Infiltration of the medical profession in Nigeria dates to the early 1960s. Due to the shortage of qualified medical doctors, patent medicine sellers and nurses assume the duties of medical doctors to satisfy patients' needs, especially in rural areas of the country.
But according to the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN), the situation has grown more dire in recent years. Quacks, or unlicensed medical personnel, have emerged from the recesses of Nigeria’s byzantine and mostly unregulated healthcare system and are now boldly operating in public and private hospitals. The consequences have included the killing, maiming and abusing the trust of unsuspecting individuals who believe they are in safe care, according to Dr. Joseph Ojobi, consultant physician with the Federal Medical Centre in Makurdi.
The Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) is one of Nigeria’s most respected trade unions and plays an important role in the formation and implementation of national health policy. However, even this association has been duped by fraudulent medical practitioners masquerading as bona fide doctors. One quack, Martins Ugwu, stole the certificate of one Dr. George Davidson Daniel and used it to gain employment with the Federal Civil Service Commission (FCSC) and later became the highly influential NMA Chairman in the Federal Ministry of Health.
Upon his assumption of duties at the Federal Ministry of Health, Mr. Ugwu was able to navigate his way through the complex bureaucracies and obtain promotions to departments and medical units. As an influential figure in Nigeria’s public health community, he leveraged this influence to allegedly manipulate government policies for his own selfish interests, using his office as the NMA Chairman to extort money and favors from superior officers as well as harass other agency heads in ministry.
A staff in the Permanent Secretary’s office who did not want to be quoted told the author: “Ugwu used his position as the ministry’s NMA chairman to blackmail and extort money and all kinds of gratifications from top ministry officials and heads of agency.”
SaharaReporters learned that Mr. Ugwu successfully placed himself on a committee of experts tasked with advising the government on how to respond to the Ebola outbreak ravaging certain West African countries in 2014. Mr. Ugwu also worked at various times in crucial units or departments handling international donor funding for intervention in HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis, health-related epidemics.
A source at the permanent secretary’s office at the Federal Ministry of Health recalled that Mr. Ugwu’s reign in the ministry was aggressive and unforgettable. “He was the only staff who had the audacity to confront the minister, permanent secretary or any other director and demand what he likes. He didn’t care that such demands were contrary to civil service rules,” the source stated.
It would be Mr. Ugwu’s brazen behavior that led to him being caught by authorities. Investigations revealed that Mr. Ugwu petitioned a host of officials from the ministry to divert funds earmarked for Ebola response that put him in the spotlight. When officials in the ministry of health began making inquiries into Mr. Ugwu’s background, the investigators at the MDCN discovered his double life and busted him.
Another quack, Kejohn Ukpum, was busy working at the General Hospital in Calabar performing surgery and undertaking other dangerous medical procedures with a stolen certificate.
Mr. Ukpum was using the certificate belonging to Dr. Okafor Collins, a trained medical doctor operating a private clinic in Abuja who died mysteriously. The MDCN said they were informed about his death but has no record to show when he died.
Mr. Ukpum had worked as a shop assistant to Mr. Collins’ father, who operated a patent medicine store. But after his death, Mr. Collins junior invited him to work at his clinic in Abuja. Soon after Mr. Ukpum began working at the clinic, Mr. Collins died and Mr. Ukpum started heading the clinic.
It was while he was heading the clinic that he came in contact with some senior government officials from Cross River State who invited him over and gave him an appointment at the General Hospital.
Mr. Ukpum, who had been masquerading as Dr. Collins, was eventually caught by the MDCN and charged to court. However, due to the connections he had in the Government House in Calabar, successfully prosecuting him was thwarted by all kinds of state bureaucracies and officials. One example was the transfer of the magistrate handling the case from one location to another until she retired from service and the case had not made any headway.
Fimusanmi Joseph, a surgeon posted at the State Hospital in Akure located in Ondo State, turned out to be an impostor discharging medical duties without any form of medical education. According the MDCN, he was using the certificate of one Dr Shinku Francis.
After the MDCN discovered that Mr. Joseph was a fraud, he was arrested in late 2013. He was then arraigned before the Akure Magistrate Court in a case that lasted eight months.
However, the state prosecution failed to include Mr. Joseph’s statement in their case file, leading to the case being acquitted. The case was appealed and the High Court in Ondo State ordered that the case be heard afresh, but the magistrate court that delivered the first judgment said they did not have any forwarding address belonging to Mr. Joseph. Therefore, he could not be served the court papers and, according to the MDCN, remains at large.
Such cases demonstrate the ways in which the judiciary has been a stumbling block in the prosecution of quacks. While the MDCN has cracked down on imposters, it cannot tackle the problem alone. Without competent investigations and prosecutions carried out by the Nigerian courts and law enforcement agencies, quacks will continue to endanger the livelihoods of Nigerians across the country.
If you believe you know of an unlicensed or quack doctor operating in Nigeria you can report your concern to the MDCN here. If you want to know whether your healthcare provider is registered you can search for them in the ‘Dodgy Doctor’ tool on the SaharaHealth website. If you are a medical professional, and know you should be on the MDCN registry but have not found your name, you can report your concern to them here: [email protected] or [email protected].