Resting his jaw on his left palm while flicking his eyeballs from side to side that hot afternoon in front of the tiny shop, it was not so difficult to feel the grief racing through his mind. Though over three weeks since that sad experience, Akeem Fatai, a petty businessman, has been unable to fully overcome the pain and stinging feeling it has left behind. Since January 6, 2020 when he rushed his wife to the Ikorodu General Hospital – a government-owned facility sitting on several hectares of land in the heart of Ikorodu town, one of Lagos’s fastest growing suburbs – life has not remained the same for him and his entire household. The episode has in fact opened a new chapter of anguish for the family.
That fateful morning, his wife, Fatima, who was seven months pregnant at the time, felt a sharp pain under her stomach. Moments later, she noticed water sliding through her private part. It was a familiar sign. The couple wasted no time in seeking medical help. On the advice of a nurse, the woman was encouraged to undergo a scan and then approach the Ikorodu General Hospital for urgent intervention. In a matter of minutes they found their ways to the health facility. But events that followed soon left a bitter taste on their lips. Rather than immediately attending to her being an emergency case, Fatima was offered a sit inside the unit and thereafter abandoned to her fate for over four hours. In such precarious state, it was the least type of treatment she needed. But that was only a flash of the real trouble that awaited them.
“Immediately we arrived at the hospital around 11:00am, we were directed to the emergency unit where we expected that she would be quickly attended to but that didn’t happen,” Fatai said as he recalled events of that fateful day. “The nurses on duty asked us to wait but immediately turned away from us.
“I and my wife appealed to the nurses to attend to her but we were ignored despite her terrible condition. Nobody attended to us until 5:00pm when a doctor showed up.
“While the doctor was checking my wife, a nurse told him to ignore her and attend to the person she had just brought into the ward, claiming that the woman was her sister.
“Shortly afterwards, we were sent out of the emergency ward and asked to pay N10,000 for my wife to be admitted.
“They took her inside the main ward after much delay and again abandoned her all through the night,” the father of two added.
‘Operation deliver on your own’
By the time he returned to the hospital the next morning to check on the well-being of his wife, terrible things had happened. The baby had died inside the woman, putting her life in grave danger in the process. Pleas for the nurses to help deliver her of the dead baby were completely ignored. Fatima was forced to go the entire mile alone. The yet to fully recuperate woman told SaharaReporters that she still can’t believe that she made it out alive from the health facility.
“There were many times that I feared the recklessness of the medical staff would lead to my death while still at that hospital,” the heartbroken woman said while fighting back tears. “After being taken into the main ward, I was abandoned on the bed until 6:00am the next day when I started feeling signs that the baby was about to come out,” she continued.
“I called on the nurses to assist me in delivering the baby but they refused. They told me that they don’t usually assist women in delivering babies, that I should do it by myself. It was like a death sentence on me but I summoned courage to push out the baby all by myself.
“But at that time, the baby had died and I had lost a lot of blood.
“I again begged the nurses to help remove the placenta but they refused and abandoned me for over one hour until a young doctor came to my rescue. Without that doctor showing up that moment, I am not sure I’d still be alive today because I had grown very weak at that point,” Fatima added painfully.
Look more, see less
But if Fatai and his bruised wife thought that was the end of their bitter ordeal at this Lagos hospital, they were wrong. What soon followed opened their eyes to the recklessness of medical staff at the facility and reinforced a deep-rooted scheme of corrupt practices that had gone on for years at this government-owned hospital, jeopardising the safety of patients and their loved ones in the process.
Despite the loss suffered by the couple, hospital staff inflated the original medical bill of the woman by several percentage and also made a bizarre demand before she was cleared for discharge. By several standards, it is one of the weirdest requests and or extortion ploy anywhere on the planet.
“On getting to the section where I was to pay the bill, one female staff rushed towards me and presented me with a total of N38,000,” Fatai cuts in, his face growing red. “I was alarmed but since there was no one I could complain to, I went out to look for the money just so I could take my wife out of that place.
“When I returned to the hospital the next day, a young doctor on duty at the time made me understand that my correct bill was N11,800.
“I explained to him that one of the nurses had earlier given me a bill of N38, 000, he told me to ignore and not fall for their corrupt antics, that my correct fee was what he had shown me.
