“I was at the headquarters of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) Abuja when I was selected for the job because everyone else considered it too risky. If you recall, it was the first Ebola case in Nigeria and there was a huge sense of fear and panic about it. I, however, saw it as an opportunity to perform a national duty of considerable importance.”
Those were the words of Kenneth Madiebo, the doctor who prepared the corpse of Liberian-American Patrick Sawyer, the first reported case of Ebola in Nigeria, for cremation.
After placing his life on the line to save the Nigerian populace the devastating effect of widespread Ebola, you would assume that Madiebo would be a household name, conferred with honours and recognition. Far from it, Madiebo has not been paid his salaries in four years and nine months. He said he was ignored and relegated to the background after his selfless service to the country.
THE EBOLA CRISIS
The 2014 Ebola virus disease (EVD) outbreak in West Africa was described as the world’s deadliest. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), over 3,800 people died from the virus in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria.
The virus was brought into Nigeria by Sawyer on July 20, 2014. With the help of a team of doctors led by Adadevoh, Nigeria was declared Ebola-free three months later— but not without paying the ultimate price. In all, 20 people contracted the virus in the country. While 12 survived, the remaining eight died.
THE NAME WE KNOW
Search Adadevoh on the internet and you will find a Wikipedia page describing her heroic deed. It was Ameyo Adadevoh who quarantined Sawyer and refused to discharge him despite pressure, subsequently saving the country from a mass outbreak of the virus.
Even after her death, Adadevoh’s name occupies a special place in the hearts of millions of Nigerians and the world at large. The Dr. Ameyo Adadevoh Health Trust (DRASA), a non-profit health organisation was established in her honour. The film, “93 Days”, is dedicated to her memory as well. On October 27, 2018, she was honoured with a Google doodle for her posthumous 62nd birthday. She has been described as an “everyday hero”.
Adedavoh has 19 posthumous awards and honours to her name, including the 2014 CNN Leading Woman award. But Madiebo, who had to deal with Sawyer’s corpse, considered more contagious than when he was alive, is practically begging just to be paid his salaries.
He was, instead, tagged a troublemaker for demanding that he be paid for the services he rendered.
“Naturally, like everyone else, I was very scared, but the fact remained that the body had to be evacuated. I am told that he died around 7:30 am and he was evacuated to Yaba Mainland Hospital at about 11:30 pm of the same day,” he told TheCable.
“Also, we underwent a quick training on the wearing and removal of the personal protective equipment (PPE) and so I worked with a group of about six individuals who came from a private undertakers’ company.”
PROMOTION ON PAPER ONLY
The son of Alexander Madiebo, a general in the then Biafran army, said after the successful completion of the mission, he was assigned a new role that came with an increase in salary but the salary raise is not worth more than the paper where it was written as he is yet to enjoy the benefits till date.
He said he and his colleagues were last paid in October 2014, even though the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) continued to engage their services.
“After the assignment, I was giving a new role: Incident Manager Ebola emergency operations centre (EOC). It was supposed to come with some form of increased remuneration but I have never received any other salaries since October of 2014, about four years and nine months now,” he said.
“People can be assigned new roles depending on the circumstances at hand. Between October 2012 and August 2013, I played the role of incident manager for the flood disaster in Nigeria. This was in collaboration with WHO and the USA CDC.
“But I and the rest of my colleagues who set up the NCDC have never been paid one kobo up till this day. We have also not been disengaged, despite the fact that we have asked the federal ministry of health (FMoH) to pay us our arrears and disengage us as consultants.
“We have written numerous letters pertaining to this. The letters were addressed to the minister in some instances, to the permanent secretary when no minister was on seat and most times the letters were copied to relevant stakeholders.
“I also wrote the boss of USA CDC, the WHO secretary-general, UN secretary-general, the presidency, senate committee chairman for health and the former CEO of NCDC. Eventually, FMHoC created a committee to look into the matter. I only got a response from a director at the USA CDC and I believe it is the presidency that motivated the minister of health, Prof Isaac Adewole to set up the committee.
“The permanent secretary at the ministry replied the first letter I wrote in September 2015 to tell me that I was too low in the “levels of officialdom” to write to him pertaining to our unpaid salaries.”
MADIEBO HEADS TO COURT
After many attempts to call the attention of the federal government to his plight, Madiebo and two of the other consultants sought justice in court. According to him, they filed a suit at the industrial court in Gariki, Abuja in 2018, listing the ministry of health, the NCDC and its director as respondents.
He explained that the case has, however, dragged on over the years. At the last hearing in June, the judge adjourned it till October.
“The case is currently in court as we speak. The case has been in court since April of 2018. A couple of my colleagues who have dual citizenship have had to fly in from the UK and the USA to attend court,” he said.
“We had to restart proceedings because the former judge was transferred away around August/ September of 2018 The case is in court with three out of the seven consultants who helped to set up the NCDC seeking justice.
