Federal Medical Centre (FMC) Asaba, in Delta State, is facing intense scrutiny and condemnation following alarming reports of harassment, intimidation, and exploitation within its Physiotherapy Department. The recent incident involving the arrest of an intern physiotherapist, favour Chidera Kanu, on 20th of October 2023, has drawn the attention of concerned individuals, legal authorities, and the wider public.
On the 18th of October, 2023, Mr
Favour Chidera Kanu, a 2023 Physiotherapy intern at FMC Asaba, replied a query which was issued by the Physiotherapy Department, allegedly for defamation of the institution’s name and that of her Head of Department, Dr. Ogbutor Udoji Godsday. However, it has emerged that this query is not only baseless but also serves to stifle his freedom of speech and expression.
Mr. Kanu has a commendable record of dedication and professionalism during his internship, exemplified by his tireless commitment to the vision of making FMC Asaba a center of excellence in healthcare. He had shown transparency, accountability, and unwavering patient care. Notably, his colleagues nominated him as the Intern representative for the 2023 physiotherapy intern set, demonstrating his peers’ trust and regard.
Despite the positive attributes and dedication of Mr Kanu and his fellow interns, their internship period at FMC Asaba took a distressing turn when they collectively raised concerns about the ill-treatment they were enduring within the department. They sought to address these issues with the hospital’s administrative office but were dismayed when their grievances were reportedly directed back to their Head of Department (HOD), Dr. Ogbutor Udoji Godsday.
What transpired subsequently was unexpected and disheartening. Dr. Ogbutor allegedly reported the interns to the hospital’s Managing Director (MD), Dr. Victor Azubike Osiatuma, as unruly and disobedient, casting aside their complaints about ill-treatment and financial exploitation within the department. The MD, rather than addressing the concerns of the interns, reprimanded them for not adhering to training. This lack of response disregarded the legitimate grievances of the interns, who had accused the HOD of financial extortion and abuse of power.
The alleged abuse of power and financial exploitation within the department took various forms, including an unwarranted demand that interns pay a substantial portion of their salaries to the department being N50,000 each, supposedly for department improvements in preparation for accreditation. The imposition of a non-stop 12-month internship program with no leave provisions against the normal 1 month leave mapped out by the Government, unless determined by the HOD’s compassion, created an environment of undue hardship for the interns. The interns were reportedly threatened with suspension, non-payment of salaries, and extensions of their internship without pay if they failed to comply.
The victims have been compelled to carry out menial tasks far beyond their professional scope. Such duties included cleaning, draining a hydrotherapy pool, ironing personal clothing for the HOD, and other domestic errands instead of clinical duties which they were called to do. When interns expressed objections, they were subjected to threats of water-pouring or other forms of retaliation. The reports of abuse paint a grim picture of the alleged maltreatment and intimidation.
Interns were coerced to fund publications under the pretext of a face-lift for the department. Those who refused to pay were denied the signing-out privilege, even after incurring substantial costs related to their research work. Additionally, interns were assigned to deliver seminars with refreshments that included extravagant meals, and failure to meet the HOD’s undisclosed standards resulted in a fine.
Such unfair and oppressive practices have resulted in significant physical, emotional, and psychological stress for the interns. This environment has led to a culture of intimidation and discrimination. Notably, female interns have been subjected to unique hardships, including sexual harassment on the HOD office, pressure not to become pregnant during their internships. An alleged incident involving a female intern on maternity leave highlights the extent of the mistreatment.
The Head of Department has consistently abused his authority, and it is concerning that the hospital’s management has failed to address these allegations. The interns, concerned about impartiality, have requested external bodies, including the Medical Rehabilitation Therapists Board of Nigeria(MRTBN), the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria, and the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, to investigate these claims.
It is clear that the reports of abuse, intimidation, and financial exploitation within the Physiotherapy Department at FMC Asaba are of great concern. The Unizik Physiotherapist Alumni Association and other professional bodies has released a statement saying that they will be monitoring the situation closely to ensure justice is served.
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