A senior Medical Laboratory Scientist on grade level 10 at the Federal Medical Centre Keffi, Umeh Gabriel Uzoma, has known no peace for blowing the whistle on a cabal of corrupt officials who for years set up different conduits, funnelling government money into private accounts.
Since exposing what turned out to be serial corruption, life has become a living hell for the whistleblower whose salary payment was frozen pronto as he faces a technical dismissal.
Umeh has suffered multiple harassment and indignities to a point a female colleague once spat in disgust, asking him: “what are you still doing here?” That incident was succeeded by “violent assaults from my head of unit, Mrs. Afolake Bello, who held my phone and asked me to leave the laboratory.
Umeh’s actions as a whistleblower was inspired by a circular with Reference FMC/KF/ADM/538 from the office of the Medical Director to all HODs/Units. The circular, dated 23 January 2017 has the heading: ILLEGAL COLLECTION OF CASH FROM PATIENTS.
It reads: “Management has observed that some staff are in the habit of collecting cash illegally from patients for some services rendered. No staff should collect cash under any circumstances from patients but to direct such patients to pay at the bank.”
The circular goes on to say: “It is the responsibility of the Head of Department/Unit to ensure as a matter of duty that all services rendered are properly captured and payment made via the EMR platform. Any officer that violet this will be meted with proper sanctions. This should be considered as the last warning.”
The whistler exposed how cash was collected from patients and remitted to the HOD, Laboratory Services, Mr. Haruna Muhammad Aminat and Head of Unit Mrs. Afolake Bello Saidat including cash for cross matching of blood and from sales of pints of blood.
He also exposed how unqualified ‘cover-up’ staff were accommodated as part of the ring perpetrating illegal activities in the Laboratory Services Department of the hospital under Mrs. Afolake Bello Saidat, head of the Haematology unit and the HOD, Mr. Haruna Muhammad Aminat who the whistleblower alleged would bring into the laboratory, a personal genotype machine and conduct medical test to enrich his pocket.
According to Umeh, “My HOD Laboratory Services, Mr. Haruna Muhammad Aminat and Head of Unit Mrs. Afolake Bello Saidat asked us to be collecting money from patients and their relatives remitting it to our senior colleague by name Abdul Mohammed for hospital services rendered instead of patients or their relatives making payments at the cash point or bank, which I asked patients to pay and bring receipts of payments.”
Documents obtained by SATELLITE TIMES show how the directive from the Chief Medical Director was brazenly violated. Secret log-book leaked to SATELLITE TIMES detailed records of cash collected from patients. Most times patients were extorted as monies they were made to pay were above official charges.
Quacks employed in the Haematology Unit
The whistleblower revealed that some members of staff in the haematology unit are not qualified, adding that they were ostensibly smuggled into the hospital employ just to play the money game.
Documents revealed that they were not licensed by the Medical Laboratory Science Council of Nigeria (MLSCN). The implications of unlicensed practitioners made to work in one of the most sensitive units of the hospital where blood samples are analysed know no bound.
The Whistleblower described the unlicensed staff members as “cover-up staffs”. Though not qualified to work in the laboratory, they are “untouchable”.
SATELLITE TIMES obtained a letter dated 31st May 2017 from the Medical Laboratory Science Council of Nigeria (MLSCN) to the Keffi Chapter of the Association of Medical Laboratory Scientists of Nigeria. Some staff members working as Medical Laboratory Scientists at FMC Keffi were considered as “either not qualified or are yet to be registered with MLSCN” as their names were not found in the MLSCN data base.
The letter from MLSCN named Namo Allu Fidelis and Lekshak Grace Sunday, emphasising that “the underlisted names were not found in our database which suggests that they are either not qualified or are yet to be registered with MLSCN”. The letter was signed by G.A Aikpitanyi-Iduitua, Deputy Director, Practitioners’ Regulation and Discipline.
