Time For Nigerian Medical Doctors To Enforce Their Fundamental Human Rights!!

I always ask myself, when will Nigerian medical doctors embrace their fundamental human rights? Everybody shies away from the media while the impunity goes on. Many doctors become victims as the days go by. Just recently a lawyer whose car was confiscated by officials of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) secured a landmark judgement from a federal High court sitting in Lagos that FRSC has no right to fine alleged defaulters without giving them fair hearing as it is enshrined in s(36) of the constitution of the country and one of the cardinal principles of natural justice. If the lawyer were a medical doctor he would just pay the fine and the impunity would continue unabated.

Some years ago (circa 2012), members of Nigerian police arrested a medical doctor for carrying out what they tagged “criminal abortion”. To the police, all abortions are criminal; just like any other layman out there; the police believe that abortion is criminal while miscarriage is natural even when pundits in the field believe that abortion or miscarriage is the same thing. In that matter, a woman took an abortifacient drug and when she started bleeding, she was rushed to the doctor’s hospital by a man who paraded himself as her husband. The doctor took clinical history, carried out physical examination and scanned the patient. The diagnosis revealed an Incomplete Miscarriage. The golden or standard rule in that case was to evacuate the remnant of the conception. Both the patient and her “husband” assented and evacuation was done.

Few weeks later another man who claimed to be the real husband showed up and arrested the medical doctor for carrying out “criminal” abortion on his wife without his consent. Just like any other criminal cases in Nigeria, the men of the press used the opportunity to “prosecute” and “convict” the medical doctor on the pages of their newspapers using headlines like: An abortion doctor nabbed; An abortionist on his way to jail; A quack doctor who specialises in abortion incarcerated, etc. The media gave the news undue publicity yet none of them bothered to follow the case to its logical end. And of course, that has been the problem with Nigerian Criminal justice system. Once a suspect is arrested, the media will throw S.36 (5) of our constitution to the wind and convict the suspect as charged on the pages of their newspapers.

The question here is: was there any national identification database the medical doctor in question would have used to know that the first man (who might be a boy friend to the patient) was not the real husband? Was the doctor restricted by any law in Nigeria from saving the life of his patient? Can the doctor deny any reasonable medical assistance to the same patient for whom he had sworn to protect by the ethics of his medical practice?

There was yet another incident where a doctor who was practising in the Southeast was accused of being a member of a child trafficking cartel and was subsequently arrested. Expectedly, the media hyped the news and sensationalised every bit of it. No one even bothered to ask how the doctor came into the business. But as the collateral facts of the case later revealed a young girl with obstructed labour was rushed to his clinic and the doctor operated on the patient in order to save both the mother and child.

After discharging them, an older woman who accompanied the younger mother to the hospital sold the baby and when the deal went awry the police investigators arrested the doctor. My question is what concerns the doctor in this case? But then, some officers of the police will warn you not to teach them their job while the press would give captions like A medical doctor who specialises in child trafficking nabbed; yet members of the press would hardly follow the case to its logical end at least to let the Nigerian public know that the doctor was indeed guilty or innocent. And to worsen the matter, the doctor after being let off the hook would not bother to seek redress in the law court according to S. 46 of our constitution.

They would rather go to their worship centres to go and give thanks to God. They would not take into cognisance that when they were arrested, the media publicised it and now they were exonerated the media would be expected to give it same publicity. Some of the affected doctors would accept to forgive the law enforcement agents who once dragged their names into the mud without knowing that even St Paul, as a lawyer, once sought his fundamental human rights in Acts 16:16-40.

They disgraced Paul and Silas in the market square the previous day but when they saw the miraculous jailbreak and when they heard that St Paul was a Roman citizen by birth, the magistrate wanted to secretly release St Paul and his co-missionary but Paul refused because they humiliated them openly and now wanted to set them free secretly when they were found to be innocent. Nigerian Medical doctors are enjoined to brief a lawyer whenever our law enforcement agents manhandle them at least for posterity sake because if they keep on going scot-free many doctors will be their victims in the nearest future .

These two stories have paved way to an incident that just happened in Nekede, a suburb of the Imo State Capital, Owerri. I have decided to withhold the names of the affected medical doctor ,his hospital and the patient involved for best reason known to me . A pregnant woman had her antenatal care in a private hospital at Nekede. The obstetric ultrasonography erroneously showed twin gestation (a male and a female) when there was a singleton foetus. A caesarean section was finally carried out on her, indicated for a transverse lie at term . A female relative of the pregnant woman stood in front of the operating theatre to 'catch' the 'babies'.

When one of the nurses in the theatre handed a female neonate to the female relative, she was still expecting the second baby according to the erroneous scan .As the operation ended and the remaining male baby was not handed over to her, she raised an alarm informing the husband of the patient that the doctor conspired with the nurses inside the operating theatre to sell the male baby.

