As the train pulled into Sheffield Station well past ten o’clock at night I made my way wearily to the hotel where I was booked to stay for the next two nights. I was in Sheffield to attend the annual autumn conference of the Medical Association of Nigerian Specialists and General Practitioners, the umbrella organization for Nigerian doctors in the United Kingdom. Although I had been working in the United Kingdom for four years, this was the first time I had been able to attend the conference.
Having arrived in Sheffield so late that first night, I missed the evening session which featured a presentation from the Assay Office- explaining what hallmarks on metals are and what they mean. There was also a presentation on financial management from Chidi Okenmadu from Citisolutions.
The next morning saw me getting up bright and early and walking down to the Victoria quays area where the conference was being held. As I approached the entrance to the hotel, I noticed a flag flying limousine parked in front of the hotel. A smiling woman wearing a gold chain of office soon emerged from it and it turned out that it was Councillor Jackie Drayton, the Lord Mayor of Sheffield who had come to welcome delegates to the conference.
Having registered, I made my way to the hall where thee were about sixty delegates already seated and waiting for the proceedings to start. The Lord Mayor welcomed the delegates- taking us on a brief excursion into Sheffield’s history as the heart of the steel making industry in Sheffield. She expressed her delight that the Association had chosen Sheffield as the venue for this year’s conference and encouraged delegates to return and visit Sheffield and the surrounding Peak District. She also revealed that a new process for producing tarnish-free silver had recently been developed and that she saw Sheffield becoming the heart of the silver industry in England.
Following the Lord Mayor, Mr Rotimi Jaiyesimi, a Consultant surgeon who was chairing the first session took the floor. The theme for this session was Doctors in Difficulty, an important topic given that ethnic minority doctors in the United Kingdom are more likely to be suspended if concerns are raised about their performance and are also more likely to be referred to the General medical council for investigation. The speakers at this session were Professor Tim Hendra who spoke on the topic “Doctors with difficulties- the roles of the National Clinical Assessment Service” In a lucid and enlightening presentation he clearly delineated the roles of the two organizations explaining that the NCAS was a supportive process to help the resolution of problems locally while the GMC had a more formal role in ensuring maintenance of standards and discipline. The presentation raised a lot of questions and was then followed by a presentation from Dr Korlipara, the longest serving elected member of the GMC who spoke mainly on revalidation, the process by which doctors will be required to show their continued updating of skills.
A coffee break followed during which delegates took the opportunity to visit the various exhibition stands including one that featured paintings by Nigerian artists put together by Marvel Arts.
The next session was on the theme “Medical Missions: What can doctors in the Diaspora do and was chaired by Mr Cally Nwosu, a Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist in Liverpool who introduced the first speaker, Dr Gloria Esegbona. In a presentation illustrated with heart wrenching photographs and poetry, Dr Esegbona spoke on the work that she was doing in working with women with vesico vagina fistula in Nigeria. Born to Nigerian parents but educated in the UK, she spoke of how she first became involved following a holiday in Nigeria and how she now went back regularly to help train surgeons in repairing fistulas. She also spoke of her increasing conviction that more needed to be done to prevent the fistulas from occurring; a situation that she suggested could be improved by increasing access to good obstetric care. She acknowledged that fistulas occurred as a result of a complex interaction between sociocultural, political and economic factors but emphasized that she did not feel playing the blame game was helpful.
Training was the focus of the next presentation from Mr John Osammor, a consultant head neck and facial plastic surgeon who spoke on initiatives to develop training and service delivery in middle ear surgery in Nigeria. He pointed out that there were currently very few, if any middle ear surgeons working in Nigeria and highlighted the implication for those training in Nigeria. He had therefore embarked on collaboration with the West African College of Surgeons to try and ameliorate this situation.
Dr Miriam Onyeador, a general practitioner in London spoke next describing the challenges of delivering primary care in Nigeria. She also presented a report of a medical mission that she had organized to her home town Arochukwu, illustrating the sheer burden of need with photographs of people queuing up from very early in the morning to attend the clinic.
Sokei Harry, a Specialist Registrar in Public Health and chair of the Medical Missions sub-committee of the Association was next and he spoke on opportunities for the delivery of primary healthcare in Nigeria. He spoke about the recent Memorandum of Understanding that had been signed between MANSAG and the Federal Ministry of Health and revealed the sub-committees vision for a small number of well equipped and run primary health centres to which members could take their skills from time to time.
Following these presentations there were very lively discussions on how best to take these ideas forward, the challenges that would be faced in implementation and the importance of involving doctors working in Nigeria from a very early stage of planning.