“After gladly paying that amount and returning to the ward to fetch my wife, another female worker approached me and said I had to fulfill one of their traditions by paying for one month’s GOtv subscription for the ward.
“I thought I didn’t hear her clearly the first time until she repeated the same words. She even said that relatives of other patients had paid and that I was the only one whose family member was to be discharged that morning who had not paid.
“Though I refused to pay for the GOtv subscription, other men I interacted with on my way out told me that the workers forced them to pay N2,000 for that purpose.
“Honestly, I wished I never took my wife to that place. Their negligence led to the loss of the baby and almost her life too,” Fatai said before turning to a corner of the shop to observe one of his five prayers for the day being a Muslim faithful.
Different folks, same stroke
Like Fatima, the visit to Ikorodu General Hospital was a similarly nasty experience for Mr David Ukatu, a businessman in the Sabo area of the fast-developing city. Though far from hitting full recovery after being rushed to the health facility on the morning of November 28, 2019, the 62-year-old man can at least take solace in being alive till this day. Gripped by a ferocious seizure (convulsion) around 5:00am that day, Ukatu was about crossing the thin line between life and death when his wife, Emily, discovered him in his room. Her screams woke up their first son, Obinna, and alerted neighbours to their plight. They managed to get him to this Lagos hospital for help.
“When we arrived at the emergency ward of the hospital, rather than quickly attend to him, my husband was left on a tiny bed for almost 20 minutes,” Emily recalled with nostalgia while speaking with SaharaReporters recently. “Nobody attended to him until after one of neighbours working at that hospital arrived and told them we were her people.
“Without her intervention, my husband could have died inside that emergency unit,” the mother of five explained painfully.
Soon asked to pay for various tests and drugs, the Ukatus were gradually ushered into the ‘multi-billing system’ of the hospital’s staff. In under two hours her husband was rushed to the emergency ward, Emily had spent over N20,000 purchasing all kinds of medicine and drip to be administered on him despite the result of the tests conducted still not out. In spite paying for almost everything they were asked shortly after arriving the place, Ukatu was again abandoned by the nurses and only the cries of his wife and son reminded the medical staff that he was in a critical situation. He remained in that state over the two days that followed with only drip administered on him.
‘Market square in land of refuge’
By the time the father of five was eventually moved away from the emergency section into the main ward, it was a different story entirely. First, his wife was asked to pay N1,500 for the gown he was to wear as a patient on admission and also other amounts for bed sheet and pillow. It was a full-fledged market inside the hospital’s wards.
However, it was after spending over one week at the hospital and his family insisting on having him discharged that real trouble started.
“The hospital staff insisted that they were not going to discharge my husband until he did brain scan which cost around N37,000,” Emily revealed angrily. “The result of the tests they ran on him didn’t arrive until after two days we rushed him to the hospital and didn’t show there was anything wrong with him.
“Despite the result not indicating anything wrong with him, they kept prescribe drugs and insisting that we must do the brain scan before he was allowed to go,” she said.
After finally winning the battle to have him discharged from what was now looking like an ‘illegal detention’, the Ukatus thought the storm was over. They proceeded to the desk where bills are to be sorted. It was there that they were confronted with perhaps the biggest ‘monster’ within the hospital’s four walls. Eldest child of the family, Felicia, told SaharaReporters that they witnessed ‘robbery’ in its rawest form at the pay point of the health facility.
“Upon approaching the desk where bills are sorted, we were given a bill of N66,500,” she began. “My mother wanted to pay so that we could quickly take my father home to rest but I insisted on scanning through the bill to see the various items highlighted.
“I discovered that almost every item we had paid for were still added to the final bill. This is the real fraud they perpetuate here.
“They refused to show me my father’s file where the correct bill was stated but presented a concocted one to us all in a bid to extort us.
“By the time I finished checking the list and ensured that all items previously paid for were deducted, our final bill came down to N5,900 from N66,500.
“The ladies attending to me were angry and started murmuring and abusing me in Yoruba language.
“She and her colleagues were cursing and telling themselves that I was a witch who had spoilt business for them that morning. I understood the language but simply ignored them.
“All through the time we were there, I saw these fraudulent staff made families and individuals spend unnecessary money as bill using this same trick,” she added.
