A Nigerian doctor, who said he lost his family and became homeless after investing his entire savings in an ambitious project, has accused the Federal Road Safety Corps, [FRSC] of defrauding him.
Charles George, 54, said the FRSC, under its then Chairman, Osita Chidoka, conned him of his intellectual property, and has refused him compensation till date, despite hijacking his idea.
The project to collate medical details of commercial drivers in Nigeria and make them available online for easy access by licencing authorities, was initiated by Mr. George, who made efforts to partner with the FRSC.
If implemented, the project would ensure sensitive private data of millions of drivers are readily retrievable for driving licence eligibility assessment.
The plan would allow the FRSC levy all motorists for the service, potentially raising billions of naira in returns with a percentage paid to Mr. George.
But after the road safety office agreed to work with Mr. George on the lucrative deal, the corps suddenly backtracked and annulled the contract shortly before it was rolled out, and after it had been kicked off officially.
Despite the suspension , the corps pushed on with the project without any compensation to the originator of the idea, Mr. George said.
Mr. Chidoka confirmed the deal between the doctor and the FRSC, but said it was Mr. George who should be blamed for the botched contract.
He said the FRSC pulled out after Mr. George insisted on storing the sourced medical data on his personal computer server and not government’s.
Mr. George denies that claim, saying the reverse was rather the case.
He said trouble actually began after the former FRSC asked him to host the data on his preferred private server.
No document or recording proves whose claim is right. But Mr. Chidoka and his former agency did not explain why the corps, at any rate, has failed to compensate Mr. George for his idea when it continued with the project. He claimed the project “belonged” to the FRSC.
The FRSC has refused to allow Mr. George be part of the contract and has refused to pay him for the idea despite the intervention of the Attorney General of the Federation, Mohammed Adoke, who described the FRSC’s action as an “injustice”.
The murky case appears to show how government officials often take advantage of poorly-framed contracts to edge out their initiators from lucrative projects intended to boost the services of government agencies, says Samuel Ogala, a lawyer.
As a medical doctor for several years, Charles George now lives as a squatter in Abuja, unable to rent an apartment. His wife left after the deal flopped and the family struggled to feed. Mr. George said he invested over N200 million in the deal.
On a recent rainy afternoon, while speaking to a PREMIUM TIMES reporter, he rang his wife’s phone severally without an answer. It was his 46th unanswered call in 12 days.
“You see. That’s what I am telling you. She doesn’t pick my calls anymore. She called me two weeks ago to say she was moving back to her father’s house. My wife and kids have left me,” Mr. George said blinking repeatedly to hold back tears.
The partnership with the FRSC was to allow for the evaluation of the physical and mental health of commercial drivers before they obtain driving licences.
The idea came in 2008 after Mr. George suggested to the then Yar’Adua administration that it could help address the high rate of road accidents in Nigeria. It was to be called Medical Certification of Commercial Drivers, MCCD.
The Memorandum of Understanding was signed in September 2011.
The project was about to hit the streets one year later when, according to Mr. George, Mr. Chidoka allegedly made an unusual demand at one of their meetings.
“He asked us to host the project website with all the screened drivers’ medical data on his preferred private server – SW Global LTD,” Mr. George said. “We refused citing medico-legal issues of patient-doctor confidentiality. When he insisted, we asked him to write us a letter stating his request. He refused.”
That decision, Mr. George said, effectively ended the business plan.
Thirty days later, the contract was terminated and the MOU he had with the government declared invalid. No reason was given for the termination of the MOU.
Mr. Chidoka admitted cancelling the contract with Mr. George’s company but denied asking that the medical data he would collect for the project be hosted on a private server.
“The project is ours, it’s not his. The data is ours,” Mr. Chidoka said. “Who is he (Mr. George or his company, ACL) in the scheme of things to host the data?”
Mr. Chidoka said he had demanded that the data be hosted on a government server linked to Nigeria’s driving licence system.
“What we were telling him was that he wanted to take away the data of Nigerians who came for medical testing. I said no! You are a private company, you have to host it on a government domain connected to the drivers licence server,” Mr. Chidoka said.
“If he was not an illiterate, he won’t say that a private company would hold the data of people who come to a government agency for a service,” Mr. Chidoka added.
Some top officials of the FRSC who spoke to PREMIUM TIMES about this project gave divergent explanations for the cancellation of the MOU.
While some claimed they had no explanation for the cancellation, others explained that it was cancelled because Mr. George’s company, ACL, was not a “government hospital.”
“He should go to court if he feels his right was abused,” Chidi Nwachukwu, FRSC legal adviser, who signed the termination of the MOU, counselled.
No Family, No Justice
Mr. George claims he spent over N200 million acquiring infrastructure and establishing testing centres in 36 states across Nigeria, in addition to the capital city, Abuja.
“I have spent all my savings, sold my assets and took money from people to kick-start this project,” he said.
He said his Lagos landlord threw him out early 2014 after he failed to pay rents for two years.
“This thing has ruined my life,” he said. “I have no home. My wife has abandoned me. I have no family anymore.”
In November 2013 when the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Mr. Adoke, demanded a documented explanation for the termination of the MOU from the FRSC, the corps responded through its Legal Adviser, Wole Olaniran, saying it was simply “not disposed” to working with Mr. Charles’ company on the project.
The justice minister wrote back, in a memo dated 21 November 2013, where he declared the actions of the FRSC boss contrary to the principles of “natural Justice, equity and fairness”.
In that memo, the minister, Mr. Adoke, advised the FRSC to rescind the termination of the MOU or negotiate with Mr. George a suitable compensation package to settle all the incurred cost on the project.
The FRSC ignored the Justice Minister’s recommendations.
The new Corp Marshal of the FRSC, Boboye Oyeyemi, told PREMIUM TIMES he has not been briefed about the failed contract since taking office in June.
Mr. Oyeyemi was the Deputy Corps Marshal in charge of the Corps’ operations department in the years the FRSC signed and terminated the MOU with Mr. George’s company. But he claims he does not know anything about that MOU.
Mr. George’s hope for justice now lies with a lawsuit prepared by Femi Falana, a senior lawyer and rights activist. The Nigerian Institute of Chartered Arbitrators has also weighed into the matter.