The MLSCN is the National Medical Laboratory Accreditation Agency, a federal statutory body established by Act 11, 2003 which is responsible for the registration and licensing of Medical Scientists in Nigeria.
After Umeh squealed on the corrupt officers, he was first deployed from the haematology unit to the histopathology unit where his services were not needed.
Even after he had vigorously argued that he studied haematology and clinical chemistry and that he lacked the requisite knowledge and skill set to work in the histopathology unit, he was given a deaf ear. Histopathology is the study of changes in tissue caused by disease. Haematology, on the other hand, is the branch of medicine concerned with the study of the cause, prognosis, treatment, and prevention of diseases related to blood. The whistleblower is a trained haematologist.
After the redeployment to the Histopathology Unit where he was forced to work as a quack, to which he refused, Gabriel Umeh’s salary was stopped November 2017. Upon enquiry, the accounts department informed him his name had been removed from the schedule of payment in the Integrated Payroll and Personal Information System (IPPIS).
SATELLITE TIMES visited FMC Keffi seeking official response. The Chief Medical Director, Yahaya Baba Adamu, said he was only seven days on the job.“I am actually in the process of taking over. Unfortunately, I have not been able to get this privilege information since I arrived here” the new Chief Medical Director said.
Yahaya described Satellite Times investigation as, “something quite commendable” adding it was “an eye opener” as it will help him to widen his searchlight. He pledged for time to look into the allegations and clean up the system. That was on 12 July 2018.
Two months later, in September, SATELLITE TIMES returned to the hospital but met with hostilities from the secretary to the Chief Medical Director. This reporter was however able to speak to some patients who pleading anonymity lamented countless cases of corruption they had experienced in the hands of hospital officials.
Located some 52 kilometres from Abuja, the hospital’s proximity to the neighboring states of Benue, Plateau, Kaduna, Kogi and Niger, contributes to the increase in the number of referral cases to the FMC Keffi.
Yet another attempt was made by this newspaper in November to get an official response, this time from the Public Relation Officer, Mr. Abdullahi Mohammed. Speaking over the phone, he promised to get back but never did.
A staff member of the hospital (name withheld) corroborated the whistleblower’s story, adding that among the senior officials who sat in a group with the new Chief Medical Director inside his office to welcome SATELLITE TIMES in July, were actually those mentioned in the petition written by the whistleblower.
“How can the same people be in the group investigating their own case,” she quipped.
Hunger, malnutrition threaten lives of IDPs in Benue
– Report by Jireh Doo Foundation reveals 88,667 children at risk
Conditions of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) worsen in Benue State. Hunger, acute malnutrition, and sickness are among the most challenging plights faced by IDPs.
While 23,940 children are severely malnourished with possible risks of fatality, a total number of 88,667 are at risk, a recent report on the conditions of IDPs in the State has shown.
The report made available by Jireh Doo Foundation revealed 112,617 as the number of vulnerable children between ages 0-59 months displaced by farmer/herder clashes in the state.
According to the report, IDP profiling in Makurdi, Guma, and Logo were conducted from April 4, 2018 to May 30, 2018, while Okpokwu, Agatu, Gwer West, and Kwande were profiled from September 19, 2018 to October 13, 2018.
The Local Government Areas (LGAs) covered during the survey include – Agatu, Makurdi, Guma, Logo, Gwer West,and Kwande. The survey which took statistics of households and household sizes, among other demographic considerations, also revealed the number of vulnerable pregnant women, nursing mothers, the aged, injured, and sick.Results of the survey was made a public document at an event held in Abuja Wednesday, (February 6) with development partners, the media and other stakeholders in attendance.
Fielding questions during the event, a representative of Benue State Emergency Agency (BSEMA), Shior Emmanuel said food meant for the IDPs is not in short supply but distribution is impeded by the National Emergency management Agency (NEMA).
Other crises faced by the 483,692 IDPs include, Gender Based Violence, lack of medical care, poor sanitation, increase in crime rate, trauma and mental breakdown, the report showed.
