A revelation on how millions of naira were funneled into the bank accounts of ghost medical doctors at the Federal Medical Centre, Katsina, is currently tearing the hospital apart, PREMIUM TIMES can report.
A forensic audit of 130 medical doctors in the hospital between January and July this year showed that over N8 million were paid into bank accounts of medics who no longer work at the health facility.
And the affected doctors, themselves, have denied receiving any salary since they stopped work at the hospital.
As members of the audit committee began pushing for a wholesale audit of the entire hospital – about 1,400 medical and non-medical staff – they began receiving death threats, sending some of them into hiding.
Last month, a forensic audit committee was set up by the hospital management in conjunction with the Nigerian Medical Association, the Medical and Dental Consultants Association of Nigeria, and the Association of Resident Doctors to look into the personnel budget of the hospital.
The objective was to ascertain how much fund is available for the approved skipping of a salary grade by doctors, according to Suleiman Usman, a member of the audit committee.
“Along the line, we now discovered that there were some fictitious or ghost names that were still in the personnel budget,” Dr. Usman, the President of the Association of Resident Doctors at the hospital, told PREMIUM TIMES over the phone.
“These are names of doctors that had exited the system either from last year or sometime early this year. But they kept on recurring on the payment vouchers with different account numbers and different banks.
Dr. Usman said on a closer inspection, the committee discovered that the account numbers, although similar, didn’t belong to the people in question.
“One, they had exited the system, two, we had contacted them to get their account details but the monies weren’t getting to them,” he said.
An analysis of the doctors’ pay register showed a continuous channeling of government funds into the bank accounts of ghost doctors.
For the month of January, 2015, five of the doctors received a total of just over N1 million.
All five had left the services of the hospital a year ago.
The same payment was repeated in February.
In March, the three doctors who were paid a total of N626,000 had also left in 2014, after their housemanship.
The pattern in March was repeated in April.
In May, six ghost doctors and an ‘NMA 500 Deduction’ gulped N1.3 million.
A similar pattern was repeated in June.
In July, four doctors who had also finished their housemanship and left were also paid N805,000.
The finding was as shocking to members of the audit committee – most of them doctors – as it was embarrassing to the hospital management.
For instance, Opeyemi Oyewande, who finished his housemanship since March this year continued to be on the payroll until July.
But Dr. Oyewande’s bank details between January and July 2015, which he availed the audit committee, showed that he did not receive the sums listed against his name between April and July. And his December, 2014, salary was paid on August 5, 2015.
Phone calls and text messages to Dr. Oyewande were not responded to.
Threats to life
As members of the audit committee mounted pressure on the hospital management to identify the destination of the diverted funds as well as request relevant heads of departments (non-doctors) to verify salary payrolls; threat messages began arriving.
On Friday, August 28, Bello Suleiman, the Chairman of the Forensic Audit Committee, received a text message on his phone. It reads: “You Dr Bello and Dr Oyeyemi you the problem of this hospital and i swear we are going to finish both of you because what you are doing is too much and wallahi wallahi you see.”
Five days later, it was the turn of Bashir Oyeyemi, the Chairman of MDCAN at the hospital and a member of the audit committee. The first text message – sent from a phone number different from that used for Dr. Suleiman – was sent in two parts. The first one read: “You dr oyeyemi&dr and others you the problems of this hospital you normally enter into work in every corner and you better take time if not we are going to finish you one by one i swear you all about to leave world play and see.” The second part of the message merely said, “you and dr bello.”
On September 7, Dr. Oyeyemi received another text message from the same phone number: “You dr oyeyemi we did forget our mission you must die in this kt we are taking our time.”
PREMIUM TIMES called both phone numbers from which the purported threat messages were sent but the lines were switched off.
After the second threat was issued to the doctors, members of the MDCAN held an emergency general meeting at the hospital where they noted that despite notifying the hospital management after the first threat, no visible steps were taken.
“In fact, management is reported to have dismissed the threat as empty on the premise that such threats are frequently received by members of management and staff,” the doctors noted in a statement issued at the end of the meeting.
In a resolution passed at the meeting, which held on September 7, the MDCAN members announced an immediate indefinite and complete withdrawal of their services until adequate security is provided both at their homes and at work.