Just before lunch which had been sponsored by the United Bank for Africa, UBA, Chidi Opara the head of retail products for the organization spoke. His presentation focused on the bank’s vision to become the leading bank in Africa and highlighted some the innovative products that the bank had come up with to target what he termed non-resident Nigerians, a borrowing perhaps from the well established term non-resident Indians. He unveiled a package of domiciliary accounts, mortgages and investment instruments and encouraged delegates to take up the opportunities offered. Some of the questions that followed the session focused on the safety of investments and regulatory framework which the banker addressed in his responses.
Following lunch, the annual general meeting of the association began with the president, Mr Stanley Okolo presenting a report of the activities of the association since the last annual general meeting. He highlighted the efforts the association had made in building links with the Federal Ministry of Health, the Nigerian National Volunteer Service and the Association of Nigerian Physicians in the Americas. He also spoke about the efforts made to support junior doctors in the light of recent changes to the immigration rules in the United Kingdom and his vision for MANSAG to serve as an umbrella organization for every
single Nigerian doctor in the United Kingdom. Lively debates followed on a number of issues and these were followed by presentations from various officers of the association. Following the presentation of the accounts by Mr Bala Inusa, the financial secretary, members expressed their satisfaction with the updated financial position of the association affirming that this provided a strong base for a reinvigorated association. To this end, the Chair of the Membership sub-committee, Dr Ola Rowland unveiled his plans for a membership drive emphasizing that it was his desire that all Nigerian doctors in the United Kingdom became active in the association.
With the arrangements for the annual general meeting concluded, delegates retired to prepare for the dinner which was to follow, and to catch up with the children who had been engaged in a tour of Sheffield while their parents deliberated.
The dinner began with a stirring rendition of the Nigerian national anthem by Mike Appoh and his musical group which also featured lawyer-musician Emeka Keazor. So stirring was the performance that Dr Adebule who sat next to me at the dinner joked that he would have to ask for a recording to take back to Nigeria. Dr Adebule who is the Medical Director of the National Orthopaedic Hospital Igbobi, represented the Federal Minister of Health at the event and spoke about some of the challenges facing the health sector in Nigeria and the efforts of the current Minister to tackle them.
The dinner was smoothly steered by Mr Leroy Edozien who acted as Master of Ceremonies and who invited the president to formally welcome guests to the event. Following this, there was a presentation from the Chief Executive of Fidelity Bank, Mr Reginald Ihejiahi on the investment opportunities available in Nigeria and the products that his institution had to offer. Also present to support him were Mr Emma Esinnah and Mrs Yvonne Isichei from the Corporate Affairs and Global retail sections of the Bank.
As guests enjoyed dinner, the President then presented awards for excellence in service to the Nigerian High Commissioner to the Court of St James, Dr Christopher Kolade and to Professor Dora Akunyiili, Director General of the Nigerian Agency for and Drug Administration and Control. While Dr Kolade was present with his wife to receive his award, Prof Akunyili was represented by her special assistant- Mrs Awagu.
In introducing Dr Kolade, the MC- Mr Edozien- revealed that he had first met the High Commissioner many years ago when as a student he had won an essay competition. Mr Kolade was then Director of the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation and had presented the prizes.
In his witty and erudite response which made every Nigerian present proud, the High Commissioner thanked the Association for the award and paid tribute to his wife without whom he said none of the achievements cited would have been possible. He humorously suggested that as his wife had refused his entreaty to join him at the podium to receive the award, he was reminded of the Biblical story of Queen Vashti who refused her husband’s summons and found herself subsequently replaced by Esther. He therefore called on those who wished to make representations on behalf of Her Excellency to do so within the next seven days. On a more serious note he spoke of how much he and his wife had valued their interaction with MANSAG and promised to continue the relationship. He also stressed the importance of excellence in service and exhorted members of the Association to always act as ambassadors of Nigeria in the way that they always acted as ambassadors of the medical profession.
The dinner also featured the formal swearing in of the newly elected Public Relations Officer of the Association, Mr Akin Ojo.
The final formal segment was the vote of thanks by Mr Dilly Anumba, chairman of the Local Organizing Committee who paid tribute to the committee members for their hard work and dedication. He singled out his secretary Ms Val Aram for praise, saying that although she had helped him organize several conferences in the past, he was sure that this had stretched her further than most. Humorous reference was made to the penchant of many present to only book at the last minute making it difficult for the planners. To help change this, a prize was presented to the first person to register for the conference and was won by Dr Onyeador.
The evening ended with delegates and their guests dancing into the early hours of the morning with music from Mike Appoh and his band which traversed all the various nooks and crannies of Nigerian music from highlife to agidigbo to contemporary Nigerian flavoured hip-hop.