From Obinna Odogwu, Awka
Midway along the dilapidated road leading to Unubi community in Nnewi South Local Government Area of Anambra State from Ezinifite community in Aguata LGA lies a decrepit hospital.
The hospital, which sits on a large expanse of land, is the Comprehensive Health Practice Centre of the Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University Teaching Hospital (COOUTH), Amaku, Awka.
Originally, it was a community hospital built through communal efforts. It was commissioned by the then governor of old Anambra State, Chief Jim Nwobodo, but was later taken over by the state government under former Governor Peter Obi.
Today, the hospital located on the outskirts of the community is not just a shadow of itself, but an eyesore. And true to its current state, the only functional section of that hospital, at the moment, is its mortuary.
A decayed teaching hospital
On October 6, 2020, this reporter attended a press briefing presided over by the Bishop of Amichi Diocese, Rt. Rev. Ephraim Ikeakor, at St. Ebenezer’s Anglican Church, Unubi.
It was part of activities lined up for that year’s synod of the diocese; and on his way back to Awka, this reporter spotted a rusty signboard bearing the name of the university.
The environment was bushy and quiet; and showed no sign of human activities inside it. Out of curiosity, he moved into the building.
Although the varsity had been renamed after the late Igbo leader, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, some years ago, the worn-out signboard still bore Anambra State University.
At about 3:00p.m when this reporter entered the building, there was nobody in sight. The structures – bungalows – were massive and were all linked together in a chainlike form.
Nobody was manning the reception and there were no seats, tables, no posters on the walls to, at least, show that it is a hospital.
Face of decay, dilapidation
Moving from one section to the other, one comes face to face with the rot in the teaching hospital. Most of the doors were locked and the rusts on the locks and staples suggest that they had been locked for a long time.
Parts of the roofs, both in the inside and outside, along the corridors, have fallen off with some of them still dangling. The old fashioned louvers were scanty on the windows.
The reporter peeped into the wards that were locked and also checked the ones which doors have fallen off and discovered that there were no equipment whatsoever in the wards.
While most of the wards have no beds, a few found in some have crumbled and their foams badly soaked by rainwater. The dirt and dusts on the floors were thick even as some of the rooms have reasonable volumes of rainwater on the floor.
For about 10 minutes, this reporter was in the dingy teaching hospital, making painstaking observations without sighting any staff or patient.
There was a pindrop silence everywhere as though it was a morgue. Thanks to the insects and birds whose chirps kept the facility warm.
After a long walk along the corridors, Sunday Sun sighted some clothes hanging on a line. They were obviously washed by their owner(s).
A chat with two workers and a caregiver
When this reporter crossed over to the other section of the building that showed signs of being occupied by humans, he met two workers and a caregiver looking after her sick nephew.
After a brief introduction, the reporter tried to get words from the staff but all efforts failed. They made it clear that they wouldn’t talk to him and referred him to the state’s health authorities.
“Reporters from a radio station came here sometime back. They took pictures and asked questions. Till today, nothing has changed. It is better you go and talk to our boss. You can come on Thursday”, they told the reporter who was there on a Tuesday.
The caregiver, a native of Ezinifite, equally declined to talk. She apparently was afraid that the health workers might get mad at her if she dared reveal her findings. Her nephew, about 10, was down with malaria.
Dilapidated pit toilet
The bathrooms and toilets attached to the Male Ward where the young boy was admitted were locked and their keys were rusty. Peeping through the small, open lines on the doors, one could behold the dirt inside.
Behind the Male Ward’s building, there was a pit toilet which serves the health workers and their supposed patients. It’s a small hut divided into three sections and its doors have all fallen off.
The holes were covered with some small pieces of iron roofing sheets. The back of the building and its two sides have been overgrown by bushes.
Bushy, dangerous environment
At the back of the hospital, there is a relatively ‘thick forest.’ The forest could serve as a hideout for criminals, dangerous animals and reptiles. The frontage and the two sides of the teaching hospital were equally bushy and has no fence.
Rightward from the entrance of the compound was a Doctors’ Quarter built by the Ezinifite community, using the N20 million Community-Choose-Your-Project initiative of the Governor Willie Obiano administration.
Given the quantum of dusts on the floor, the cobwebs on the building and its bushy environment, it was not clear if any human being has ever lived in it after its commissioning in 2017.
History of the hospital
Community Hospital, Ezinifite as it was initially known was built by the members of Ezinifite Star United Club of Nigeria.
Its pioneer National President, High Chief Paul Ifionu, told Sunday Sun that the hospital project lasted for 10 years from 1978 to 1988 and was opened for use in the 11th year, 1989.
“The hospital was built by the Star Club during my regime. That was during the time of Edwin Onwudiwe as the Commissioner for Health in Anambra State during the time of Jim Nwobodo as governor. We also managed it.
