In Nigeria, imposters imitating doctors, or “quacks,” are only busted and shamed by being paraded before news reporters, locked up and charged to court, but are hardly ever prosecuted.
The failure to prosecute quacks allows them to continue their dangerous, fraudulent practices throughout Nigeria.
Patients continue to patronize quacks due to their cheaper services and greater availability, thus causing greater harm or damage to the patients and their families. But cases of malpractice tend to go unnoticed, as quacks’ victims are often unaware of their rights and the ways in which they can report such cases.
In Nigeria, the Criminal Code, which applies in the Southern States, the Penal Code, in the Northern States, as well as the Federal Criminal Code and Federal Penal Code, state that if healthcare providers in their practices become grossly negligent, causing bodily harm, or reckless in the care of others, they will be liable in criminal proceedings.
Section 303 of the Criminal Code provides that it is the duty of every person who – except in a case of necessity – administers surgical or medical treatment to any person to have reasonable skills and to apply reasonable care in carrying out such acts.
According to stories and incidents recorded by the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria, (MDCN), quacks have disregarded such laws by not only being reckless, but by involving themselves in activities for which they lack adequate skills.
MDCN Chief Executive Officer Dr. A. A. Ibrahim, in an interview, noted, “The police are doing their best, but there is more room for improvement. All the cases that we have across the country are either not taken to court in the guise that it is a bail-able offence and investigations are still ongoing, or presented to court with flimsy charges. Many a time we may not be invited to court to stand as witness.
“According to the council, the police are responsible for prosecuting quacks when reported, but the extent to which this can be done without a complainant spending money is what I don’t know,” he added.
The inability of the council to pay lawyers is also another factor that has led to delayed prosecution, according to Dr. Henry, the head of the MDCN investigation unit, said in an interview.
“The judicial system, especially at the magistrate level, has also done their best. We usually apply to the Department of Public Prosecution in the Ministry of Justice to handle our cases; lawyers are assigned to the cases we present. However, some of the lawyers don’t take the cases seriously because we don’t pay them, being a government organization,” Dr. Henry said.
He also cited negligence to due process and the rule of law as another worrisome reason for the prevalence of quackery.
“Most organizations employ friends and relatives as doctors without taking time out to check the documents they are presenting for verification. If a list of people an organization is intending to employ is sent to our office for verification before their resumption of duty, most of the quackery will be detected and stopped. This is hardly done and people keep stealing documents to secure jobs both in public and private establishments.
“There was a situation where a quack, who I described to police as a serial killer, was apprehended. He stole the documents of a cardiologist and was operating as a cardiothoracic surgeon. Once a patient presents to his clinic with weakness, he interprets that as weakness of the heart and he opens their chest and of course they never survive after collecting huge sums. Since 2012 when he was apprehended till date, I have not been invited to witness even after I made some trips to the particular police command. Whether he was tried or not is not known to us,” he said.
From our investigation, the police are responsible for the delay or non-prosecution of arrested quacks and efforts to call the police public relation officer didn’t yield any results as the spokesperson at the Force Headquarters, Donald Awunah (+2348133379980) failed to pick his calls, but ASP Manzah Anjuguri (+2349056202456) FCT Police spokesperson, said he could not speak on the matter until he contacted the police’s legal department.
But Barrister Godwin Sunday Ogboji, a private legal practitioner based in Abuja, acknowledged that quackery in Nigeria is a criminal offence and that there are sufficient laws in the country to warrant prosecution.
According to him, prosecution of quackery involves painstaking efforts to properly investigate the case and gather all the necessary evidence before filing the case before a court of competent jurisdiction.
Mr. Ogboji said that there is the general impression that quacks are never prosecuted because the prosecutors most often come to the court without any tangible evidence to support their claims.
“We often see situations where the prosecutor uses the court as their first platform for investigation. They parade someone without doing proper investigation. Prosecution goes beyond arrest or parade, it requires the presentation of full blown evidence which help the court to arrive at judgment but in the absence of proper investigation, it is hard to jail anyone,” he said.
Ignorance on the part of prosecutors has left quacks off the hook and has given them the opportunity to relocate and continue their destruction.
That accounts for why the MDCN is seeking powers to have its own legal unit so as to prosecute quacks without having to rely on the Ministry of Justice’s free legal services or the police.
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].