No mercy for the dead
While the Fatais and Ukatus can take solace in the fact that their loved ones continue to live despite the nasty experience at Ikorodu General Hospital, family members of late Victoria Oyewole can only wish for such luck. Brought into the hospital in early December 2019 after suffering partial stroke, the 65-year-old never received the type of attention needed from hospital staff until she eventually died a few days later, according to her daughter, Elizabeth, who spoke with SaharaReporters. In fact, more than 24 hours after she passed away, family members were tricked by hospital staff into believing that she was alive but in coma. During that period, Elizabeth and her siblings were forced to pay for all sorts of items including drugs despite not seeing the result of the tests conducted on her up until that point.
“On one of those days I got to the hospital, I was told that I couldn’t see my mother because she was in coma and was being observed,” Elizabeth began. “I was told that she was stable and responding well to treatment.
“But I later got to know from one of the few honest hospital staff that my mother actually died a day earlier but the news was kept away from us so that we could be made to enrich their fraudulent purses.
“When the demand by us to see our mother became too much on the hospital staff, they eventually told us the truth, that she had died,” she said.
Heartbroken and depleted at the loss of their mother, Elizabeth, her siblings and extended family members had to summon courage to accept the news in good faith. It was not something they were prepared for at the time but had to rise up to the tragic occasion. Sadly, corrupt and reckless staff members of Ikorodu General Hospital were not done with them yet – they had prepared one last bitter pill for them to swallow before exiting the facility.
“We were shocked to find out that after my mother died, they simply took her body and abandoned it at the hospital’s mortuary without embalming or preserving it in any way,” Elizabeth told SaharaReporters, her eyelids now filled with tears. “My mother was swollen and smelling when we went to collect her body.
“The mortuary attendants told us that the hospital did not give them money for her to be embalmed and that was why they dumped her body somewhere.
“We had to cough out another N15,000 for them to inject her body so that we could take her away for burial.
“My mother didn’t deserve such heartless treatment. The hospital staff only care about extorting money from patients and their families.
“I saw so many people whose loved ones were abandoned to die because they could meet up with the constant demand for money by these fraudulent hospital staff.
“Our family will never forget the pains their negligence has caused us,” the young lady added before finally succumbing to her emotions. It was the sight of a broken soul crying her heart out.
Test results from Saturn
Segun Ogundipe, a software engineer based at the Agric area of Ikorodu won’t forget September 2, 2018 in a hurry. That day, he had to rush his younger brother, Bidemi, to this Lagos hospital when his body temperature nearly reached tipping point. The youngman couldn’t sleep all night, so as early as 7:00am they arrived at the hospital for medical help. Believing that in less than one hour staff at the emergency ward would have examined and stabilised Bidemi’s condition before any further treatment, Segun, who had a meeting at the office by 10:00am that day, soon found out the bitter truth about this health facility.
“We were told to pay for N500 for file and wait for the record officer before he could be attended to,” he began. “By 9:30am a nurse finally checked his blood pressure before he was moved to see a doctor.
“After examining the patient, the doctor prescribed some tests. Even though I was already late for the meeting I had at the office, I didn’t mind waiting at the hospital thinking the test result would be out in a matter of minutes.
“About 30 minutes later, a female staff approached and informed us that we should come for the test results three days later. I almost ran mad. A result needed to treat an emergency case would not be ready until after three days? Is the result going to be sent from Saturn (farthest planet from earth)?
“I couldn’t believe it but the doctor confirmed the situation and even said he cannot attend to my brother without the test results.
“We had to resort to self-medication by approaching a pharmacy outside the hospital to purchase malaria and typhoid drugs to save my brother’s life.
“This was around 2:00pm, seven hours after he was rushed to the emergency unit of Ikorodu General Hospital.
“That very moment, I vowed never to step foot in that hospital again. The workers there have no regard for human lives,” he added.
In July 2019, a young lady identified as Oyin Gucci took to popular social networking platform, Twitter, to share her bitter experience at this government-owned hospital. On the 19th of that month, she lost her nine-month-old son to the negligence of medical staff at the facility. After the child was rushed to the hospital, nurses failed to attend to them because there was no doctor on the ground. Two hours later when a doctor eventually showed up, he did not offer any treatment to her son and acted as if there was nothing serious. Without conducting any test, he wrote down some prescriptions for the woman to buy and left for mosque to pray. The child eventually died about six hours after medical staff failed to attend to him.
