ON March 24, the board in Nnamdi Azikiwe University Teaching Hospital (NAUTH) announced shortlisted candidates for the position of substantive Chief Medical Director (CMD), but the process that led to that outcome raises questions.
The journey to finding a substantive successor to replace Professor Anthony Igwegbe, the immediate past CMD who completed eight years at the helm of NAUTH, started in January, following the expiration of his tenure.
Nineteen doctors applied to fill in the position of CMD based on the list released by the screening committee, but the committee cleared only 13 for the final interview slated to take place in Abuja. Six doctors were disqualified based on their age and failure to provide relevant documents with their application.
Two of the most senior doctors in the race who were not shortlisted for the final interview include Prof (Mrs) Echendu Adinma and Dr Chukwudi Egbunike, who have 36 and 37 years of medical practice, respectively.
Adinma will be 60 years in June; and Egbunike, 62 in November.
Adinma has petitioned the Minister of Health in a letter protesting her exclusion from the final interview. She noted that the selection committee made a wrong decision by claiming she was “overaged” to occupy the office of the CMD while she has 10 years more to hit the retirement age.
The ICIR reached out to Adinma to get her reaction to the screening committee’s decision but did not get a reply from her at the time of filing this report.
Other doctors excluded from the interview include Dr Elizabeth Nwasor with 31 years of medical experience in her belt, Dr John Chukwuka with 33 years of practice; Dr Prosper Adogu, who had spent 34 years in practice, Prof Onyire Benson with 36 years of experience and Dr Vincent Enumuo, who is 18 years of practice.
President Muhammadu Buhari, who is 78 years old, is the oldest President of Nigeria, and five ministers in his cabinet are septuagenarians.
They include the Minister of State of Niger Delta, Tayo Alasoadura, 71; Health Minister Osagie Ehanire, 74; Agriculture Minister Sabo Nanono, 74 and Defence Minister Bashir Magashi, 75.
Speaking to The ICIR, Prof Onyire said overlooking senior qualified doctors and favouring younger colleagues for the CMD’s position could lead to deteriorating quality because it means they were retiring experienced doctors.
“When you pick a junior ranked doctor to head a medical facility, and you ignore senior colleagues who taught them in class, invariably you are retiring the senior doctors,” he said.
Questions continue to trail the criteria applied by the screening committee to preclude NAUTH’s most experienced doctors from making a list of candidates to be interviewed for the CMD’s position.
Section 5 of the University Teaching Hospitals 1985 Act stipulates that the Chief Medical Director shall be a person who is medically qualified and registered with the Medical Dental Council of Nigeria, MDCN, for a period not less than 12 years.
It also specifies that the person should be of a National Postgraduate of Nigeria or West Africa equivalent to the Medical Dental Council of Nigeria, MDCN, who has been a consultant for over five years.
The retirement age for all workers at the medical centres is 60 years. However, at teaching hospitals, consultants, like other university professors, stay on in service until 70 years, which is their official retirement age.
On December 4, 2019, an advert published in DailyTrust newspaper called on qualified to apply for the position of CMD, stating the conditions for consideration would be based on the University Teaching Hospitals 1985 Act.
It also required that 20 copies of the applicant’s CV and application letters be submitted as requirements for the position advertised.
Dr John Chukwuka followed the directives of the advertisement, sending twenty copies of his CV and application letter but was disqualified based on failure to attach his practising licence to his application.
The remarks made by the selection committee on his application stated –NOT SIGHTED, and he was disqualified because he did not have any document attached to his application.
“It was not stated on the advert to attach our medical license when I had applied for the position. Although this wasn’t announced in the call, I eventually sent copies of the documents via courier services, but the committee turned it down,” he told The ICIR.
Dr Orjiakor Samuel, who was shortlisted for the final interview, also failed to submit his medical license as the selection committee indicated his license was ‘NOT SIGHTED’.
However, the selection committee offered him special consideration to present the missing document on the final interview day. Chukwuka did not get that privilege when he submitted his license for inspection as it was rejected.
Meanwhile, Adinma, who ticked all the boxes, was disqualified based on her age, though she is yet to hit the 70-year-old mark for retirement from public civil service as a university professor.
On the applications of some of the disqualified doctors who had practised medicine for over 20 years, the remarks made by the selection committee was vague. There was just a question mark on their ages in the document; it was not stated if the candidates were “overaged” or not.
The only shortlisted candidate for the final interview with over 30 years of experience is Prof Jude-Kennedy Emejuju, a Chief Consultant Neurosurgeon at NAUTH.
Dr Joseph Ugboaja, a specialist obstetrician, has been appointed as Acting Chief Medical Director (CMD) to pilot the hospital’s affairs. As the final selection of a substantive CMD is being awaited, he leads the doctors with less than 30 years of medical practice contesting for the position of CMD at the teaching hospital.
According to the Nigerian Medical Association, NMA, there are 72,000 registered Nigeria doctors, but more than 50 per cent of them practice outside the country.
The ICIR contacted some selection committee members to verify the criteria used for shortlisting applicants for the final interview and why others were disqualified without explicit reasons.
NAUTH Director of Administration, and member of the committee, Chinyere Nwofor, said she was not authorised to speak to the press about the selection process.
“This is not something I can discuss with you on the phone. Besides, I am not authorised to speak on the selection procedure adopted by the committee. I would advise you to speak to the chairman of the board,” she said.
The ICIR contacted the Board Chairman of NAUTH Ezekiel Afukonyo, but he ended the call immediately after the journalist introduced himself. He also rejected subsequent calls to his line and did not respond to text messages sent via SMS and WhatsApp.
Amos Abba is a journalist with the International Center for Investigative Reporting, ICIR, who believes that courageous investigative reporting is the key to social justice and accountability in the society.