THE Federal Medical Centre, Owerri, is one of the beneficiaries of the awarded emergency projects during the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020.
The project for the construction of the Infectious Disease Treatment and Isolation Centre was awarded at N91.62 million. This was done through the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), an agency of the Federal Ministry of Health.
It is to cater for Covid-19 cases and other viral diseases in the state. The funding came from the COVID-19 intervention fund.
But, prior to the project award, Nigeria recorded its first case of the virus infection on February 27, 2020.
To curtail the disease spread, it launched a series of lockdowns while the country continued to record more cases and casualties.
It could neither seek a loan nor get immediate monetary interventions from abroad because the disease was a global pandemic.
Hence, the private sector and the Nigerian citizens launched an initiative to voluntarily support the Federal Government’s effort to address the health situation through a monetary donation.
Some had argued the bulk of FG’s expenditure on the pandemic came from the group recognised as the Coalition Against COVID-19 (CACOVID).
As of December 2020, Nigeria had spent N38.59 billion (N38,594,085,824.97) from the donations targeted to N120 billion.
The N22.21 billion from the N38.59 billion representing 57.56 per cent was spent on welfare, N8.56 billion, accounting for 22.2 per cent, went for COVID-19 case management, N2.56 billion (6.66 per cent) was for laboratories, among others.
And because the infectious disease treatment centre, FMC, Owerri, was an emergency project initiated to reduce the disease spread and manage COVID-19 cases, the delivery date was pegged at 84 days.
This implied the project should have been completed within 3 months of award.
According to data from the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) portal, the construction job described as completed was awarded to GT Terracom Limited. It is one of several projects awarded during the pandemic and warehoused by the BPP on its open contracting portal known as Nocopo.
What we know of the contractor
GT Terracom Limited was registered as a private limited liability company on March 26, 2013. It is owned by two directors: Engr. Moyekwu Onyiuke and Chioma Onyiuke and it is based in Enugu State. Based on public findings, the company has been inactive in the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) database. Being inactive, this reporter would later find out to mean the firm failed to file its annual returns or other obligations to the CAC.
Chioma Onyiuke, one of the two directors, also has an interest in another firm Bubble Plaza Limited, registered on June 30, 2000.
It is, however, uncertain if the usual open competitive bidding was adopted for the contract award due to the pandemic but The ICIR can confirm that the federal government had earlier approved the emergency procurement method through the BPP.
That is, the Selective Bidding method, as against the regular Open Competitive Bidding process of public procurement.
This method only requires relevant ministries, departments and agencies of government to disclose their procurement plans through the BPP portal. It is more of a formal notification to the Bureau; after which the information provided is used to ascertain compliance with the stipulated guidelines designed for emergency procurements.
Field visit shows project execution, utilisation
On Thursday, February 17, The ICIR visited the FMC, Owerri to verify the supposed executed project.
A letter addressed to the Medical Director was sent to the facility over two weeks before the visit.
There were also multiple communications with the relevant officials through emails and phone conversations. But it was a different scenario reaching the hospital’s Public Relations Department.
Officials at the department unruly directed this reporter to step out of the office and to continue reaching the Head of Public Relations Unit, a doctor, Jacy Achonu, until she was available.
Check at the Medical Director’s Office, Kingsley Achigbu showed the MD had travelled out of the state. Yet, repeated calls to Achonu failed.
After so much drama, Achonu eventually reached out and The ICIR inspected the awarded projects.
The Administrative and Logistic Officer, a doctor, Maurice Nwaodu led the inspection on behalf of the hospital.
“Here is the testing centre,” he pointed at the facility. He also showed another building with a red roof where the hospital was managing the cases before the intervention.
“When it (awarded project) came in, we quickly did more renovation on the old structure, separated the testing centre from the main isolation infectious disease ward.”
He explained that suspected cases might not really be infected until after an initial test, hence, the decision not to merge all the reported cases in one ward.