The report by Jireh Doo Foundation aims to draw the attention of International Partners, the Federal Government, and local humanitarian organizations to respond and intervene in the current humanitarian crisis in the State.
Nigeria ranks top in mortality rate attributed to air pollution
-air pollution accounts for about 65,000 deaths annually in Nigeria
-country consumes over 500 million kilograms of firewood daily
Despite increased efforts to sensitise Nigerians on the importance of clean air and the attendant effects of air pollution, Nigeria still ranks top in mortality rate attributed to air pollution.
Air pollution is not peculiar problem to Nigerian as it is a global health challenge, killing about 6.5 million people worldwide.
According to data by healthdata.org, air pollution in Nigeria between 2015 and 2016 ranks number 4 among risk factors that drive the most deaths and disabilities combined.
Though efforts have been made by the government and international agencies to curb the effects of this environmental hazard, it still remains a major public health problem.
With a vast number of its population depending on coal and firewood, access to alternative sources of cleaner air remains a luxury, rather than a public good.
According to a study by The Lancet Respiratory Medicine in 2014, India and sub-Saharan Africa are most heavily affected by “Indoor air pollution deaths (per million people).”
The survey shows that Nigeria has 400-610 Indoor air pollution deaths per million populations.
Though efforts are being made worldwide to fight the duality of climate change and energy poverty especially in India and sub-Saharan Africa, an alarming number of 3.5 million and 4.3 million persons die each year to indoor air pollution, killing more people each year than HIV/AIDS and malaria combined, a report by VOX revealed.
Lung cancer and heart disease are the major health threats posed by the menace of indoor air pollution but it is not treated with the type of urgency and attention given to HIV/AIDs.
In 2017, Senate President, Bukola Saraki, represented by Senator Audu Ibrahim, said about 65,000 Nigerians die yearly to household pollution.
The revelation was made known at the 2017 Nigeria Clean Cooking Forum which was organized in partnership with the Federal Ministry of Environment in Abuja.
According to Mr. Saraki, more than half of the deaths recorded yearly were children.
He remarked “Nigerians consume between 1.9kg to 4kg/day/capita of firewood depending on household size. When applied to the country’s population currently put at about 170 million people, the country consumes more than 500 million kilograms of firewood daily.”
In a report made available to SATELLITE TIMES, the Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA) identified the challenges facing the environment as multifaceted including water pollution, indoor and outdoor air pollution, industrial pollution, biodiversity loss, erosion, coastal and marine erosion and land subsidence, land degradation, drought and desertification, among others.
“Out of all these myriads of environmental problems Nigeria is facing, air pollution is the most common and widespread,” the report cited.
While oxides of nitrogen (NOx), sulphur (SOx) and carbon monoxide (Co) remain the major pollutants affecting the environment, the report identified two (2) major sources of air pollution which are; man-made (burning of fossil fuels- natural gas, coal, burning of waste, bush burning, energy production, etc) and natural sources (forest fires, volcanic eruptions, wind erosion, pollen dispersal among others.)
According to the report, air pollution has adverse effects on both the environment and on health. Smog, acid rain, greenhouse effects and global warming are some of the effects of air pollution on the environment.
On the other hand, the health challenges cannot be overlooked as indoor/household air pollution accounts for about 65,000 deaths annually in Nigeria. Top on the list of these challenges are – breathing problems, inflammation of the respiratory track causing coughing, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cardiovascular disease, infectious diseases, vector-borne diseases such as malaria, yellow fever, encephalitis, lyme disease, among others.
Government action to curb air pollution
When SATELLITE TIMES contacted NESREA on what measures it had put in place to curb the adverse effects of air pollution in Nigeria, the Director, Environmental Quality Control (EQC), Mr Simon B. Joshua said that Nigeria is signatory to and has ratified various international conventions, treaties and protocols.
