Compulsory Vigil: Sacked Nurses Take on Hospital, Management Accuses Victims of Misconduct

Posted on: Mon 20-11-2023

UTHMAN SALAMI writes on the travails of two nurses who  lost their jobs in a private hospital in Lagos for allegedly failing to attend a prayer vigil and sweep the hospital as directed by the management

When two registered nurses, Mrs Mercy Chekwubechi and Charity Ikonne, received a job offer from Davestar Hospital, they were overjoyed, anticipating a six-figure monthly salary. However, their excitement was short-lived, as one of the hospital’s supervisors informed them of an upcoming night vigil.

Believing it to be an invitation-only, they politely informed the supervisor that their shift at work would prevent them from attending.

However, things reared their ugly heads when they learnt that they were required to attend such a service as hospital staff members and that failure to do so could result in payment delays or the cancellation of off days entirely.

The stories of Chekwubechi and Ikonne were one of many gnashing experiences of some Nigerian nurses, while some of their employers, especially the medical doctors have been accused of treating them like maids who are only good for running errands. There have also been a few cases of nurses being reportedly abused by the patients they cared for.

Failure to attend vigil attracts delay in salary, cancellation of off-days

The community housing Davestar Hospital sits directly across the White House Event Centre bus stop, located along the Ijegun Road in the Isheri area of Lagos State. When this correspondent visited the area, a placard bearing an urgent vacancy for nurses was plastered on the community’s gate, leading to the hospital.

Chekwubechi, who joined Davestar Hospital on July 1, 2023, as a registered nurse, claimed Akinola sacked her after she complained about the compulsion to attend the programme. She said they were even mandated to undergo casual work such as sweeping and washing the hospital premises.

She said, “We were two nurses that resumed the same day. The two of us are registered nurses, not auxiliaries. I expected him to give me my offer letter immediately after assumption but he didn’t do so until I started asking him. He called me on the third day of assumption and handed the offer letter to me. On August 5, during a meeting with the management, the coordinator asked for the names of staff members who came for the vigil. The list of those who would not take part in cleaning the hospital compound was demanded. We didn’t understand what was going on until then.

“After the meeting, two new nurses and I went to the MD’s office. We told him that it would be difficult to attend vigils when we would resume the morning shift. We complained that he didn’t tell us we would be attending vigils during the time he was interviewing us for the job and reminded him that he told us it was not professional for registered nurses to be sweeping and cleaning the hospital premises. All this time, he already had copies of our licences.

“Later in September, I took permission that my husband who travelled out of town for two weeks would be returning that day and that I wouldn’t be able to attend the vigil. The MD accepted. However, on October 17, he went to my roaster and removed my off days because I failed to attend the previous night’s vigil, which I already took permission for. So, I sent him an email to understand why he would remove all my off days from the schedule. I told him it was not easy to do 10 hours for day duty and still return for an all-night vigil and the same person will still do 10 hours from the following morning.

“When I got to the office the following day for the night shift, his assistant told him that I had resumed work. He instructed the PA to tell me to go back home and that my services were no longer needed. I sent him a message that I got his message that he should pay my one-month full salary because he terminated my appointment. Since then, he never replied my message.

Reacting, Akinola, who dismissed the allegation, said, “Chekwubechi was sacked due to gross misconduct.

He said: “The hospital has been in operation for over 20 years, and I used to have a Muslim as the head of administration. I have never sacked anyone because he or she did not attend my vigil, and I have repeated several times that Chekwubechi was sacked due to gross misconduct, which I cannot condone….”

On why the nurses were not paid salaries after they were sacked, Akinola said, “I am very annoyed with Chekwubechi because what she did was gross misconduct, and that’s why I have ignored all her calls. There is no way one can send such messages to her boss, I can’t do it. Telling me that I am making my office toxic; that I am engaged in workplace slavery; that I cannot engage my children like that; and that if she leaves my workplace, she will still get another good place. Also, she lacks manners, she is aware that we have some challenges in the hospital, which affected our sales, even last month we had to pay workers’ salaries twice. I am still planning to personally invite her.