Established in 1983 to cater to the health needs of the suburb’s constantly swelling population, the Ikorodu General Hospital located along the hilly TOS Benson Road, is the biggest of all government-owned health facilities in the area. One of Lagos’ 26 registered general hospitals, the facility – originally a primary health centre – has since been upgraded to a category “A” secondary health care facility to provide quality medical services for Ikorodu’s over 938,000 residents. But rather than meet up with that huge expectation, the hospital as a result of poor management and lack of proper funding, has struggled to deliver on its mandate.
Familiarity above ethics
While there appears to be some form of sanity at the children’s wing of the hospital and a few other sections of the facility according to SaharaReporters’ investigation, the emergency and general admission wards respectively are where fraudulent and reckless staff mostly ply their trade. During several visits to the facility in recent weeks, our correspondent observed how friends, acquaintances and relatives of hospital staff brought in for medical attention are given priority over other patients without ‘connection’ at the place even if the cases of such persons were more critical. Medical staff have simply placed relationships and familiarity above professional ethics.
“My brother who was involved in a car accident on September 7, 2019 was rushed to the emergency ward of this hospital but wasn’t attended to by the nurses and doctors who claimed they were busy with other patients.
“I watched as these people moved around aimlessly while my brother writhed with pains. There was no sense of urgency in them.
“While still crying and pleading with them to attend to him, one of the nurses came to me to say I should go and pay for mortuary fees, that he was dead already.
“It was the most heartless way to break such news to anyone especially after they refused to save his life,” Cynthia Okoh, a bank worker based in Ibadan, Oyo State, told SaharaReporters.
Okoh’s brother, Stanley, was returning to Ikeja from Epe via Ikorodu when his vehicle ran into a huge ditch and took a violent tumble down the hill around the Agbowa axis of the Lagos/Ijebu-Ode Road. His Honda Accord car was a total wreck. Kind-hearted fellows, who witnessed the scene, managed to remove the 37-year-old from the vehicle’s remains and rushed him to the Ikorodu General Hospital hoping to save his life. But Stanley, from Abia State, never made it out alive from the facility. Like dozens others, staff negligence and failure of the hospital’s authorities to arrest this troubling situation combined to send him six feet below the earth’s surface – his eternal resting place.
So close, yet very far away
To further confirm the culture of reckless disregard for human lives by medical staff of the emergency section of this Lagos hospital, our correspondent on January 10, 2020 witnessed a rare encounter. That afternoon, at about 12:30pm, a Toyota Sienna vehicle brought in a critically ill patient. Upon arriving in front of the emergency, two women jumped out of the car, ran to the entrance of the unit and beckoned on nurses and doctors to quickly come out and check the man they had rushed down. After over 15 minutes of neglecting this family and with the sick man still inside the vehicle, a doctor finally emerged from the ward. But it was too late. The patient was dead. Hell broke loose as the women went berserk. Sounds of their cries and the gnashing feeling it left on every ear was all that rent the air. It was raw emotion on display – one capable of melting even a heart made of steel.
Ten minutes later, the vehicle stutters back to life, ferry the entire grieving contingent away – including their dead. Visitors around the scene were all gripped with fear, uncertain about the fate that awaits their loved ones inside this hospital’s notorious emergency ward.
The last walk home
Similar scenes were witnessed by our correspondent on other visits to this health facility but nothing came close to the one seen on January 10. At not more than intervals of 20 minutes at times, the reporter observed how mortuary attendants arrived the emergency unit with a rickety stretcher to wheel away death’s latest victims. Wrapped in cloth material that sometimes exposes parts of deceased persons’ body, mortuary attendants, often times two fierce-looking young men, wheel the corpse through a narrow and already crumbling walkway before descending down a hill to reach the morgue.
A facility gasping for breath
According to SaharaReporters’ findings, there are currently around only 20 bed spaces for emergency patients at the hospital – a gross deficiency going by the volume of visits the unit records on daily and weekly basis. A staff, who asked not to be named, told our correspondent that at least 70 emergency cases are brought to the hospital every day but only a fraction of that number are attended to by doctors and nurses said to be overwhelmed by the enormosity of the task. As a result, majority of emergency patients are either abandoned for hours or eventually advised to seek help elsewhere – of course after they must have been made to part with some decent amounts by corrupt hospital staff.