Trust our law enforcement agents. They immediately arrested the medical doctor, incarcerated him in the same cell with die hard criminals. He was later paraded along other kidnappers, child traffickers, armed robbers etc before newsmen in Owerri. The police, as usual ,boasted that following a tip-off they smashed on all the criminals. The doctor's hospital was deserted and trust our people ,there were different versions of the story, some believed that as the doctor's hospital was well equipped and progressing that the business of child trafficking was the secret of his success .The doctor was called names while he was still cooling off in the police net. However just like the Bible says, weeping may endure only for a night but joy comes in the morning .The patient's female relative was the one that gave evidence that led to the arrest of the medical doctor but she was the one who finally provided evidence that exonerated the medical doctor.

First she informed the police that there was a second door to the operating theatre through which the doctor gave the male baby to a security man, who finally carried the baby to the buyers who were anxiously waiting .She affirmed that she heard when the doctor called the security man but she could not come inside the theatre since she was standing in front of the main entrance to the theatre. Police were interested in the matter because the masses believe that doctors are the richest set of people the same way kidnappers are after medical doctors. This female relative was ever ready to give the police more pieces of evidence in order to permanently incarcerate the medical doctor.

However, when the news got to the Imo state ministry of health, the Director of Medical services, Dr Anthony Igwe, was detailed to investigate the matter to its logical end. Meanwhile,the Director of medical services in any state ministry of health is the representative of the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN) in that state . Also, all private hospitals in a state are under the supervision of the directorate, among other functions of the directorate. In Imo state, the director of medical service is a genius per excellence. I visited him in his office on Friday, 15/04/16. He is ever ready to teach the junior colleagues the basic principles of medicine; I stayed about three hours in his office. He taught me didactically, though I am not surprised because one of our Alumni stickers States that “A UNN graduate is naturally ahead of you”.

This genius, Dr Anthony Igwe, and his team of experts physically visited the private hospital in question and discovered that the operating theatre had only one entrance which served also as the exit door hence the patient's female relative lied that the security man in the hospital carried the second baby out via the second (exit) door at the instance of the doctor. That was not enough, this medical juggernaut requested that the placenta be provided for autopsy.

Luckily as God may have it, the hospital did not bury the placenta in the placenta pit (which is the normal global practice) but they handed over the placenta to the bellicose patient's female relative who had been the one providing all the contradicting pieces of evidence against an innocent doctor and his hospital. She led the experts to where she buried the placenta by herself. The placenta was exhumed and taken to the Federal Medical Centre (FMC), Owerri for histopathology examination . The report finally showed that the placenta was for a singleton foetus and the doctor was thus exonerated.

Yes, the doctor may be happy now that he was not unjustly jailed but what about his reputation that was dragged to the mud? What about his hospital? What about the revenue to his hospital that was temporarily stopped during his trial period? Where are the newsmen that carried his initial child trafficking news? I am aware that the doctor's friends and well wishers will advise him to forgive all and move on in life. My own suggestion is that there are things that are unforgivable.

If we, mortals, should forgive all the times,why has God not forgiven Satan for trying to carry out a coup d’état in heaven many centuries ago? The gospel according to St Matthew 12:31-32 even goes further to list unforgivable sins. This nonsense must stop. If the police in their characteristic nature had ordered the demolition of the doctor's hospital as a “baby factory” would people have advised him to forgive and move ahead? We all read in the news in this country how the buildings allegedly used for kidnapping, child trafficking etc are demolished before the matter is charged to the court.

The medical doctor should hire the services of legal pundits and file separate civil cases ,one against the police ,one against the patient's female relative who was ready to give false evidence, and the third suit against all the media houses (both printed and non-printed) that carried the news. For each of the three a compensation of at least 100 billion naira will be demanded as specific and general damages to serve as a deterrent to others for posterity sake. Meanwhile,I remember the day I was called around 2am to come to a private hospital in port Harcourt to help the doctors on the night duty over a medical emergency.

On my way,I was stopped by the police, I told them I had an emergency and time was of essence. They ignored my request. They requested my papers which were complete, I even showed them the NMA sticker on my car. They demanded my driver's licence which is permanently kept in my car.After providing all that they requested , they then requested for my association ID card which I hurriedly left in the house .

They held me for more minutes until I got angry with them .I reminded them that apart from the fact that I am medical doctor, every citizen has an inalienable right to freedom of movement as it is enshrined in s.41 of our constitution, laws of the federal Republic of Nigeria .I went further to tell them that even s.45 of the same constitution which supports curfew to be declared at times, those on essential services are not restricted .It should be noted that when my own incident happened no curfew was imposed in the state .I won them when I tutored them about Identification parade. I told them that if they were in doubt of my claims, they would just follow me down to the hospital which was a shouting distance from where they were wasting my time to confirm or refute my claims. As usual they asked if I was teaching them their job .I told them that Identification parade was introduced into the police service to help identify those without any form of identification or those whose means of identification were questionable .They immediately let me go when I threatened them that I would personally take up legal cases against them should anything happen to the patient in question.