There was different medical equipment at the testing centre to collect samples and test the patients. There were also Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) for health officials.
The ICIR checked the infection disease centre was commissioned by the Minister of State for Health, Senator Adeleke Mamora, in April 2021.
Though this reporter could not access the theatre and the dialysis room in the centre, they were both under lock. But Achigbu told The ICIR in a phone conversation that selected equipment was being put to use in other sections of the hospital rather than leaving them in the isolation unit unutilised.
Besides, he said there was a need for a water treatment plant to put to use the dialysis machine.
“Some of the equipment meant for isolation is not there. I will give you an example; the dialysis machine that ought to be there is currently not there because the water treatment plant has not been set up. The machine is in the infectious disease section, dialysis unit, still being used for such cases.”
“I just got my letter from BPP yesterday, the BPP also had visited, and they gave us a pass mark,” he added. “The Auditor-General has come, the Federal Ministry of Finance has come, and other journalists also came. So I do not have anything to hide,” he stated.
Lack of ambulances for COVID-19 cases, other infectious diseases worry health officials
Amadi Regina is the Chief Nursing Officer at the infectious disease and isolation centre at the FMC, Owerri. She is responsible for managing the cases on a daily basis after other experts must have rendered their services.
She noted that her superior, Dibia Chinyere, a Deputy Director of Nursing was not available at the time of the visit.
From the hospital’s capital budget, the infection disease centre was equipped and also provided with an additional soundproof generator.
This place has been functioning since it was commissioned,” Regina said. “We have almost all the facilities that ought to be here, even those that are not yet in use. They were all provided.”
During the inspection, The ICIR saw most of the equipment including those in the theatre room, Intensive Care Unit (ICU), beds in the female, male and children wards but noticed there were literarily no patients except for one, a National Youth Service Corp member.
He was said to have been infected by monkeypox but the nurse assured of his recovery.
The last COVID-19 patient was discharged on Tuesday, February 15, two days before this reporter’s visit.
And the NCDC officials in the state had visited the same day as the reporter to collect a sample of the monkeypox patient.
“Currently, COVID-19 is less in intensity but we are having other emerging infections. As they come, we also do our jobs.
“The state NCDC came here this afternoon to take a sample for investigation but clinically, it is monkeypox. They may say otherwise but he is taking treatments and responding.”
On her general assessment, she simply said, “they did well.”
However, she identified the need for an ambulance, especially for infectious disease cases. As of the moment, the centre has largely relied on the hospital.
“We need a stand-by ambulance that can help convey patients in and out of the hospital, and for investigations,” Regina said.
“We have been using the hospital’s ambulance. We call them by the time they are through with their patients, we disinfect the ambulance and use.”
Emerging chickenpox ailment in Imo
In November 2021, the hospital also recorded a case of monkeypox but the patient recovered and got better, according to the official. But the case of monkeypox disease is not peculiar to Imo.
Nigeria is among African countries where cases of monkeypox have been reported. It was first detected in the country in September 2017, reports said. From then to May 2021, about 446 suspected cases had been reported in 30 states while 199 from the reported cases have been confirmed in 18 states.
“Abia (3), Akwa Ibom (7), Anambra (2), Bayelsa (39), Benue (2), Cross River (13), Delta (22), Ebonyi (1), Edo (7), Ekiti (2), Enugu (4), FCT (5), Imo (8), Lagos (25), Nasarawa (2), Oyo (6), Plateau (3) and Rivers (48).
Imo is among states where a single death has been recorded. Others are Cross River (1), Rivers (1), FCT (1), Edo (2), and Lagos (2).
The World Health Organisation (WHO) also confirmed the disease outbreak across the mentioned states. It advised residents and travellers to most affected locations to stay away from sick, dead or live animals that could possibly harbour the virus.
People were advised to avoid bush meats either its consumption or handling while proper hand hygiene, using soap or alcohol was emphasised.