The lingering misunder­standing between the Ebonyi State Govern­ment and the Presby­terian Church may be taking a new twist for the worst in the days ahead following a new pro­nouncement of Governor David Umahi against the church during his live broadcast on September, 30, 2020, to mark the 60th and 24th anniversaries of Nigeria and Eb­onyi respectively.

Umahi during the broadcast directed the State Attorney Gen­eral and Commissioner for Jus­tice, Barrister Cletus Ofoke to institute a legal action against the Presbyterian Joint Hospital Uburu to account for the inter­vention funds released to them by the past administration.

The mission hospital estab­lished in 1912 is owned by the Presbyterian Church.

The Governor accused the Church of diverting the funds meant for the development of the hospital. He alleged that the management of the mission hospital fraudulently used the funds meant for the upgrading of the hospital to establish a pri­vate university outside the state, warning that “no one would use the name of church to defraud the state.”

The people of Uburu commu­nity had petitioned the state gov­ernment about the ugly trend in the hospital, among which included the lack of corporate social responsibility and failure of Presbyterian Joint Health In­stitute which was established by the hospital but could not secure accreditation for years before it was closed down and students moved to Ebonyi State Univer­sity (EBSU) where they later graduated.

The community also alleged misappropriation of funds, high medical charges on indi­gent patients, use of obsolete equipment in the treatment of patients and non-presence of qualified doctors, and urged the state government to take over the management of the hospital. Besides, the community further contended that the 100 years lease of the land to the Presby­terian Church had since expired in 2011 and they never came for the renewal. Uburu community is the home town of the State Governor, Engr. David Umahi in Ohaozara LGA. 

Governor Umahi had on July 14, 2020 announced the take over the 108 years old hospital during a live broadcast, citing overriding public interest. He also directed Ofoke to immedi­ately forward an Executive Bill on the takeover of the hospital to the State House of Assembly for passage into law.

He announced that the hospi­tal would now be designated as Ebonyi State University Com­munity General Hospital that would also serve as the commu­nity medicine rural practice area of the State’s University Teaching Hospital Uburu.

The State House of Assembly also affirmed the revocation, which consequently returned the ownership of the land and whatever property consequently reverted to Ebonyi State Govern­ment.

Following the executive order, Ebonyi State Government sub­sequently announced the imme­diate shutdown of the hospital. The government said the action is sequel to a petition by the host community over the expiration of the church’s 100-year lease.

 

Commissioner for Health, Daniel Umezurike, who an­nounced the shutdown and takeover of the hospital when he took journalists on the spot assessment of the hospital, said the state government had to re­voke the right of occupancy of the hospital which was estab­lished in 1912 for overriding public interest.

 

Umezuruike said besides extortion, there were further allegations of poor clinical ser­vices, mismanagement of both funds generated locally and grants from government lev­elled against the hospital man­agement

 

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According to him, Uburu peo­ple donated the land to church of Scotland Mission in 1912 not to Presbyterian Church of Ni­geria. When the Church of Scot­land was leaving, the Presbyte­rian Church of Nigeria came in probably because most of the workers were members of the church especially the then Gov­ernor of the old Eastern Region, Late Ezeogo Dr. Akanu Ibiam, but ownership was never trans­ferred to them.

“The hospital was offering qualitative services until in the 90s when the Church of Scotland stopped sending expatriates from Netherlands and the clin­ical services and management became completely indigenous with attendant deterioration.

“The host community Uburu complained about the ugly trend in the hospital. There was no corporate social responsibility, failure of Presbyterian Joint Health Institute which was es­tablished by the hospital but could not secure accreditation for years before it was closed down and students moved to EBSU where they graduated,” he said.

The Health Commissioner noted that as a function of law, the lease of ownership expired in 2011 having lasted 100 years. He said that the community waited patiently until the lease of ownership expired before the agitation to quit started.

He stated that in other to fore­stall total breakdown of law and order, the State Executive Coun­cil of July 14, in accordance with Land Use Act (Cap L.5 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004, revoked the right of occupancy for overriding public interest.

He said that while the hos­pital remained shut, the state government would among other things take inventory, do staff auditing and verification and carry out minor renovation of the hospital to give it a befit­ting facelift. Umezurike asked the management of the Hospital to immediately step aside until all the task by government are completed.

But the action of Ebonyi State Government did not go down well with the Presbyterian Church of Nigeria. The church accused the state government of failing to follow due process in the acquisition and takeover of the hospital.

The Church, in a statement is­sued by its Head of Information and Public Affairs, Dr. Nnoke Ibe, conceded that government’s power of eminent domain con­fers it with power to take over any land it requires for over­riding public interest, but in­sisted government must follow due process in exercising such power.

“The church is aware of gov­ernment’s power of eminent domain confers a power to take land it requires for public pur­poses; but that power is made constitutionally subject to pro­cedures which guarantee the rights, privileges and entitle­ments of occupiers and hold­ers”, he said.

Nnoke said the church had no plans to stop any good intention of government for the people, but needed to understand and certain about where the Church would fit into in all that Ebonyi State Government was planning for the hospital.

He explained that while they were aware of their constitution­al rights on the subject matter as a church, the long-standing good relationship between the Presbyterian Church of Nige­ria (PCN) and the Ebonyi State Government, had compelled the church to beg the state govern­ment to create a conducive plat­form for an amicable resolution of the issues involved.

“The Presbyterian Church of Nigeria has no plan to stop the government’s best intentions for the people; but would insist on understanding and being clear and certain about where the Church fits into in all that Ebo­nyi State Government plans for the Presbyterian Joint Hospital, Uburu, having come a long way together,’’ Ibe said in the state­ment.

But Ebonyi State government maintained that all due process was followed in the acquisition and takeover of the hospital. This was stated by Ofoke, who was contacted to react to the al­legations made by the church. Ofoke appealed to the Church to cooperate with the State Gov­ernment on the matter for the overall interest of the people.

Whether or not the Ebonyi government will make U-turn on some of the decisions it has tak­en against Presbyterian Church especially as it concerns drag­ging them to court over alleged diversion of N4bn released by the past administration for the upgrading and equipping of the defunct Presbyterian Joint Hos­pital Uburu is still buried in the womb of time.