The creation of NESREA as a parastatal of the Federal Ministry of Environment (FME) in 2007 is part of governments move to pay attention to the environment as the agency is “charged with the responsibility of enforcing all environmental laws, guidelines, policies, standards and regulations in Nigeria. It also has the responsibility to enforce compliance with provisions of all international agreements, protocols, conventions and treaties on the environment to which Nigeria is a signatory,” the report made available to this paper read.
Though policies like the National Vehicular Emissions Control Programme (NVECP) and National Generator Emission Control Programme (NGECP) have been put in place, 60% of air pollution in Nigeria is attributed to emissions from transportation and generators.
Medical opinion on the implications of air pollution
SATELLITE TIME contacted a medical doctor, Terry Debo who gave his professional views on the factors that lead to air pollution, symptoms of diseases and the need for health education.
According to him, sources of air pollution (especially for indoor air pollution) vary but the most common in Nigeria are caused by cooking fuel or sources of energy for cooking like firewood, gas, charcoal and stoves that use kerosene, and bush burning.He said that these sources of energy or fuel release carbon monoxide that is harmful to the body.
Corroborating NESREA’s report, Debo said another major source of air pollution that affects people especially in urban areas in Nigeria are generators. He said that the substances that are emitted known as carcinogens are harmful to the body especially to the blood.
“Because carbon monoxide binds more with haemoglobin than oxygen when an individual is exposed to air pollution, oxygen cannot be transported easily this in turn begins to affect tissues in the blood. The body system begins to fail which can lead to brain death and actual death itself,” Debo said.
Symptoms of lung and heart diseases
According to Debo, the most obvious symptom is cough. If you have a cough that lasts more than three weeks, it is something that should give you a reason to go to the hospital. Chest pain is another symptom, he added.
When asked if the early signs are reversible, he said yes.
“For people who live around poorly ventilated environment, active smokers, or exposed to cooking fuel that emits toxic by- products, when they notice these early signs, they shouldn’t hesitate to see a doctor as early as possible.
“Investigations like chest X-rays would be carried out and if picked early, some of them can be abated with medications. Lifestyle changes also play a very crucial role in abating these diseases.
“Some people know the effects of these problems but they do not care. But with proper health education on these factors will help a lot because some people are outrightly ignorant. People need to know that they are affected directly or indirectly,” he concluded.
Mass food poisoning in Nigeria: Lebanese floods markets with toxic buffalo meat
Many Nigerians may be in serious health complications already, following unwitting consumption of highly salted buffalo skin, disguised and sold as cow hides known in local parlance as “ponmo” or “kanda”. The buffalo ponmo, as thick as bicycle tyres, are imported into Nigeria by a cartel of Lebanese businessmen and sold mainly in Lagos and Ibadan markets. The unwholesome meats have reportedly been on sale in Agbor in Delta State, Benin and Ilorin. In Abuja, a SATELLITE TIMES reporter recalled seeing the unusually thick ponmo on a customer’s plate in a restaurant inside Trade More Estate, just behind Voice Of Nigeria (VON) radio transmission station.
Import documents obtained by SATELLITE TIMES reveal that the buffalo consignments are brought in from Sudan and Dominican Republic. The ponmo with offensive odour are imported as an industrial product, specifically as raw material for manufacturing of leather products but are instead sold to Nigerians as consumable meat. That way the Lebanese not only pay a very low import duty of 5%, their consignments escape hygiene and disease-control checks from the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, (NAFDAC). Similarly, the unscrupulous businessmen are able to fool the Ministry of Health whose vet doctors must certify meats safe for public consumption by first conducting due diligence on livestock before they are slaughtered in abattoirs.
To cover their tracks, the Lebanese use several Nigerians as fronts. For one of the imports, No. 72b Marine Road Apapa Lagos was quoted on the Bill of Lading as the importer’s address. However, checks by SATELLITE TIMES showed that the land address was fake. No. 72b Marine Road Apapa does not exist. Further investigations led this reporter to a dingy factory converted into a warehouse on Koseman Street, off Iju Water Works, Iju, a Lagos suburb bordering Ogun State.