The seed of salvation, they say, is watered by the blood of the innocent. This doctor at Nekede should blaze the trail in civil suits against our law enforcement agents because Ola Rotimi said that when the frog in the front falls into a pit, others take caution .The most annoying aspect of the whole nonsense is that when police arrest a medical doctor over a medical matter, they will charge the doctor to a conventional court where the judges/magistrates are not trained or learned in medical jurisprudence and law. In view of this S.28(2a) of the code of medical Ethics in Nigeria ,established The Medical and Dental Practitioner's Disciplinary Tribunal ,which has the status of a High court.

Also, S.28 (1a) of the same code established the Medical and Dental Practitioners' Investigating Panel as a court of first hearing in matters of alleged infamous conduct in professional respects. If the police arrest a medical doctor over an alleged infamous conduct, will they arraign the doctor before the MDCN panel/tribunal where the judges are learned in medical jurisprudence and law or will they charge the doctor to a conventional court for the matter to be presided over by judges not learned in medical jurisprudence and law?

I am not ignorant of the police Act as s.4 of the police Act lists all the general duties of a police officer and S.24 of the same Act in consonance with s.10 of the Criminal Prosecution Act confers upon the police officer the rights to arrest without warrant, a person or group of persons alleged to have committed, about to commit or is committing any felony, misdemeanour, simple offence or breach of peace.

Generally, When the police arrest a suspect then comes investigation and at the conclusion of the investigation, the suspect is charged to a competent law court .My question then is, why will police be investigating an alleged medical infamous conduct when there is a Medical and Dental Practitioners' Investigating Panel established by an Act of the Parliament? If those sections of the Police Act I quoted Supra give the members of the Nigerian police an unlimited power of arrest and to charge to any court of their choice, why did they not investigate and arrest Senator Saraki and charge him to a conventional High court instead of the rightful Codes Of Conduct Tribunal ? I have been searching where the police Act empowers the police to parade suspects before the press against S.36 (5) of Nigerian constitution which states, inter alia, that every suspect shall be presumed to be innocent until he is proved guilty .

If the police power to arrest is unlimited, why should they not arrest judges, Magistrates, justices alleged to have been involved in any infamous conduct in professional respects? Why must police have to wait for the National Judicial Commission (which have experts learned in legal jurisprudence) to try the judicial officers first? This is important because if this anomaly is not nipped in the bud, very soon a doctor will be operating a patient in the theatre and the police will strike to execute their arrest without warrant over an alleged infamous conduct in professional respect.

I am sure that even if the doctor pleads for more time to finish the surgery, they will tell the doctor not to teach them their job. The doctor will be taken away so that the patient can die on the operating table .Then the doctor will face the MDCN tribunal for negligence .This is a challenge to the reviewers of our codes of Medical Ethics in Nigeria. The lawyers (who are technically the only learned people in the world) have solved this problem in their profession. How?

The judicial officers are not liable to any legal prosecution with respect to the discharge of their official duties ,this is why judicial officer in a lower court can convict a suspect and sentence him/her to death by hanging and when the appellant courts upturn the verdict of the lower court, the judicial officer can never be prosecuted over the erroneous judgement but in the medical profession.

I have seen consultants suffer different types of punishments for taking a wrong decision /verdict over a patient's management. Is it not preposterous and shocking that a judicial officer who has all the time in this world to pass a judgement is not liable to prosecution even if the judgement passed is later found to be faulty by the appellant courts but a medical doctor who has less than a minute to take a decision (or pass his own judgement ) over the management of a patient's health condition,presenting as an emergency, is liable to both civil and criminal prosecutions if his decisions are later found to be faulty? What an injustice to the medical doctors globally? I know that some may argue that a doctor's error will lead to death, what of when a lower judicial officer sentences a suspect to death and the suspect does not have the resources to appeal the judgement; won't the suspect (now a convict) still face execution?

In conclusion, medical doctors should rise up to know their rights and NMA should always help their members get justice where necessary because injustice to any of her members anyway is an affront to all her members everywhere. MDCN will take a solid stand on the duties of the Medical and Dental Practitioner's Investigating Panel and the Medical and Dental Practitioner's Disciplinary Tribunal because if the lawyer (Bar Tope Alabi) whose car was confiscated by the officials of FRSC did not go to court we would not know that FRSC does not have the right to convict alleged traffic offenders and impose fines on them without granting the alleged traffic offenders a fair hearing

Also, who has the statutory right to investigate alleged infamous conduct by a medical doctor in professional respects , the police or the Medical and Dental Practitioners’ Investigating Panel?Can the police hand over their own alleged erring officer to the court or any other law enforcement agents for prosecution without an Orderly Room trial?

Dr. Paul John
Port Harcourt,Rivers state,[email protected],08083658038

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Articles by Paul John