“The hospital’s management know about all the terrible things going on here but they have failed to address the problem because some of them are benefitting from the way the system is.
“This used to be one of the best general hospitals in Lagos to the extent that people from other states came here for medical attention but all that was in the past because the management has watched things go very bad.
“I am praying for the Lagos State Government to intervene so that many of the issues wrong with the hospital can be addressed,” the source said.
Mega city, minute worries
Though commendable when compared to what others had earmarked for the same purpose, major stakeholders in the health sector believe that the amount reserved for health care in the 2020 budget by the Lagos State Government was far below what is needed to revamp the system and make quality medical services available to ordinary people.
For example, out of the N1.168trn budget proposed by Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu for 2020, only N33bn was set aside for the health sector. It is from that amount that the proposed revamping and re-equipping of over 350 Primary Health Centres is expected to take place.
In 2018, the state allocated N92.676bn – nine per cent of the total budget – to the health sector but ended up releasing only N21.315bn or 23 per cent of the allocated figure.
According to the Chairman of Public Health Sustainable Advocacy Initiative, Ayo Adebusoye, who described the 2018 health budget in Lagos as the worst in terms of implementation, there isn’t much to hope for this year as well.
“When the Lagos State government passed the N1.046trn budget for 2018 and health got N92.676bn representing 8.86 per cent of the entire budget, people were excited even though it was not up to recommended accepted 15 per cent.
“It was unfortunate that out of this amount, only 23 per cent which is about N21.315bn, was implemented.
“When broken down, what the government budgeted for health for each Lagos resident was not up to N1,200,” he said.
Adding his voice to the debate, a medical practitioner, Boma Georgewill, told SaharaReporters that poor funding of public health facilities was among factors giving rise to corrupt practices and negligence among staff as witnessed at Ikorodu General Hospital by our correspondent.
According to him, with proper funding and competitive remuneration, medical staff will concentrate on serving patients diligently rather than trying to make life difficult for them.
“This is one of the areas I think government should look at. They must increase public health funding so that some of this shameful practices we see at government hospitals will cease,” Georgewill said.
Defeating the monster
When contacted by SaharaReporters on the unwholesome practices and disregard for human lives at Ikorodu General Hospital and to find out what measures were in place to tackle such, Commissioner for Health in Lagos, Prof Akin Abayomi, did not respond to calls and a text message sent to his telephone number by our correspondent.
Managing Director and Chief Medical Director of Ikorodu General Hospital, Dr Funmilayo Bankole, declined to speak on the matter despite several attempts by SaharaReporters to get her reaction. On two separate visits to her office, her staff claimed she was not on seat but acknowledged that she was aware of efforts by our correspondent to seek her view on the matter.
A former Vice President of the Nigeria Bar Association, Mr Monday Ubani, while condemning negligence and corrupt practices on the part of the hospital’s staff, said that Nigerian courts must begin to place stiff punishments on health workers, who display reckless disregard for human lives and cause needless deaths. According to him, persons whose relatives died as a result of medical negligence shouldn’t allow such issue pass without approaching a good lawyer to press charges. That way, Ubani reckons, medical staff in public hospitals across the country would begin to sit tight and display more humanity while handling patients.
“The issue of negligence and corruption in public hospitals across the country is a very serious matter that needs to be look into by all stakeholders.
“Nurses and doctors have been found to display sheer wickedness and complete disregard for human lives in many of these hospitals.
“In fact a lot of persons who visit public hospitals and go back home alive after a few days on admission now throw thanksgiving ceremonies to appreciate God for bringing out of such place. The situation is that bad now.
“I think the solution is not for people to keep quiet when medical negligence and corruption lead to the deaths of their loved ones, what they should do is to approach a very good lawyer who then make a case for them in court.
“Once our courts begin to slam these hospitals and their staff with hefty punishments and ask them to pay huge compensations to victims’ families, this will serve as deterrent and they will begin to do the right thing.
“Indeed a lot of Nigerians are dying needlessly in our public hospitals,” he said.
Though still popular among persons seeking medical help across and beyond its nooks and cranny, the Ikorodu General Hospital is fast becoming a home of needless deaths and without urgent intervention by the Lagos State Government more families could be thrown into everlasting sorrow.