Nigerians have alerted government authorities and managers of public hospitals and health centres across the nation of the growing extortion by officials.
The alarm was raised on the heels of an investigation published by TheCable which exposed how extortion of citizens by health officials was undermining the fight against Lassa fever and Yellow fever in Enugu and Ondo communities.
TheCable’s undercover reporter, James Ojo on Wednesday during a radio program, PUBLIC CONSCIENCE produced by the Progressive Impact Organization for Community Development, PRIMORG, revealed that at Uwani General Hospital, Enugu State, poor Nigerians were compelled to pay between N300 and N500 before Yellow fever vaccine is administered to patients. While at General Hospital Owo, Ondo State, Lassa fever vaccination also costs N300, with most of the health workers fighting Lassa fever lacking PPEs.
Ojo added that lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs), poor hygiene of some of the health centres, dilapidated, abandoned structures, and a lack of medical personnel to attend to the teeming patients in the communities he visited calls for urgent action by the government.
According to him, the extortion going on at public health facilities in Ondo and Enugu communities was discouraging the poor rural dwellers from accessing the free Lassa fever and Yellow fever vaccines.
“When I got to Enugu, I paid N300 before they administered the yellow fever vaccine which is supposed to be free. No receipt was given to me after payment, while in Ondo, the fraud is not pronounced like that of Enugu. However, I was asked to pay a compulsory N300 for hand gloves before I was vaccinated.”
Ojo lamented that despite sharing his undercover investigation with the Enugu State Health Commissioner, Emmanuel Obi, no action has been taken to date.
On his own, an investigative journalist with TheCable, Chinedu Asadu averred that cases of extortion in public health facilities are prevalent across the country.
He stressed that officials working in government institutions are getting emboldened in committing fraud in government institutions because of the lack of punitive actions by the government.
“I think most of the officials that were indicted were bold to perpetuate those acts because they know that the government will overlook some of these things. It is not the first time we are seeing some of this sabotage in the system but in most cases, the governments wouldn’t act decisively.”
Asadu called on the government to implement existing laws to implement the policies in place to check extortion and corruption in public offices. “it’s very important that relevant state ministries and other institutions ensure compliance and clean up the system.
“How fast does the government act to punish those that have been indicted, we have not heard about anybody suspended or prosecuted for these crimes. So, it is almost as if they are going to condone it,” he stated.
It will be recalled that in 2019, PRIMORG in an undercover investigation busted and exposed the sale of unauthorized yellow cards on the streets of Abuja at the sum of N5,000 by touts to travelers without actual immunization, and with the funds going into private pockets.
PRIMORG’s Program Manager, Adaobi Obiabunmuo urged citizens to know their rights and resist being extorted.
Obiabunmuo reminded the general public that yellow fever vaccination is free in Nigeria; that Nigerians only need to pay N2,500 if they need the yellow cards for travel purposes, otherwise a green card to indicate that a citizen has taken the vaccine is enough, and that birth registration remains free for citizens under 18 years.
Nigerians who called into the show decried that extortion was not only in rural areas but even in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital.
Here are the views of some Abuja residents who contributed to the discourse via the phone.
Mariam said: “I had to go to Gwarinpa Hospital to get a birth certificate for my boys because the one we had got misplaced during relocation, we were asked to pay N5,000 for each of them, then after much deliberation, we agreed at N6,000 for all of them but till now we have been unable to collect the certificate.”
Goodness: “I know of someone who had an accident and was rushed to the hospital in Kuje during the heat of the COVID-19, instead of attending to the patient as an emergency case, the hospital left the patient on the floor and requested that hand gloves be provided, unable to provide the item he was left unattended to which later led to his death.”
Ade: “Majority of the people who are working in the medical line, starting from the gateman down to the pharmacist, laboratory technicians, majority of them are not passionate about their work. They are going there because of the money.”
While Sam Ekpese said: “I believe no amount of remuneration and incentives will stop the greed of health workers except the system in which they work is overhauled. Nigeria is in a state of psychological anomie and only a ” restructured system” can change the greedy attitude of Health workers and indeed all public servants in Nigeria.”