ANAYO ONUKWUGHA writes that Rivers State has become inhospitable for medical doctors to carry out their practice as the army of kidnappers and assassins in the state turn a relentless attention on them.
Ogbunabali is relatively one of the most peaceful communities in Rebisi Kingdom of Port Harcourt City local government area of Rivers State. Apart from the hustle and bustle that are associated with urbanised communities, the predominantly Ikwerre speaking community, made up of two villages, Oro-Ogbum and Oro-Abali is a lively neighbourhood to live and work in.
However, the peaceful nature of Ogbunabali community was threatened on the afternoon of Saturday, July 15, 2017, when kidnappers, whose main targets in recent times are medical doctors struck and whisked away Dr. Alex Atama Pepple, a medical doctor to an unknown destination.
Pepple, who is a senior consultant with the Rivers State government-owned Braithwaite Memorial Specialist Hospital (BMSH), Port Harcourt, became the latest victim of kidnappers that seem to have taken control of the entire state.
The kidnap of the BMSH senior consultant came barely one week after the release of Dr. Alex Akani, a medical consultant of obstetrics and gynecology with the Department of Family Medicine, University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital (UPTH), who was kidnapped three days earlier from his residence at Rumuekini community in Obio/Akpor local government area of the state.
Few weeks before the kidnap and release of Akani, a female medical doctor, Florence Onuah, was killed during a failed kidnap attempt in the highbrow GRA Phase Three, Port Harcourt.
Onua, a consultant and family physician at the Braithwaite Memorial Specialist Hospital (BMSH), Port Harcourt, was reportedly shot while returning from work on a Friday and she later died at a medical centre where she was rushed to.
Before Onuah’s death, another medical doctor based in Omoku, headquarters of Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni local government area, Dr. Bobmanuel Clark was abducted from his clinic. Unlike others, who were later released after payment of ransom, Clark’ whereabouts has remained unknown for close to three months now.
In March this year, medical doctors in the state, embarked on a three-day warning strike following the kidnapping of two of their members, Dr. Ib Aprioku and Dr Isaac Opurum, in less than 72 hours.
Aprioku, is a consultant with the Braithwaite Memorial Specialist Hospital (BMSH), Port Harcourt, while Opurum, is the director in-charge of Community Health Services in the Rivers State Primary Health Care Management Board.
On the day the two kidnapped medical doctors regained their freedom, another medical doctor was shot in his consulting room in his abdominal region by gunmen suspected to be kidnappers in the D-Line area of Port Harcourt.
Sources said the suspected kidnappers disguised as patients and knocked at the door of the consulting room of the doctors at about midnight pointing out that immediately the doctor opened the door, the assailants pointed gun at him apparently to kidnap him, and in an ensuing struggle the kidnappers shot him in the abdomen and bolted.
Dr. Datonye Alasia, chairman of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) in the state is concerned that attacks on health facilities by criminals and kidnapping of doctors in the state have become too many.
Alasia, who also observed a growing hospital patients who suffered violent attacks by criminals in Rivers State, said, “We have become endangered species in Rivers State. We wonder why we suddenly become targets for attacks. As doctors we do humanitarian work. We save lives but here we are, fearing for our lives.”
Lamenting the abductions of more than five doctors within three months, the NMA chairman, expressed concern that medical doctors who he said provide medical services that save lives should be targets for abduction by kidnappers.
He appealed to Rivers State government and other relevant security agents in the state to come to the aid of doctors in the state to ensure that their lives and that of their families are protected.
On his part, the spokesman of NMA in the state, Dr. Justice Ohaka recounted how one Dr Obolomini was kidnapped alongside his nurses in Degema as well as Dr Florence Onua who was shot dead around D-Line axis of Port Harcourt.
Ohaka said, “We provide essential services and we do not expect that we should be victims of attacks from the people we provide these services to. Worse still, the government and security operatives have refused to come to our aid.”
He complained that the frequent attacks on medical practitioners by criminals were having a negative impact on the efficiency of healthcare delivery in the state.
Despite the exploits of the kidnappers, the Rivers State Police Command said it was doing its best to reduce crime and criminality in the state.
The state’s commissioner of police. Zaki Ahmed Muhammed last weekend paraded over 200 suspected criminals, said to be terrorising residents of the state.
Parading the suspect, who included kidnappers, cultists and car snatchers at the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS headquarters, Rukpokwu, Port Harcourt, Muhammed, said they were arrested between June and July this year.
He said, “I am happy to have you here to share some modest achievements of the command which wàs recorded between June and today. As you all know, in recent times the state has witnessed some pockets of cult activities. To tackle the menace, the command deployed adequate crime control measures, which has paid off.
“The command’s Tactical Team and PMF raided criminal hideouts at Egbeda, Rumudiaga, Emerelu and Elele communities within Emohua and Ikwerre local government areas of the state which have been flashpoints for cold-blooded murder and other heinous crimes.
“About 200 suspects have been arrested in this exercise and the following arms and ammunition were recovered. AK47, four, English pistol, five, one pump action, one English double barrel, 20 locally made pistols, three locally made single barrel gun, 143 7.6mm live ammunition, 300 live cartridges, magazines and several charms were recovered from the suspects.
“Ten suspected armed robbers who specialise in car snatching at gunpoint were also arrested and seven stolen vehicles were recovered. An aged lady was also rescued from three kidnappers. The sad story is that they raped this lady to stupor. They were arrested by the IGP’s Monitoring Team in Umudioga in Emohua local government area of the state.
“We wish to inform members of the public that we are on top of the situation and they should keep faith and partnership as together we shall make the state safe and secure.”