We’re following due process – Information Commissioner insists
Don’t distort facts –Presbyterian Church tells Ebonyi Govt, Uburu community
BY COBHAM NSA – The Ebonyi State Government (EBSG) has dismissed as untrue allegations of deploying underhand tactics and blackmail in the planned take-over of the Presbyterian Joint Hospital (PJHU) located in Uburu community of the State.
Similarly, the government insisted that all due processes have been duly followed and complied with in the decisions so far reached concerning the hospital which is in a state of near comatose due to neglect and poor management over the years.
Speaking through its Commissioner for Information and State Orientation, Barrister Orji Uchenna Orji, the government said resolutions adopted by the State Executive Council (SEC) received full endorsement from Ebonyi State House of Assembly, and it is most unfair for the Church or anyone to accuse it of underhand dealings in the hospital take-over process.
Barrister Orji, who traced the bone of contention to Uburu community’s complaints to government about PCN’s inability to renegotiate and renew their lease holding agreement with them as the lessors after the statutory 90 years period, said the EBSG had to intervene to avoid possible breakdown of law and order in the area.
The Commissioner told Forefront on telephone that following claims the Church had foreclosed all channels of communication and engagement with the aggrieved Uburu community, as well as complaints of unhealthy relationship between both parties, government had to step in and invoke necessary provisions of the law to address the problem and ensure justice is served to everyone involved.
Barrister Orji said mounting complaints against the Hospital management from the aggrieved Uburu people also included issues of poor medical services and gross neglect of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) among others, adding that presentations from the feuding sides were considered by the State government in reaching a decision on the matter.
Stoutly defending the government’s position as the right and sensible thing to do, the Commissioner said; “The issues raised were thoroughly deliberated by the State Executive. The final resolutions followed due process and all requirements of the law met before they were sent to the State House of Assembly for its stamp of authority.”
The Commissioner further said in their myriad of complaints that also include dilapidated state of facility; unhygienic environment and lack of friendly engagement on issues of disagreement, the Uburu Community claimed to have leased the lands to CSM not PCN and that they are no longer willing to renew the lease that effectively expired in year 2017.
He said in the circumstance, the PCN cannot approbate and reprobate on the lease holding agreement while the Uburu community’s cry for justice and equity is left unattended to by the State government.
“Being a responsible government, we will not do anything that runs contrary to the rule of law and provisions of the Nigerian Constitution”, he assured.
However, Barrister Orji said government would always be circumspect in all its actions while working for the overall interest and good of the people and the state in general
But disagreeing with the State government on the land ownership, the Presbyterian Church Nigeria (PCN) pleaded that facts of history and its submissions on the case should not be distorted.
According to the Church; “It should be instructive to know that way back in 1912, when there was virtually no government in the land, the Church of Scotland Mission (CSM), the progenitor of the Presbyterian Church Nigeria (PCN) of today, was led by godly concerns to acquire land from two families (not Uburu Community) on which it established the Presbyterian Joint Hospital and Colony at Uburu for the purpose of extending healthcare facilities to the people of the area.”
Further giving credence to its position on the issue at stake, the PCN explained that; “It all started in 1912 when the young Dr. John W. Hitchcock, a member of the touring Presbyterian Missionary team, started by dispensing medical aid, unsolicited to indigenes of Uburu on arrival and never looked back until his death on 15th January, 1920. Popularly known as Dr. Hitchcock of Uburu, this Presbyterian Missionary died at the age of 37 while striving to keep others alive and safe from the 1919 influenza pandemic and was carried by men of Uburu to Calabar where he was buried near Mary Slessor.
“The Hospital institution, not only opened up Uburu Communities to the world, but also, provided education, healthcare and employment opportunities for an inestimable number of indigenes and inhabitants of Ebonyi State and Nigeria. It helped save lives by the grace of God and the fortitude of the Church in her activities in Uburu.”
To sustain its claims of putting the records straight, the PCN also stated thus: “It is on record and incontrovertible that it was the Presbyterian Church that put Uburu on the World map as far back as 1913.
“The lease from the said families is still extant and agreed ground rents have been regularly paid up to date.”
However, as the controversy rages, Forefront reliably gathered that interventions have continued to come from well-meaning indigenes of the State, religious leaders and Nigerians generally seeking an amicable resolution of the issues.
Competent sources hinted that the pressure may have yielded fruitful results with Ebonyi State Government extending an invitation to the Presbyterian Church for engagement.
An insider said if everything goes according to plan, the meeting may hold within this Sallah public holiday period.