of the national assembly for their support in resolving this stalemate. The security agencies have been very helpful in this process, and their continued support is further solicited in protecting law abiding staff of the centre as they go about their duties and securing public property.
The Ministry of Health extends gratitude to the long suffering people of Imo State, traditional leaders, local and state organisations, professional bodies and individuals who, in various ways, contributed to the resolution of this conflict. Finally, we thank members of the press and urge them to take the message, that the people of Imo State and South-East Nigeria in general, need industrial peace and harmony, for socio-economic development.
Dr. E. Osagie Ehanire MD, FWACS
Honourable Minister of State for Health