New Telegraph

Enugu NMA: A sad memory of doctors’ election

Enugu, the Coal City state witnessed two botched elections of two different associations last week. They are the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) and Ogbette Main Market Traders Association (OMMTA). Interestingly, while the NMA made global news for the wrong reason; that of the traders on the contrary showed better handling and perhaps, a more civilised approach. Doctors by training all over the world are respected class of professionals. In fact, training in medical courses confers pride and dignity not only to the person but also his parents and relations.

It is therefore expected that in all their conducts, doctors will show class and civility, including in electing people to lead them in their association. But what happened in Enugu on Friday August 6, 2020 at Michael Okpara Square during the election of the state branch of NMA, was a huge embarrassment to the profession. On the contrary, Ogbete traders that scheduled their election the next day, Saturday 7, 2020 handled theirs in a more civilized manner. Yes, their election was equally botched but through a court process.

There was no fisticuffs, breaking of heads and cudgeling of anybody. One of the disgruntled parties to the traders’ election simply approached the court and an Enugu State High Court presided over by Justice Azubuike Onovo granted an order of interim injunction restraining the conduct of election into executive offices of the traders association. Onovo ordered the OMMTA electoral committee or their agents, the respondents, servants and or any other from conducting the election pending the hearing and determination of the Motion on Notice. The order followed a suit number E/314M/2020 filed by a presidential candidate in the election, Chief Stephen Aniagu challenging his disqualification from participating in the poll.

The respondents in the suit are the chairman of the electoral committee, Rev.Fr Nnamdi Nwankwo and nine others. Aniagu, who is one of the two candidates disqualified from participating in the election, accused the electoral committee of having a preconceived motive. Another disqualified and aggrieved presidential candidate, Mr Oliver Ezemba, said that the screening committee had earlier cleared him to participate in the election. He however said that the clearance letter issued to him by the committee was withdrawn five days later on the claim that the appeals committee quashed his clearance.

He described his disqualification as illegal and premeditated, adding that the electoral committee was compromised. He said that no section of the OMMTA constitution was against his participation in the election. The doctors’ election turned bloody, where axe, bottles and machetes were freely used. The chairmanship election ended in a disaster as members engaged in a free for all following allegations of manipulations in favour of a particular candidate by the outgoing leadership. According to eye witness accounts, trouble started when some members of the association felt that their candidate was being rigged out of the election and decided to cause crisis.

A contestant Dr. G. O. P. Onyia, a resident in Parklane hospital Enugu sustained deep machete cuts around the head and arms even as the police and other security personnel were on ground to maintain peace and orderliness. Onyia was contesting with Dr. James Aape from University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital (UNTH) Ituku-Ozalla, Enugu state.

While some sustained injuries trying to escape from the thugs, others, including the NMA chairman in the state, Dr Ike Okwesili, were thoroughly beaten and wounded. One of the doctors, Dr. Ejike Odo, who spoke to journalists stated, “We hope he is fine wherever he may be because he was brutalised.”

The doctor narrated that policemen, who were drafted to the venue of the election had hectic time preventing major casualties. “In the bid to control the crowd and send people away from the venue, they also dealt serious blows on the members,” he added.

It was reported that thugs, numbering more than 30, had stormed the venue with dangerous weapons while voting was going on and started destroying chairs, tables and canopies among other objects being used for the election. They upturned the ballot boxes and pounced on members of the electoral committee leading to the doctors scampering to safety for fear of losing their lives.

The August 6 debacle did not come as a surprise to those following events in the association. It would be recalled that during the build up to the poll, the association witnessed suspension and counter suspensions of the leadership of the outgoing executive. The matter which came to a head two weeks to the election saw the emergence of two chairmen for the State Chapter of NMA, Dr. Ike Okwesili and Dr. Onyekachi Ugwuonye respectively. While a statement made available to journalists in Enugu purported that the NMA Enugu State branch had after its virtual Emergency General Meeting (EGM) on July 24, suspended its chairman, Dr. Okwesili, for alleged gross misconduct and abuse of office, a counter statement from the camp of the alleged suspended chairman dismissed the suspension describing it as a hoax and mischievous.

But the group which announced the suspension claimed that the virtual meeting, participated by 30 out of over 4,000 members of the association in the state, had appointed Dr. Onyekachi Ugwuonye, one of the three vice chairmen to act as chairman pending the determination of the matter by the Ethics and Disciplinary Committee of the NMA state branch. The suspension was issued in Enugu and signed by Ugwuonye and Dr. Okam Izu-chukwu. They claimed that their meeting was in line with Article VII (i) and (ii) of the By-laws of the NMA, Enugu State, while alleging that the suspended chairman had unilaterally withdrawn the rights and privileges of some members of the association without recourse to laid down procedures and thereby, threw the association into chaos.

But in a counter letter with ref. NMA/ ENUGU/240720/622, addressed to Zonal Chairmen, Heads of Affiliates, CMDs/MDs of Tertiary Health Institutions (THIs) and its members, titled: ‘Re: purported suspension of the NMA Enugu State chairman – disclaimer’, described the report as malicious and figment of imagination of those behind it.

In the letter signed by Dr. Ike Okwesili and Dr. Emmanuel O. Aneke, Chairman and Secretary of Enugu state NMA respectively, also described the meeting as improper despite the number as those who signed for the meeting were non-financial members.

The letter was copied to the President of NMA, Commissioner of Police Enugu State and State Director, DSS. The letter read “The leadership of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) Enugu State has been regrettably inundated with barrage of complaints bordering on acts of gross misconduct by some members who for reasons best known to them orchestrated and executed a failed plot to topple a legitimate State Executive Council of our noble association. “We are heavily dismayed by these unwholesome, fraudulent and embarrassing activities of these individuals who have even gone ahead to issue a press release with a cloned letter head of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) Enugu State, a criminal act which violates all extant laws of the land, MDCN Act and Nigerian Medical Association (NMA).

That was the situation when the election took place and ended in fiasco. But the national body of NMA had stepped in. The national leadership on Sunday August 9, announced the setting up of a three-member committee to investigate the “shameful behaviour” exhibited by its members in Enugu State during the aborted election. While describing the action as “public opprobrium” brought on the noble profession of medicine in Nigeria, the association apologised to Nigerians and other nationals who may be disappointed at the behaviour of some doctors during the Enugu State NMA election.

The President of NMA, Prof. Innocent Ujah, who announced the setting up of the committee during a press conference in Abuja entitled, “Enugu State NMA disrupted election: A show of shame”, said it was a sequel to the National Officers’ Committee meeting. He told all the state branches of NMA yet to conduct their elections to ensure that the values and inalienable rights of members were not eroded.

The committee chaired by a former President of NMA, Prof. Mike Ogirima, also has Agam Ayuk and Chris Yilgwan, immediatepast chairmen of NMA in Cross River and Plateau states as members. Among the terms of reference of the committee which has two weeks to submit its report, including investigating the immediate and remote causes that led to the disruption of the 2020 Enugu State NMA election.

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