“We have no idea how long it will take but my own case has progressed to the address stage while that of two other consultants will go through hearing in October. The case was adjourned from the 13th of June till 30th of October.”
CORRUPTION IN THE NCDC?
Madiebo said he could not tell what happened to their salaries, just that the NCDC could not account for it. According to him, while they were still being paid, the centre deducted 20 percent of their salary as tax but could not provide documentation for tax clearance.
“One thing I can tell you is that a former director of procurement at the ministry of health assured me that money had been made available to pay us at the time we were being owed for seven months. That never happened even though we were informed the money was released at the time,” he said.
“When it was nine months, it was decided at an official meeting that was held at the office of a director for planning, research and statistics, that we should be paid from the ‘Ebola Funds’ and drafted into the FMoH. Again, that didn’t happen even though a resolution was arrived at.
MILLIONS OF DOLLARS RAISED YET NO SALARIES
“The Ebola funds included $10 million from MTN, $3 million from Dangote and $1 million from ECONET of Zimbabwe. These three sourced funds were offered to the ministry on December 3, 2014 and we believe that the federal ministry of health (FMoH) took immediate possession of the same funds. These people made these donations in the presence of thousands of people. On that day, Tony Elumelu also gave N50 million,” the doctor said.
“It was individuals that played funny games with the careers and salaries of my colleagues and I, and that is why the respondents in court are FMoH and NCDC as well as anyone who happens to head those places. Nigeria is still a very far place away from being able to deal with corruption, incompetence and abuse of office.”
FRUSTRATED YET PATRIOTIC
Madiebo said he and his colleagues continued to work with hope that soon, their efforts will pay off. He said they had written the centre to pay their salaries and disengage them officially but nothing had been done to that effect. Hence, they still consider themselves as staff of the NCDC.
“At a point we had to stop going to work… that was in February of 2016. In order to stop us from coming to work, they assigned our office spaces to other functions, for example ‘data room’ and they made sure that we were no longer given any assignments in the office. My last major assignment was being part of the Emergency Response for a Lassa fever outbreak in February 2016,” he said.
“In that assignment, I assisted in collecting urine sample from an individual suspected to have died from Lassa fever at the Wuse General hospital. Most of the staff were so scared and had stopped coming to work. I had come to the hospital with a senior director from the FMoH. When we came out from collecting the sample, the FMoH director had run away.
“It is important at the stage to note that NCDC was not and is just not about Ebola. There are equally dangerous diseases of public health importance that Nigeria has to deal with… diseases that have caused more deaths than Ebola.
“We always carried out assignments whenever we were called to do so. In fact, towards the end, we forced ourselves into these assignments. Because they couldn’t explain what happened to our salaries, the thought the best thing was to make sure that we were not given any more roles, so that we will just fade away.
“We continued to participate until it was no longer possible to continue coming to work. The consultants started to experience problems such as difficulties in getting transport money to come to work and problems with rent and other things. Plus the fact that they converted our offices for other uses. The salaries caused some of my colleagues to relocate to the US and the UK. None of the rest of us who stayed in Nigeria has ever been re-engaged in any other role within the public health sector in Nigeria.
“For me, I was branded a troublemaker for daring to ask for the salaries arrears. When you dare to challenge the establishment, you risk being blacklisted.”
HOW MUCH ARE WE TALKING ABOUT?
“It’s $2,500 dollars a month for four years and nine months as of today. In court, we are also demanding for 20% of our salaries times two years. When we were being paid, officials at the FMoH were taking 20% of our salaries under the guise that it was for tax. When we asked them to provide the documentation for it so that we could go for tax clearance, they could not,” he said.
“In court, we are demanding also for that 20% times 24 months, which in my case is another $12,000. That is $500 times 24 months”
MADIEBO’S MESSAGE TO NIGERIANS AND THE GOVERNMENT
“We the consultants are just hoping that Nigeria’s slow wheel of justice will deal with this eventuality. The questions are were we officially engaged? Were we officially disengaged? Are we being owed salaries arrears? Why did they continue to use us for local and international collaborations and engagements even as we were not being paid?” he asks.
“I want to ask the Nigerian government to apply wisdom and fairness in dealing with this unfair treatment of citizens willing to and dedicated to offering their services for the service to their fatherland. I also want to ask the decision makers at the FMoH and NCDC why they are unable to find a solution to this problem? And why they continue to ignore the plight of the consultants who helped set up NCDC and run it for 3 years.”
Attempts to get Chikwe Ihekweazu, NCDC director-general, to comment on the allegations proved abortive as he neither answered his calls nor replied an email sent to him.
When contacted, Akinola Boade, director of media and public relations at the ministry of health, said she was not in the know of the situation, directing TheCable to the NCDC.
Also, Laurat Elayo, director of legal department at the ministry of health, did not answer calls placed to her.
This is the first part of a series marking the fifth anniversary of Nigeria’s recovery from Ebola