“She talks of slavery, she had just spent about three months, she had asked for permission from work for at least up to five times, and l never denied her any request to be away from work, and all these permissions, such days were not taken from her off-duty days. Each time I remember that message, l feel annoyed.”

Meanwhile, the alleged message said to have caused the MD to terminate the appointment read, “Please, sir, with due respect, don’t make your work toxic for us especially registered nurses like us. Even if we leave your work, we will still get another good place to work. I’m a family woman; I took permission that my husband who travelled for two weeks came back that very day and you won’t expect me to leave him and come for the vigil.

“Moreover, that vigil is very stressful after a long 10-hour day of duty and you still want that same person to come back all night, and the same person will still do morning and face 10 hours of duty tomorrow. Sir, it is not fair. We are all humans. If it were your children, I am very sure that you won’t like it.”

A similar experience was shared by Ikonne who said the hospital management used nurses for marketing duties and sent them to go out and share the hospital fliers; not for an outreach, without providing them with transport fare.

She said, “I am also owed salary after I left the job, besides the off-day punishment for defiance, the MD would deliberately delay the salaries of staff who did not partake in the vigil. Not long after we assumed duties, a supervisor told us that the hospital was holding its vigil. We told her we were not informed, but she said that it was compulsory for all staff members, adding that failure would lead to dire consequences.

“There was a week I could not attend because I was sick. By the time I resumed duty, all my off days were removed I was told that it was because I didn’t come for the vigil. I left the office in tears. Since then, I have never returned to the place.”

However, Akinnola claimed Ikonne suddenly stopped working, saying, “I was still encouraging her to return, but she didn’t. If I sacked her, would I be asking her to return? You can ask her.”

Although the hospital denied compelling nurses to attend the vigil, a WhatsApp conversation between Akinnola and Ikonne on October 19, 2023, contravenes this claim. The screenshot of the conversation, which was made available to this correspondent on November 11, 2023, indicated that the weekly attendance of the vigil and sweeping of the hospital premises by nurses were mandatory.

The conversation partly read, “I believe in cleanliness, not all hospitals are clean like ours, and cleanliness is next to Godliness. I believe in prayers and nothing more, some hospitals have other sources of their power, but as for Davestar Hospital, it’s only God through prayers.”

A copy of the appointment letter given to Ikonne shared with this correspondent does not contain attending vigils, distributing hospital fliers, or sweeping the hospital premises as prerequisites for salary payment or as conditions that must be fulfilled.

Reacting, the co-founder of the Sub-Saharan Africa Brain Health Initiative, Dr. Laz Eze, faulted the actions of the hospital management. According to him, subjecting nurses to such duties erodes their fundamental human rights.

Eze said, “If the claim is true, it’s unprofessional and a violation of their rights. Every individual has a right to freedom of religion, guaranteed by the 1999 Constitution as amended. Participation in religious activities is not part of the professional duties of a nurse or any other health worker. Enforcing such is an encroachment on personal liberty.

“It may cause psychological brain injury to the nurses. A traumatised nurse cannot be in the best state of mind to deliver quality healthcare to patients. No religious practice should be imposed on health workers or patients; it’s not only unlawful but also unethical.

A lawyer to the Nigerian Medical Association, Lagos State Branch, and all private hospitals in the state, Dr. John Adanike, said the MD had not committed any offence, adding that any employee who cannot adhere to the principles of their workplace should leave the job rather than use the media to intimidate the owners.

He said, “The man has a fundamental right. Let’s assume the man did not tell them during the interview, if they know they cannot cope with the way the man is running the hospital, why not resign? If a man says we do environmental sanitation in my company, if you cannot do it, nobody forces you to be in that establishment. In labour law, you can hire and fire. The hospital cannot be closed down because of this. Do you know many people are benefitting from this hospital?”