20 Jul 2017

Ikeja Medical Centre detained me for doing my job

Since Friday, I had made several attempts to speak with Ikeja Medical Centre over a story. I called the numbers of its  head office and spoke with a lady. After introducing myself and the purpose of the call, she promised to get back to me.

Later that evening, I called her back, but she said I was expecting a feedback too early. Subsequent calls to the two lines on Saturday and Monday rang out.

On Monday, I felt it was necessary that I make more efforts because of the sensitivity of the story. I went online to search for information about the hospital and stumbled on the contact of a member of the management team of the centre, Dr. Seyi Apantaku.

I called his line and he picked it. After stating the purpose of the call, he promised to get back to me. When he called back, he insisted that if he must talk to me, I must come to the hospital with identification. He stressed that the hospital management would not say anything if they were not sure I was from The PUNCH.

The following day, Tuesday, around 11am, I went to the hospital and I was eventually ushered into Dr. Apantaku’s office after about seven minutes’ wait.

After a brief introduction, he asked to see my ID card, which I gave him. He immediately put it in a printer and processed a colour photocopy of the card. I was alarmed and expressed my reservations. He said it was for security purpose.

When the conversation started, I put my telephone in recording mode and placed it on the desk between us. During the conversation, he said he was not ready to talk about the incident and that he would sue me and The PUNCH if we published anything.

He said late Kolawole (the subject of the story) did not die at the hospital, but at LASUTH, and insisted that Ikeja Medical Centre had nothing to do with the matter.

I persuaded him to talk, stating the various allegations of the family against the hospital. When he heard some of the allegations, he brought out the deceased file and started denying the allegations. But his speech was punctuated with threats to sue if anything was published against the hospital.

He suddenly noticed my phone on his desk and asked if I was recording the chat. I told him I was because I didn’t want to misrepresent his reaction. He flared up, grabbed the phone, and started shouting at me, saying he never gave me the permission to record the chat.

Immediately, he called the security men and marched me to the administrative office, where he ordered me to show him the recording. By now, the whole place was filled with workers who verbally attacked me.

I told them that I recorded Dr. Apantaku’s reaction so that I would not mix up anything and that I had no fear since I was invited. I asked him if he took my permission to photocopy my ID card, a personal property which could expose me to security threats.

He became livid, asked the security men to take me away and seized the phone.

I told him if the hospital was not ready for a reaction, he should have told me on the telephone and not have invited me.

He kept my phone, while two security men of the hospital took me to the visitors’ room. They held me hostage for about 15 minutes as I protested Dr. Apantaku’s seizure of my phone. The whole drama was captured on the CCTV cameras on the premises.

Later, an elderly woman, who I presumed to be the owner of the hospital, walked in together with a few other workers of the hospital, including Dr. Apantaku. The security men stood by my sides as they all threw barrage of questions at me.

I explained I had been to LASUTH, where the victim died, and spoken with more than seven consultants and principal officers of the hospital. I told them I had been trying hard to get a reaction from the hospital since last Friday and had gone the extra mile of looking for Dr. Apataku’s number on the Internet before I was invited to the hospital. I insisted that I had no interest in the case and only wanted to do my job.

The elderly woman asked that the doctor who treated the victim, one Dr. Fakoya, be called in. While waiting for the doctor, she explained that the hospital had no hand in Kolawole’s death, adding that LASUTH should rather take the blame for giving him an overdose. She said she had been practising medicine for over 45 years. Dr. Apantaku asked her to stop talking.

Because of the harassment I had faced and to give a false air of relief for my own security, I asked for water, and a bottle of table water was given to me.

The doctor who treated the deceased came in with a file. He asked how I got to know about the case. I told him and others that the family contacted my office and I was asked to do the story.

The doctor asked who sent me to the hospital. I said, “I sent myself to ensure fairness and balance in my reporting.” He disagreed and said I must have a written letter from my company stating the reason for the visit to the hospital, including the names of the family members making allegations against the hospital before they could react.

I gave the hospital three options to make their reaction easier. I asked if they could issue a press statement on the issue, react while I record to avoid any mix-up, or speak while I take note. They refused, saying it was against the ethics of the medical profession to talk about a patient.

I asked if they could make a general reaction without going into details, they also refused. My phone was released to me, but to my dismay, I could not find a trace of all my telephone conversations with Dr. Apantaku. A check at the backup file showed they had been deleted.

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