Two Enugu-based medical doctors, have been acquitted and discharged by an Enugu Magistrate Court over alleged forgery and fraud, a development which has elicited celebration among medical doctors in the state, and beyond writes MIKE UBANI
They could be likened to the Biblical Good Samaritan. The duo of Mcdonald Chikaodi Inechi, and Kingsley Ugwuonye, consultant psychiatrists at the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital, Enugu (FNHE), purposely set out to save the life of their ailing colleague, Dr. Obinna Ozor, of the same hospital.
But rather than get patted at the back for trying to save life as was the case with the Biblical Good Samaritan, Inechi and Ugwuonye were accused of embezzling part of the money raised to attend to the medical needs of their ailing colleague, as well as his terminal benefits.
It was against this backdrop that the Enugu state Police Command brought Inechi and Ugwuonye before an Enugu Magistrate Court to face a four-count charge of forgery and stealing.
However, the community of medical doctors in Enugu and beyond are today in a joyous mood following the acquittal and discharge of Inechi and Ugwuonye by the Enugu state Magistrate Court.
When he was employed as a medical doctor at FNHE, on December 2, 2013, Dr. Ozor’s flaming ambition was to attain the zenith of his profession.
A native of Ogwofia, Mgbagbu Owa, in Ezeagu Local Government Area of Enugu state, Dr. Ozor, envisioned a progressive career that would ultimately catapult him to the enviable position of chief medical director, or similar position.
But that was not to be. Few months after joining the FNHE), Ozor became terribly sick, to the extent that he couldn’t function in any capacity in the hospital.
He was later diagnosed of suffering from a terminal disease – kidney problem. His health condition worsened apparently due to lack of financial support from his family.
It was at this juncture that Dr. Inechi, who at the time, was president, Association of Resident Doctors (ARD) at FNHE, alongside Dr. Ugwuonye, convinced the body of Resident Doctors at the hospital and other medical doctors in Enugu, to contribute money to fly their debilitated colleague to India to seek further medical help.
The AUTHORITY gathered that a First Bank account No. 303754174 was opened to deposit all the money contributed by the doctors for this purpose, and that Inechi and Ugwuonye, were made signatories to the account, while ailing Dr. Obinna Ozor, was “the sole recipient of all sms notifications of the transactions in this account.”
It was further gathered that the family of the sick Dr.Obinna Ozor contributed nothing to this account.
Unfortunately, ailing Dr. Ozor, couldn’t make the trip to India. He died in Lagos enroute India on June 15. 2014. And his untimely death put to a painful end his ambition to become one of Nigeria’s renowned medical doctors.
But five years later, and quite unexpectedly, the uncle of late Dr. Ozor, Sir Stephen Ozor, wrote a petition to the Enugu state Police Command alleging that Inechi and Ugwuonye, embezzled part of the money contributed by medical doctors for late Dr. Ozor’s aborted medical trip to India, as well as his terminal benefits paid by FNHE.
Thereafter, the Enugu State Police Command arraigned the two doctors before Chief Magistrate J. I. Agu, of the Enugu North Magisterial district in four- count charge marked, MEN /223c/2020 for “stealing N700,000 belonging to Sir Ozor Stephen, a next of kin to late Dr. Ozor Obinna, by forging his signature in a purported acknowledgement letter.”
They were also accused of stealing N1, 030,711 belonging to their colleague, late Dr. Ozor.
The doctors pleaded not guilty on each of the four count charge, and were granted bail of N300,000 and one surety each in like sum.
However, during one of the proceedings, the Magistrate advised the complainant, Sir Ozor to settle out-of-court before the next proceedings or the court will commence trial.
But when the case was later called up, the Police Prosecutor, Simeon Aneze, and Defense Counsel, Boniface Ugwu, announced their appearances. The complainant and defendants/ accused persons were also present at the court.
When the trial Magistrate enquired about the progress on the settlement, the Prosecuting Counsel, Aneze told the court that he just got information in the court that the complainant had settled with the accused.
Magistrate Agu, however, asked the complainant whether he had settled with the accused persons and he said yes.
Ozor was subsequently asked to enter the witness box and make his declaration.
