- Calls on Internship Placement Authorities for Urgent Intervention
MEDICAL Interns serving their compulsory one year internship with the University of Calabar Teaching Hospital (UCTH) have cried out over the non-payment of their salaries since October 2020 and their suspension from duty by the authorities of the tertiary hospital.
The interns, numbering about 352, serving in the departments of pharmacy, dental technology, radiography, optometry, nursing, medical laboratory science, dental therapy and physiotherapy, had earlier this week staged a peaceful demonstration in the capital city to ventilate their frustration their grievances and predicament.
They said though they had raised the issue with the management of UCTH, there had not been any meaningful response, other than saying that the problem “is a national issue.”
According to Gideon Doba, the spokesperson for the interns, their findings indicate that the problem is peculiar only to the UCTH amongst the 54 teaching hospitals in the country.
“We want our arrears to be paid; we’re tired, we are frustrated; we have worked and we deserve these (arrears of salaries),” Doba told journalists during a demonstration on Wednesday in Calabar.
He appealed to all well-meaning officers of parastatals involved in internship placement to intervene by looking into the issue of UCTH as they are in a very precarious situation with no other means of survival and with the tenure of their rents expiring leading to many of them now homeless.
The interns, who accused the management of UCTH of insincerity, said other teaching hospitals are paying their interns and that none of the interns, with the exception of House Officers (the medical doctors), has been paid a full month’s salary in the past 12 months.
Another intern, Atrogor Shedrack, told journalists during the demonstration that they had collectively written several letters on the matter to the Chief Medical Director (CMD) of UCTH, Prof Ikpeme Andy Ikpeme, on the matter but he had never acknowledged any of them.
A letter dated 20th October, 2021 to the Chairman, Board of Directors of UCTH, entitled: “Notice of Salary Demands of Unpaid Salaries Within Seven (7) Working Days,” signed by all 2020/2021 Interns of UCTH, provided some background to the current crisis.
According to the letter, some interns were queried by UCTH’s Director of Administration, Barr Ededet Eyowa, following a peaceful demonstration on 16th April, 2021 over the same issue of non-payment of salaries. When there was no positive response, the interns requested and got approval for a meeting with the CMD, Prof Ikpeme, which held sometime in May, with representatives of the interns from across all affected departments.
“This meeting was the first and last meeting held with the management of the University of Calabar Teaching Hospital.
“We wish to state categorically that we have been patient and have engaged several stakeholders at the local and federal levels to fight our cause,” the interns told the Chairman of the Board of UCTH, adding that rather than resolve the matter, the UCTH management, in a letter dated 2nd August, 2021 with reference number: UCTH/DA/148/3090, suspended many interns for three months without pay.
The interns noted that all efforts to resolve the matter, even with the intervention of the Senate President Ahmed Lawan, and Senator Rochas Okorocha, were met with further highhandedness from the authorities of UCTH.
The interns, in concluding the letter, demanded for the full payment of their salaries from November 2020 to October 2021, or else face “legal and presidential interventions.”
Our correspondent gathered from a report by the interns of a meeting they had with the management of UCTH on Wednesday, October 20, 2021, with two members of the Board of UCTH and Prof Ikpeme in attendance, that no definitive conclusions were arrive at after over three hours of discussion, as there was no way forward on how to pay the interns their 12 months salary arrears.
According to the report, the two Board members who represented the Board Chairman at the meeting, claimed the Board was “not carried along by the CMD and [members] were not aware of our issues of nonpayment” of salaries.
According to the report, the interns had at the meeting sought to know why the salary payment challenge was not a national issue but only peculiar to the UCTH. In response, the management reportedly attributed ithe problem to a “slash in budget from 165 million Naira to 6.5 millon Naira.”
Other questions to which Prof Ikpeme could not provide answers to, the report said, were: “what led to the slash in the budget? Why is the shortfall peculiar to the UCTH? Why did the management led by the CMD refuse to answer to our several memos written from March to October? Why did [the CMD] compound and [complicate] our problems and frustrated us the more through serial harassment and intimidation by members of the DSS and the Police, who are not our employers?
“As the CMD, what have you done to resolving this so-called National Issue that is peculiar to your Institution? When are we receiving complete payment of our arrears?”
The interns concluded in their report of the October 20 meeting thus:
“From all indications, it’s obviously visible to the blind and audible to the deaf that our 12 months nonpayment is never a National Issue and there is more to what happened to our funds that only the Chief Medical Director Prof Ikpeme A. Ikpeme, can explain.
“You can see how miserable our situation is! That 352 Medical Postgraduate Interns have worked for 12 months without any concrete payment plan by their employers. This is the apex of injustice. This is just the beginning of the beginnings! The management is not sincere to us.
“We still want to call on the SENATE of the National Assembly, Federal Republic of Nigeria, to continue their good work as exemplified by the Senate President, Senator Ahmed Lawan, through the Senator representing Imo West Senatorial District, Senator Rochas Okorocha, other well-meaning Nigerians, to speak for us, intervene in our case and end this salary injustice in the University of Calabar Teaching Hospital, Calabar.”
All efforts to speak with Prof Ikpeme, UCTH’s CMD, failed as his mobile number was said not to be available up to press time.