Thought Leadership

Stella Obasanjo – Before we rejoice…

The media was agog a few weeks ago with reports that a plastic surgeon in Spain was convicted of negligence in the death of Nigeria’s former first lady, and was given a suspended sentence of a year in jail

Stella Obasanjo, wife of then President Olusegun Obasanjo, died Oct. 23, 2005, two days after undergoing liposuction on her abdomen and other parts of her body at a clinic in the southern Spanish town of Marbella. A court in Malaga convicted plastic surgeon Antonio Mena Molina of negligent homicide. (a criminal charge brought against people who, through criminal negligence, allow others to die.) Mena was also barred from practicing medicine for three years and ordered to pay euro120,000 ($175,000) in damages to the former first ladies son. The judge said Mena Molina had shown “carelessness and neglect.”

The medical profession prides itself across the world for self regulation in the first instance. The case described above that has gone through the legal system is an extreme example. Another recent case in the UK that is leading to fundamental changes in how out-of-ours care is provided is the story of  a “German” doctor Dr Daniel Ubani who is reported to have given a patient 10 times too much painkiller while working for a Cambridgeshire health trust, as a locum out-of-hours general practitioner. It might have been a mistake – but he is paying a huge price, has a suspended sentence over his neck and almost irreparable loss of reputation. Many people think he got off lightly.

So what would be the consequences of medical malpractice in Nigeria?

Zilch… nothing. Many colleagues get away with murder.

We acknowledge the valiant work of Dr Shima Gyoh, during his time as Chairman, Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria. Dr Gyoh tried to get the MDCN to make the doctors and dentists self regulate thier profession. We watched sessions on Network news where colleagues were brought to face up to their responibilities of accountability. We saw  the Registrar of MDCN; Dr. C. O. Ezeani, compulsorily retired. The MDCN needs to be supported and strenghthened. Meet the council members here.

But…not anymore.

You must have read about the murder of Bayo Ayanlola Ohu, who until his death was the  Assistant News Editor, Guardian Newspapers. What you might not have read is that Bayo was rushed to the family’s hospital located within the Akowonjo area in Lagos but was rejected and no treatment could be administered to him due to the apparent non-provision of a police report. (for non Nigerian readers – this refers to a report to say that the gunshot victim is himself not a robber!!!) The requirement for a police report before treatment is not part of the Nigerian constitution, and ofcourse breaks all our fundamental human rights. Even the Nigerian Police despite its legendary apathy has severally gone public to declare that this does not exist.
BUT THAT HOSPITAL REMAINS OPEN. You will not hear a whisper from the MDCN, nor from the Nigerian Medical Association. We all coil around in silence and pretend we are different. We are not. We are ALL guilty.
Even if there is such a ridiculous directive in place can our profession not stand up and say NO? Can we not inistst that we are bound by the vows we all make on graduation. By not treating a sick man in front of him, is this colleague not  guilty negligent homicide. For the rest of us that have taken similar vows, yet keep quiet in the wake of this incident, are we not all complicit in NEGLIGENT HOMICIDE?….

Well…we live in a country where there are no consequences for the paths of dishonour we chose…..sadly therefore,  no incentive to chose a path of intergrity….

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed people can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has…Margaret Mead

By Chikwe Ihekweazu

Chikwe Ihekweazu is an epidemiologist and consultant public health physician. He is the Editor of Nigeria Health Watch, and the Managing Partner of EpiAfric (, which provides expertise in public health research and advisory services, health communication and professional development. He previously held leadership roles at the South African National Institute for Communicable Diseases and the UK's Health Protection Agency. Chikwe has undertaken several short term consultancies for the World Health Organisation, mainly in response to major outbreaks. He is a TED Fellow and co-curator of TEDxEuston.

3 replies on “Stella Obasanjo – Before we rejoice…”

Could there be another perspective? Could it be that the decision to go to the ‘family doctor’ with a gunshot wound was flawed? Indulge me a moment, but a similar experience anywhere else, would the choice of where to go have been the ‘family doctor’? Or the emergency room? I am opportuned to see the other side of things and regret that much of what we see happening in the health service delivery sector is also predicated by the collective ‘lemmings nature’ the society has.

It is so easy to cast aspersions on the healthcare workers. What is most and generally never admitted to is the dynamics of the decision-making that constantly places the healthcare worker in the role of the ‘failed sector’. Families have a tendency to use the health service as a last resort, often failing in their responsibilities to themselves regarding the rules of simple hygiene, security and the power of information.
I mourn with the widow on the devastating loss of her husband, friend, lover and father of her children…but I wish to point out the possibility that the whole story has not been told.

Our health system is fragile and working against impossible odds… Not totally the fault of the healthcare workers. In the sad case of the assistant editor, let the risk management start from within. He was attacked and shot… Where were the security services? How do guns find their way into hands of marauders? Why is there still so much pervasive poverty that this gentle, unassuming man would become a target of violence? How then are the healthcare workers expected to be the last bastion against loss of life and limb when all the other sectors have failed?

The family is badly hit and badly hurt… there is a need to express the grief and anger and helpless frustration that this terrible event has evoked. But we need to proceed cautiously. Let not blame undeserved be carelessly cast. Family doctors are just that… family doctors. Not equipped to handle trauma of that nature. If the family took the decision to go there instead of the emergency room at Agege General Hospital…….Just musing…. So many questions.

There is a need for the leadership of our great country to begin to prepare. The blood of millions of innocents will be required of them…or their children. But I applaud you, and the opportunity you create for discussion to take place.

“Our health system is fragile and working against impossible odds…
But we need to proceed cautiously”
begs the question how do we lift all boats? The blame might not be within the drama of this one case, however, the several hundreds that follow are preventable as we slumber into the next flawed elections. The leadership challenge is a reason several in diaspora will choose not to get involved and Greedy Stella case is a reason to stop the soft approach. We must not continue to shift and dance around the truth while we remain DOA.

I totally agree with the writer of the first comment.The whole story of the negligence may not have been told. One would think that the ‘family doctor’ especially being familiar with the deceased editor would have requested for the police report , all the while attending to the patient to the best of his ability.

The issue of police report needs to be clarified, possibly on the electronic media for both doctors and lay people.I am not aware of any previous attempts to do so by the Nigerian police.Private practices in particular request it so as not to be accused of aiding criminals knowing how easy it is to be implicated by the police in Nigeria.Sadly many lives have been lost due to the consequent delay in provision of care.

Thanks for providing this forum.
Keep up the good work

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