AN EPIDEMIC OF QUACKS

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The regulatory authorities could do more to check quackery in the professions

In a recent revelation that depicts the level to which public service has degenerated in Nigeria, a fake medical doctor was discovered to have served in the Federal Ministry of Health (FMoH) for nine years. To worsen matters, the fake doctor rose to Grade Level 13 in the ministry and had worked in the Departments of Hospital Services and Health Planning Research and Statistics (HPRS) before he was eventually detected as a fraud.

According to the Permanent Secretary in the ministry, Mr. Martins Ugwu Okpe who hails from Ogbadibo Local Council of Benue State got himself employed fraudulently using the stolen documents of his childhood friend and best man, Dr. George Davidson Daniel. Mr. Martins Ugwu Okpe was offered appointment by the commission on August 30, 2006 and was posted to the Federal Ministry of Health in September same year.

There are many related issues to be explored on this most embarrassing case. One, as things stand, there are hardly any rigorous regulatory standards to establish who is a competent professional in several of the critical fields of human endeavour in our country today. In most instances, people just make claims and are taken for their word and given positions of responsibility, especially in the public sector.

Two, even departments that ordinarily should do the most basic of vetting in most government establishments are manned by incompetent and/or corrupt officials. Three, nearly every testing requirement is waived for those who are well connected in the society. Similarly, consumers of services of professionals are not sufficiently enlightened or empowered to ask questions.

Such is the level of decay that when an ordinary Nigerian walks into a hospital, he/she would be lucky to find a ‘doctor’ to attend to him/her let alone finding out if the ‘doctor’ is in fact an impostor or a glorified ward attendant. Many make claims they cannot substantiate and there are no consequences while the media cannot be exonerated from this national parade of shame. When people arrange for some of these dubious titles or certificates, especially politicians, the media immediately begin to address them by these bogus labels- ‘Professor’, ‘Doctor’, ‘Engineer,’ etc. Soon it becomes a manner of speaking and the rest is added on.

However, if our society must advance, we have to deal with this quackery that is so pervasive in every sector. But more worrisome is the realisation that many top decision makers in our public services are people who conned their way into critical positions without the qualifications they claim.

In Nigeria today, fake policemen are all over the place, doing damage to both the institution and the society just as fake soldiers are rampant. In fact there is hardly any professional field today where these fraudsters have not invaded. From fake pharmacists whose prescriptions are often fatal for hospital patients to fake civil engineers and architects responsible for building collapse to fake teachers whose pupils/students are candidates for failure to fake journalists who write to blackmail, it would appear as if it is difficult to distinguish between genuine and fake professionals in our country today with all the dire implications for the society.

Underlining the danger that impostors pose to the system, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Mohammed, said recently: “Indeed, judges find it difficult to identify which counsel, appearing before them, is genuine or otherwise. Of even greater concern is the fact that members of the public are often left in a quandary over who they can place their trust, property and even lives in.”
We call on the regulatory authorities, including of professional bodies, to put in place measures that will checkmate the antics of these fraudsters.