“We invited Nwobodo to lay the foundation stone, but he sent his Commissioner for Health. He later came and donated N10,000 to us for the building project.
“The community gave us the land and we built the hospital to enable our people have access to healthcare services. We also managed it because the government didn’t take it over that time.
“The community also told us to manage it because they don’t have the financial power to do so. We’ve managed the hospital for more than 30 years now and we have continued to manage it till now”, Ifionu narrated.
Government takes over the hospital
Ifionu told Sunday Sun that the state government, when Mr Peter Obi was governor, took over the hospital to serve as the state’s teaching hospital – a practical training centre.
“When Peter Obi came to power, the government looked for a hospital that they would use as practical centre and found our hospital suitable for it. It also has room for expansion, and so, they took it.
“Along the line, Obi built similar thing in his community, Agulu. And he equipped it (the one in Agulu). We revolted and went to him. Our traditional ruler, the traditional prime minister and other community leaders were all there.
“We also reached out to the traditional ruler of Mbaukwu community to assist us in pursuing our interest. When we met with Obi, he told us to go that every university teaching hospital usually has different branches.
“Government also said that we should be managing it together with them until they are ready to take it over completely. They sent two doctors and three staff nurses. The teaching hospital pays those ones.
“But we hired other hospital workers including auxiliary nurses, morticians, drivers, cleaners, security men and others. We have over 30 workers there and we pay them their salaries every month.
“The auxiliary nurses among them are about 15 in number. And that is how that hospital has been till today.
“When government renamed the state university after Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, we were asked to change the signboard to reflect the new name. That is, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University Teaching Hospital Comprehensive Health Practice Centre, Ezinifite, Aguata LGA.
“We also changed the names of the documents including hospital cards and other things used in the hospital to reflect the new name. But as I see it, they don’t take that hospital to heart”, Ifionu regretted.
He told Sunday Sun that his people were sad about the government’s neglect of the hospital despite the communal effort.
He disclosed that the club recently commenced the rebuilding of its mortuary, adding that he had donated “all the iron doors needed there.”
He also told Sunday Sun that the new Doctors’ Quarter built in the hospital was done using the N20 million the state government gave to each of the communities in the state.
President General of the community, Nze Ikemefuna Okwonna, on his part, told Sunday Sun that his people have been passing through untold hardship because of the dilapidated state of the teaching hospital.
“We are in pains. Our people are heartbroken because of the horrible state of that hospital. You will not believe that that hospital was built by some individuals before it was commissioned by former Governor Jim Nwobodo.
“Though Anambra State government has taken it over, we are still the ones funding it. We buy drugs, pay workers and do every other thing just to make sure that the place will not crumble completely. Government has not put any equipment there, at least, to show that it has taken it over”, he lamented.
Several efforts to get words from the Commissioner for Health in the state, Dr Vincent Okpala, proved abortive as he did not pick calls to his phone. On the second day, the reporter called again and also sent a text message, but the calls and the text were neither answered nor replied to.
A few weeks later, the reporter met him at the Governor’s Lodge, Amawbia in Awka South LGA and presented the matter to him and he promised to find out why the situation was so from the Chief Medical Director of COOUTH.
But, the reporter and the commissioner could not meet or talk again about the terrible state of the teaching hospital. The commissioner did not also get back to the reporter after he might have spoken with the CMD.
The problem 10 months and eight days later
On August 14, 2021, the reporter returned to the hospital, to find out if there had been some positive changes in it. The second visit made it exactly 10 months and eight days after the first one.
Sadly, the horrible situation in the hospital had worsened. More roofs had collapsed and many rooms and wards had rainwater on the floors. Grasses have already started sprouting from inside some of the wards too.
Again, a worker found in the facility declined to talk to Sunday Sun, but the reporter was able to get a few words from him.
“The situation is worse now. It was manageable last year compared to the situation this year. This place is deserted as you can see. We have two doctors here actually and we have more than 10 nurses.
“Ever since this place was handed over to the government, nothing positive has happened. It’s true that the doctors we have here were sent by the government, but take a look at the environment.
“If you go to the theatre, it is nothing to write home about, but the labour room is fair. And because of that, the patients’ intake reduced drastically. In fact, it is only those who know how this place worked in the past that still come here.
“Again, there is no health campaign being promoted by the government that reaches here. Sometime last week, one woman came here. She was trying to locate a health centre on her list where she was supposed to supply condoms for family planning.
“She didn’t supply anything here because this hospital was not on the list she was given.
“Many workers here were the ones the community started with when this hospital was opened under community level before the government took it over. Two nurses were sent by the government”, the worker stated.
When contacted again, the state Commissioner for Health, Okpala, did not take his calls. He did not also reply to text messages sent to his two phone numbers before this report was filed.