The Federal Medical Centre, Katsina, has suspended two of its staff allegedly implicated in a systematic diversion of doctors’ salaries into bogus private bank accounts.
Usman Saifullah and Abba Salisu, who work in the Accounts Department of the hospital, were given a temporary leave from duty following an interim report from a committee set up by the hospital management.
PREMIUM TIMES had reported, last week, how a forensic audit of medical doctors at the health facility revealed millions of naira being funnelled into bank accounts of ghost medical doctors.
Last month, the 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 the doctors.
The audit, which covered 130 doctors between January and July this year, showed that over N8 million was paid into bank accounts of medics who no longer work at the hospital.
An analysis of the doctors’ pay register showed a continuous channelling of government funds into the bank accounts of ghost doctors.
For the month of January, 2015, five of the doctors received 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.
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.
Bashir Oyeyemi, who served in the forensic audit committee, said that the two suspended staff confessed to receiving salaries of the ghost doctors at the hospital.
Dr. Oyeyemi, who has been in hiding for over one week, accused the two staff of being behind the death threats to some members of the forensic audit committee.
“It is reported that the two were given temporary suspension from work instead of being taken into custody of the relevant security agencies to provide useful information about the source of the threats of assassination,” he said in an e-mail to PREMIUM TIMES.
Suspended for alleged misconduct
When PREMIUM TIMES contacted Bashir Idris, the hospital’s Public Relations Officer, he said he was not aware of the suspension.
”I have travelled out and I got out of touch of things,” he said over the phone.
“Maybe I will have to confirm from my medical director because I was not in the office throughout last week.
“If they say they have been suspended, if I have not seen the physical letter of suspension or I confirm that they have been suspended, I cannot now tell you that these guys have been suspended.”
Mr. Idris requested to be called back after two hours to enable him get details from either the hospital’s Medical Director or the Head of the Administrative Unit.
When Mr. Idris’s line was called after two hours, it had been switched off.
However, Abu Ibrahim, Head of Medical Records at the hospital, confirmed the immediate suspension of the two members of staff but declined to give further details.
“I’m not directly under Administration, I work in the clinical side of the hospital, so I can’t say anything with regards to it,” he said over the phone.
PREMIUM TIMES contacted Mr. Saifullah on Saturday and he admitted that he had been suspended but denied confessing to receiving salaries of ghost doctors or issuing anonymous death threats.
“Why do you want to balance the story,” he responded to a question on the importance of hearing his account of events.
“I don’t know what to say,” he added, before the line went dead.
The findings of the forensic audit committee was as shocking to members – most of them doctors – as it was embarrassing to the hospital management.
For instance, Opeyemi Oyewande, who had finished his housemanship since March this year had continued to be on the payroll until July.
But Mr. 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.
The doctor confirmed the incident to PREMIUM TIMES last week but said he wasn’t sure if it was right to speak to the media about it.
“I’ve given the (audit) committee all the necessary information,” he said.
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.
Mr. Oyeyemi accused the management of inaction despite a written letter to Abdulmajeed Umar, the Medical Director, on the assassination threats.
“The medical director said through the Head of Clinical Services that threats of assassination is so frequently received by members of management and staff and that they mean nothing despite the assassination of our former Chief Accountant,” Mr. Oyeyemi, who is also the Chairman of MDCAN at the hospital, said.
“The medical director failed to take the necessary steps to identify those who are receiving the salary of ghost workers until MDCAN withdrew its services (at the hospital).
“He also failed to take necessary action to prevent the continuation of diversion of funds through ghost worker after he was duly informed in a public meeting in which I sat by his side and in the list that was sent to him through the Head of Clinical Services.”
The hospital responds
PREMIUM TIMES had contacted Bello Suleiman, the Head of Clinical Services, last week and he said that the recent scandal at the hospital was a “good opportunity” to fight corruption.
“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,” Mr. Suleiman, who also serves as the Deputy Medical Director, said.
In his email to PREMIUM TIMES, Mr. Oyeyemi accused Dr. Suleiman of claiming that the diverted ghost worker funds had been used by the hospital to pay for overhead expenses which were not forthcoming from Abuja.
He also accused Mr. Suleiman of claiming that the forensic audit committee was of witch-hunting the medical director and members of staff implicated in the ghost doctors scandal.
Mr. Suleiman was unavailable for comments on Saturday. Phone calls to his phone lines did not go through.
But PREMIUM TIMES reached Mr. Umar who denied accusations that the hospital management failed to act when informed about death threats to some members of the forensic audit committee.
“That’s not what actually happened,” said Mr. Umar, the hospital’s Medical Director since 2009.
“We on our own part, we informed the security men, the security agencies. And then we deployed the hospital security staff, there is a private security company that is taking care of the hospital, so we deployed some of the staff to the houses of the members of the forensic audit committee.”
Mr. Umar denied claims that the management dismissed allegations of death threats on committee members as a common occurrence in the hospital.
He also said that a security meeting was immediately convened at the hospital to allay the fears of members of the forensic audit committee.
“In addition, the security men are maintaining surveillance around their houses and we have also requested for additional policemen to be posted to the hospital premises,” he said.
“Management did not say death threats is a normal routine. Two of them received similar threats, Dr. Oyeyemi and Dr. Bello Suleiman, who happens to be my deputy.
“And what Dr. Suleiman said is that he too, in the past, has received those threats but he in his own capacity, he disregarded them and nothing has happened to him, as far as he is concerned as a person. But management do not receive regular threats.”
Mr. Umar also denied the claims that he obstructed the work of the forensic audit committee by failing to provide them with the necessary material to do a thorough job.
“If I did not provide them with material, how would they have made this discovery,” he said.
The 2015 personnel budget of the hospital stands at almost N350 million, according to Association of Resident Doctors at the hospital, in addition to a monthly average of N16 million internally generated revenue.
But when the doctors at the hospital requested for skipping, a move that would see an increase to their earnings, the management complained of inadequate funds.
Mr. Umar said provisions for implementing skipping had not been made in the hospital’s 2015 budget.
On the two suspended staff, Mr. Umar said that they had not concluded their investigation, but had forwarded their findings to the Federal Ministry of Health, awaiting further directives.
He also said that when the two suspects were confronted, they were unable to defend the allegations against them.
“The investigation is ongoing. We have strong suspicion. And in order for people not to tamper with investigation, normally, we place them on suspension pending the outcome of the investigation,” he said.
“Administratively, it’s not right for you to rush and conclude your investigation, otherwise you might end up implicating an innocent person, and that person can sue you to court, then it will be very difficult.”