He stated: “I am Sir Stephen Ozor, a retired Civil Servant living at No. 5 Ebenato Street, City Layout Enugu. I am the complainant in this matter, and I want to withdraw it.”
The Defense counsel, Ugwu in his oral application urged the court to invoke provisions of section 199 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act of the Enugu State 2017, to acquit and discharge the accused persons in view of these circumstances.
The Court subsequently, ruled: “the application by PW1 is hereby granted. The accused persons are hereby discharged and acquitted.”
The AUTHORITY recalls that trouble started when Sir Stephen Ozor petitioned the police accusing the two doctors of stealing funds contributed by medical doctors for the treatment of his step brother, late Dr. Obinna Ozor.
It was learnt that the body of medical doctors used part of the funds to bury their late colleague, while the balance and other entitlements of the deceased were later handed over to Sir Ozor as the next of kin.
A source told The AUTHORITY that Sir Ozor wrote to the police after he learnt that fire gutted the financial records of the expenditure and other documents of the ARD at FNHE.
According to the source, Sir Ozor reasoned that following the fire incident, Inechi and Ugwuonye would not have evidence to prove that the money in question was judiciously spent.
Dr. Uchenna Onu: who was at the time secretary of ARD, confirmed in an interview with The AUTHORITY that Sir Ozor, collected N7000.000.00 given to him by the hospital management in the presence of some ARD members
“Many ARD members were present when the N700.000.00 was delivered to Sir Stephen Ozor, as the nearest family member of our deceased colleague.
“When we told him (Stephen Ozor) that there was something from the hospital management, he took us to an inner room, and we agreed to give him the money inside the room, because we thought that giving somebody that huge amount of money in the open could be dangerous,” said Dr. Onu.
Some days later, Sir Ozor reportedly wrote to the management of FNHE, to express the family’s appreciation over the money given to him.
The letter read in part: “On behalf of the Ozor’s family, I wish to express my appreciation and acknowledge the receipt of the sum of Seven hundred thousand Naira only (N700.000.00) from the hospital management through Dr. Inechi M. C. , representing the Association of Resident Doctors of your hospital.
“I also use this medium to thank the hospital community for the highly commendable role they played in ensuring a befitting burial of my brother, late Dr. Obinna Ozor.
“I sincerely remain grateful, and pray that God will continue to direct you in all your endeavours.”
The hospital community was, however, taken aback when on August 19, 2019 – five solid years after the burial of late Dr. Ozor – the same Stephen Ozor, wrote a letter to the current medical director of the hospital – requesting for “payment of entitlements accrued to late Dr. Obinna Ozor.”
Sir Ozor had complained in his letter to the management that he had earlier written to the previous medical director on the same matter, and was assured that urgent steps would be taken to address the issue.
It was gathered that the hospital’s MD, instructed the Head of Clinical Services, Dr. Vincent Ubochi, to look into Sir Stephen Ozor’s request, following which Dr. Ubochi invited him to the hospital for a chat.
On arrival, Sir Ozor, was given a blank paper to sign his signature, which he did twice. The essence, it was learnt, was to ascertain whether he was the same person who signed the July 17, 2014, letter of appreciation to the hospital management.
And apparently satisfied with the regularity of Sir Ozor’s signature, the hospital allegedly dismissed his request with a wave of the hand, having collected N700.000.00 from Dr, Inechi, on behalf of the family.
However, Sir Ozor insisted that he never collected any money from Dr. Inechi. He also asked Drs. Inechi and Ugwuonye to account for the money contributed by medical doctors to fly his deceased brother to India for treatment.
“The money in the First Bank account was contributed by resident doctors, and we are the rightful people to ask the signatories to the account to account for the money or accuse them of embezzling the money, and not the beneficiary in this case,” argues Dr. Onu.
It was gathered that the doctors contributed about N1.2 million to the First Bank account – from where Drs. Inechi and Ugwuonye, drew money to attend to the health problem of their departed colleague, as well as pay for his burial expenses.
However, Sir Ozor, alleged that the money was misappropriated, and urged the police to arrest and prosecute the duo of Inechi and Ugwuoye.
But following the ruling of the Enugu Magistrate Court, the matter has been put to rest, and the two accused doctors are as free as the air to walk about the streets, and also to practice their profession without let or hindrance.