They also suspended the activities of the audit committee until every document requested is provided and evidence of security is provided for each committee member.
“Everyone implicated in perpetrating any fraudulent diversion of public funds based on the outcome of the forensic audit committee’s findings must be brought to book and arrested before our members will feel secure to resume the provision of services,” the doctors stated in their resolution.
“The association shall give adequate publicity to the above resolutions in the widest sense possible.”
After signing the resolution, and with no security provision still in sight, Dr. Oyeyemi took his wife and three kids and went into hiding.
“On the night I went into hiding I received reports that unknown persons went to the homes of other doctors on the committee in the night and attempted to gain forceful entry and pelted their homes, the team was reported to have come in a Golf model car,” Dr. Oyeyemi said in an e-mail to PREMIUM TIMES.
“In recent past the chief accountant of the hospital was assassinated in his home after having reported receiving similar SMS.
“Please note that while I am not aware of that Dr Bello the head of Clinical Services claimed that management is aware that staff members regularly receive threats of assassination regularly to such an extent that management no longer worries about such. That was why he did not even inform me about the threat sent to him until I divulged the one I received.
“He also claimed that if we escalated the issues and give maximum punishment to those who were caught diverting funds in the hospital we run the risk of them killing us.
“Ask any staff of our hospital and you will be told that no one get punished appropriately for diverting the hospital fund. This include the recent one in which two staff of the Hospital forged the signature of the Medical Director and diverted twenty million naira (N20,000,000) only.
“The management represented by the Medical Director, through the Head of Clinical Services, informed us that if the forensic audit committee work is suspended, we shall not receive any such threats again and that our lives would be saved. I was more than shocked to hear this.”
‘Blessing in disguise’
PREMIUM TIMES spoke to Dr. Oyeyemi on Thursday and he said the strike by members of his association had been suspended,”I am not there on ground so I’m not able to give full details,” he said from his hideout.
“I am very sure because I spoke with my vice president, who is acting in my absence. I think that the situation is that things have calmed down a bit.
“Until I ensure that the world knows why the threat is on my life, I may not…because they placed the ultimate prize on my life and if somebody had diverted public funds, I don’t think they will pay ultimate prize.
Dr. Oyeyemi said that the hospital management failed to act to identify those receiving the payments into the fictitious accounts.
“So we suspected there is some foul play,” he said.
“If the names of those that are receiving these payments is showing on the payroll and the bank names are there, and the account numbers into which the money is paid is there, then it means that those people can be traced through our banking system.”
After notifying the hospital management, the MDCAN also wrote the police, the State Security Service, and the Emir of Katsina to investigate the assassination threats to their members.
All of them acknowledged receipt of the letters.
Yet, no concrete action was taken, according to Dr. Oyeyemi.
“In fact, I am told that just yesterday or so, they now brought some private security guards to come and stay at my house, after I have left for hiding,” said Dr. Oyeyemi.
“Now, these private security guards don’t have guns. And they expect me to stay there.”
Phone calls and text messages to Abubakar Sadiq, the police public relations officer in Katsina State, were not responded to.
When contacted on Friday, Dr. Suleiman, a representative of the hospital management, described the development as “a blessing in disguise”.
“With the current set up, we’ve always been against corruption. We’ve always been looking at ways to be proactive and get it right and this is a very good opportunity for us,” said Dr. Suleiman, the Head of Clinical Services at the hospital, adding that they had just risen from a management meeting.
“I will not be able to give you details because investigation is still on, but hopefully before the end of next week, if you keep your ear to the ground, you will hear breaking news from Katsina,” he said.
“All those people that are involved, the culprits, they will get them and then the necessary sanctions, according to the civil service, will be applied.”
Dr. Suleiman said that the hospital management had also written to the police and the SSS as well as strengthened security at the hospital.
He, however, said that the private security dispatched to the homes of the committee members are not authorized to carry firearms.
“We’ve spoken to the police and the SSS. Of course, the SSS work underground, you will not know they are around. The police patrol around that area, we’ve spoken to them, they’ve given additional security around the hospital environment and around the vicinity of the houses of those people.”