“They are daring”: Nigerian doctors battle quacks amid exodus

Doctors are expected to be seen around health centres. Or any place health is concerned. But 50-year-old Olarewaju Oludele was put in prison over a case of drowning of a baby boy whose mother was recently delivered at the hospital. 

From His Mercy Hospital in Ibadan, Oludele was dragged to a court of law in Oyo State with charges of impersonation, abduction, and murder. While his fate remains unknown until March, the police say Oludele was a ‘fake’. 

Though the report of fake ‘doctors’ like Oludele is not a recent occurrence, the shortage of medical practitioners in Nigeria left a vacuum to be filled, and fraudulent people seem to be going about presenting themselves as health experts to defraud unsuspecting members of the public.

“Even before doctors are leaving, there have always been quacks. But the more doctors leave, the more we see quacks, especially in all those rural areas, those centres left with no health facilities”, said Dr. Azim Ashimi, the Ogun State chairman of Nigeria Medical Association.

Beside contending with overworking due to a lack of personnel, and routine strikes over pay, both public and private medical workers’ associations are on the lookout for non-professionals pretending to be doctors and endangering the lives of citizens. 

If not for the effort of the state medical association, an auxiliary nurse, Abawulor Omenka would have filled in an opening for a medical officer at a university medical centre where students, staff and some residents of the Ogun community go for medical treatment.

The 35-year-old was said to have presented fake credentials to interviewing doctors who later found discrepancies in his certificates and observed incoherence in answers to medical questions. 

As lack of social protection, insufficient compensation and poor pay drive health workers’ immigration from Nigeria to abroad, shortage hits both private and health centres. 

The United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Saudi and other countries with good salaries and benefits have become dream destinations for Nigerian doctors to practise, with at least 2,000 Nigerian doctors emigrating yearly, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Every year, Nigeria’s medical schools graduate about 3,000 doctors, but only about 72,000 doctors are registered with the Nigerian Medical Association. Out of these doctors, only about 35,000 cater for over  200 Nigerians.

While the WHO recommended one doctor to 500 people ratio, Nigeria manages one doctor to 10,000 people in poorly funded hospitals.  

Early this year, Dr. Ashimi revealed that there is one doctor to 6,400 patients in Ogun State. 

Nurses and midwives also take the exit in Nigeria, as 42,000 left in three years, according to the Nurses and Midwives Council of Nigeria. 

Quacks in the cracks

A fake neurologist Igwe Gift Okechukwu has different identities: to some of his victims, he works at the Federal Medical Centre (FMC), Owerri, or any government health centre. A Point of Sale operator, Anita Chinwe Mathias recalls his identity as Henry Ovie. He later defrauded her of N21 million. 

According to the Nasarawa police who arrested the fake doctor, Okechukwu is involved in criminal conspiracy, organ trafficking, fraud, cybercrime, stealing, impersonation, cheating, and identity theft.

Practice by another fake doctor Chidera Ugwu led to the death of a pregnant teenager in Lanbum Banki in Tofa LGA of Kano State. In January 2024, 24-year-old Ugwu was accused of administering injections and drugs to the teenager, killing her. 

Last year, the Plateau State chapter of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) distanced itself from one Dr. Noah Kekere, who was arrested for allegedly harvesting a woman’s kidney.

Dr. Ashimi explains that quacks are becoming more now, and more daring. “Some of them are even doing surgery and killing people. They are giving injections and doing surgeries; that’s what we are witnessing now. There is a surge.”

He suggested that the government should give remuneration close to what doctors are going to get abroad. “And then improve the working environment.”

Quadri Yahya

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