Nigeria: Crisis Rocks Uyo Teaching Hospital’s Resident Doctors’ Association

Mr Ojoko said the constitution of the association cannot be superior to that of Nigeria especially on matters of fundamental human rights.

Crisis over succession is currently rocking the Association of Resident Doctors (ARD), University of Uyo Teaching Hospital (ARD-UUTH) chapter in Akwa Ibom State.

The crisis, which erupted a few weeks ago over election of new officers, escalated earlier this month following the omission of the name of the current Secretary General of the association and presidential candidate, Eric Ojoko, from the list of candidates.

The association initially constituted a disciplinary committee to look into a petition against Mr Ojoko, which according to him was “constituted illegally with the influence of the President, Jumbo Hezekiah” just to disqualify him from the race.

PREMIUM TIMES had earlier contacted the Electoral committee chairman, Etiemana Jacob, who directed this reporter to the association’s national body, noting that the directive from NARD informed the committee’s decision and that it is the only constituted authority that can speak on the matter.

The association’s national body confirmed that the election would be postponed and constituted a caretaker committee to investigate the issue, but the latest development confirmed that the election would now hold on Friday with Mr Ojoko still disqualified from contesting.

Ojoko kicks

From the letters obtained by PREMIUM TIMES, a disciplinary committee earlier invited Mr Ojoko to different virtual meetings over the allegations but he said he could not appear before the committee as a result of an alleged impromptu arrangement.

Mr Ojoko said: “Even though, I have every document to exonerate myself, does the constitution recognise the disqualification of a candidate based on a petition that has not been verified or investigated, the answer is no. But the President, Jumbo Hezekiah, has made up his mind to make sure he doesn’t see me on a ballot.

“He even went ahead to forward my name to a disciplinary committee that was illegally constituted. The disciplinary committee in my association is a standing committee that is only set up at an annual general meeting.

“As a secretary with all the records of the association at my disposal, there is no document that confirms the constitution of the disciplinary committee and its members.”

Mr Ojoko said the disciplinary committee, the electoral committee and the president ensured that the Electoral Chairman that was appointed screened him out of the race.

“That was how I saw that my name was conspicuously missing on the list of screened candidates but we are doing everything within the law to ensure that justice is served,” he said.

However, efforts to reach the association’s President were futile as calls to his mobile line were not answered while messages were also not replied as of the time of filing this report.

Disciplinary measures

A letter dated 18 December and signed by the Secretary of ARD UUTH disciplinary committee, Edikan Ekwere, noted that the Chairman of the committee, Adeneye Christian, had invited Mr Ojoko to a meeting to discuss and answer questions bothering on his alleged gross abuse of office, and dishonest behaviour “as well as bringing the association into disrepute.”

In his response to the invitation, Mr Ojoko said: “I received an invitation by 10.08 a.m. this morning requesting that I appear by 11.00 a.m. this morning to defend myself against weighty allegations the particulars of which were not specified in the letter.”

In another response, he requested that to properly prepare his defence, the disciplinary committee should provide the details of the allegations levelled against him, the evidence and names of witnesses which form the basis of the allegations, details of the disciplinary committee and those to be involved in the trial as well as official records showing their membership of the committee.

He also requested that “the trial of this nature should be open to the public in line with my constitutional rights to a fair hearing and the interest of transparency within the association.”

NARD reacts

When PREMIUM TIMES contacted the Secretary General of the Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), Kelechi Chikerezie, a week ago, he said the stand of the National body is that members/doctors who are not up to date with payment of dues to the association are not eligible to vote or be voted for.

He said the national body was aware of the situation and that it would look into it.

He said: “And then we have assigned a team to investigate what is happening and we are not working on any committee’s report, disciplinary or otherwise. After that, we will work on providing solutions, that is what the national body is working on now.

“When our team gets there, they will sit down with all the parties to hear all the cases and then take a decision.”

However, PREMIUM TIMES confirmed Thursday that the election has been rescheduled for Friday, 30 December, after a three-man caretaker committee constituted by the national body exonerated everyone involved in the tussle but disqualified only Mr Ojoko on the premise that he went to court on an issue meant to be resolved internally by the association.

NARD action

When contacted, the appointed chairman of the Caretaker Committee, Nnamdi Nd-Ezuma, who is the Vice President of NARD, FCTA, refused to comment, insisting that it does not have permission to comment. He then directed this reporter to the national body.

In a letter dated 22 December, 2022, with reference: NARD/SG/2022-2023/221222/165 and signed by the President of NARD, Orji Innocent, the committee is expected to complete its assignment within two weeks.

NARD had initially suspended the activities in ARD UUTH and announced the takeover of its affairs in October.

“You are also expected to hand over all necessary instruments of the association to enable them to investigate and resolve all the issues raised by the various petitions written, and conduct free and fair elections for the centre and conduct proper handover to the newly elected leaders.

“They are expected to conclude this assignment within two weeks from this date,” the letter had read in part.

No report from the committee

The Secretary General of NARD, Mr Chikerezie on his part claimed Thursday that the caretaker committee was yet to submit the report of its investigation but he noted that the national body “trust their judgement”.

“I can’t say anything on the issue but the caretaker committee has not reported to us yet. For now, we dont have their report, we can’t tell who is qualified or not for the election tomorrow but we trust their judgement that they will do the right thing,” Mr Chikerezie said on the phone.

Mr Eric on his part told this newspaper that the committee took a unilateral decision to disqualify him.

He said: “The caretaker committee sent by the national body came in, arrived in Uyo on Tuesday and interfaced with all parties involved, and met with me, the President, the disciplinary committee chairman and the Electoral Committee Chairman.

“They faulted virtually everybody in one way or the other, and there was a procedural effect in the way they want to go about everything.

“The allegations that were raised against me were not weighty. It was more like a premeditated decision, more like they came around to carry out what they have planned.

“They exonerated everybody except me raising an issue by a section of the NARD constitution which prohibits any member or non-member from taking any matter or an issue within the association to court.

“So they used that to disqualify me from standing election tomorrow, even when I raised a point of order that what took me to the court was not purely an association matter. It was a matter of my fundamental right being taken away as a citizen of this country. I was disqualified on the premise that I took the association to court.”

Mr Ojoko said the constitution of the association cannot be superior to the Constitution of Nigeria.

“The constitution of Nigeria allows me to seek redress in a court on a matter that I feel my fundamental rights have been tampered with,” he concluded.

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