Outside the warehouse, a group of market women could be found waiting for their turn to be called in to make their purchase. Yellow-painted tricycles were stationed outside by their operators who obviously were making brisk business transporting the buffalo meat from the warehouse to various markets where on arrival are deposited in drums of water to soften, before iron sponges are used to scrub off grits.
Inside the factory, the buffalo meats were seen deposited on bare floors, A certain Mr. Ahmed and four other Nigerian men were supervising sales with industrial scales while two Lebanese bosses looked on from different corners. The factory appeared to have been used in the past to handle scrap metals and related businesses. There was no meat processing, packaging, freezing nor cold storage facilities.
This reporter was eventually able to obtain a sales receipt issued to one of the market women. The receipt has the name of a company by name Rainbow Hide & Skin Nigeria Limited. A check at the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) however showed that Rainbow Hide & Skin Nigeria Limited was not a registered company.
On one of the shipping documents obtained by SATELLITE TIMES, it showed that the contaminated buffalo meat consignment was brought into Nigeria by a vessel called Rio Grande Express. The shipper’s address was given as Max Henriquez Urea Suite 202, Los Prados, Republica Dominicana while the consignee was given as Dayspring Junction Nigeria Limited, 8 Joe Best Crescent, Junction Bus Stop, Ajao Estate, Lagos. A telephone number assigned to a Mr. Dare Kolawale was also given.
When SATELLITE TIMES called the number, a male voice confirmed that he was the consignee but curiously added he did not know the identity of the importer. He said that Dayspring Junction Nigeria Limited was only “the clearing agent”.
Posing as a buyer, this newspaper contacted Rainbow Hide & Skin Nigeria Limited on telephone. A sales representative gleefully announced that the company had sales outlets in Lagos, Ibadan, Ilorin, Benin, Kano and Abeokuta.
Another company used by the Lebanese in the buffalo hide import is Sharafeldin Trading Company with address as Payne Crescent, Apapa – Lagos. Sources within the Nigeria Customs Service told SATELLITE TIMES that as many as 30 containers a month are brought into the country by the Lebanese cartel with protection from senior Customs and police officials. All the imports were found to have breached the standards Operation Procedure (SOP) as none has End-User Certificate indicating the shoe-manufacturing companies that would use the buffalo hides some of which are disguised on import documents as cow hides.
It was further gathered that a shopper at Agege-Lagos market, disturbed by the unsightly heaps of buffalo hides and the implication for public health, tipped off the police but that arrest and prosecution of the dealers was allegedly scuttled by the Inspector General of Police in charge of Zone 2, Lagos, Adamu Ibrahim.
Mr. Anikwe Adigwe, who told SATELLITE TIMES he saw on sale what fitted the description of the abnormally thick ponmo in Agbor market, expressed grave concern about the damage the buffalo meat must have done to the health of unsuspecting Nigerians.
“We’ve had outbreaks of ebola virus and recently monkey pox attributed to the eating of bush animals. Now, we are talking about buffalo meat. As we speak, ebola is ravaging DR Congo and I am sure Nigeria is up and doing at our international airports inspecting visitors; but is anybody paying attention to what is coming in through the seaports?” Anikwe inquired.
In response to a telephone inquiry, Abubakar Jimoh, Director in charge of media and public relations at the National Agency for Food Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) said his agency deals only with processed foods, thereby suggesting that the import of unwholesome buffalo meat and its consumption by unsuspecting Nigerians falls outside the NAFDAC purview.
Jimoh failed to respond to a detailed email enquiry where this newspaper sought to know if NAFDAC was aware of the imports by the Lebanese. He failed too to say if NAFDAC was sufficiently disturbed by the fact that a cartel has cleverly circumvented the agency’s check mechanism, considering that the animals were slaughtered and packaged without checks for diseases, hygiene and other health measures thus making the consignments objects of mass food poisoning with grave risk to national health.
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