The Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN) is not exactly a revenue generating agency. By the law setting up the council, it has the responsibility of determining the standard of knowledge and skill to be attained by persons seeking to become members of the medical or dental profession and reviewing those standards from time to time as circumstances may permit.
A greater part of the law setting up the council, however, centres around payment of annual fees to practise as a medical practitioner and dental surgeon, penalties and fines for not paying the fees or practising without paying the fees. With anything from 40, 000 to 70,000 doctors practising in Nigeria, it is not hard to imagine how much MDCN generates annually. For doctors who have been in the profession for less than 10 years, the fee is N10,000, while the annual practising fee for doctors who graduated more than 10 years ago is N20,000.
Apparently, the money it generates is not enough. Earlier in December, reports surfaced that MDCN was mandating all foreign-trained doctors to undergo further training for a period of time, and, of course, for a fee of about N900,000 before being eligible for a practising licence. A statement on its website said, “The Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN) hereby informs all foreign-trained medical and dental graduates, parents and guardians, other stakeholders and the general public that with effect from December 2021, intending candidates for Council’s assessment examination will be required to undergo a six-month mandatory attachment programme before they can be eligible to sit for the MDCN pre-registration examination. The programme shall be for candidates trained in ALL countries (other than Nigeria) and whose training institutions are currently listed in the World Directory of Medical Schools. Candidates must hold medical/dental degrees from approved medical and dental training institutions that shall be verified by the Electronic Portfolio of International Credentials (EPIC).”
The announcement was followed by a public outcry considering the challenges Nigeria has in stemming the flow of locally trained doctors who are in hot demand in other parts of the world.
Two weeks after the announcement by MDCN, the House of Representatives decided to investigate the abrupt decision following a motion sponsored by Hon. Solomon Maren. The lawmaker from Plateau said, “The foreign-trained graduates are coming from where the profession is not only highly paid for, but also sought after. Hence, the move may discourage them from coming back to the country to practise. Efforts by the federal government to boost and improve healthcare delivery through human capital development may be jeopardised if such outrageous charges are not removed, as many intending graduates may not be able to enrol in the council, without which they cannot practise.”
The lawmakers’ intervention may have forced MDCN to backtrack as it later rescinded the decision in another statement posted on its website. While the House of Representatives may be embarking on an investigation to determine why and how the council decided to make life difficult for foreign-trained doctors, it could also end up finding what it was not looking for.
The position of this paper is that the House of Representatives should forge ahead with its investigation and hear directly from those in the profession about possible extortion by MDCN and even the National Medical Association, which it collaborates with. There has already been a case filed in court regarding the obstacles the council places before those seeking to renew their licence but do not want to pay a building levy imposed by the NMA. It is the duty of the lawmakers to determine whether the council is abusing the powers conferred on it by law. It is not enough for the council to simply backtrack without any real explanation for the decision in the first place.
The MDCN has given reasons why it had a change of heart. It said in a statement a few days ago that following “the public reactions to the MDCN publication on the mandatory six-month Teaching Hospitals Attachment Programme for foreign-trained medical and dental graduates, especially the petition by coalition of parents of foreign-trained medical doctors to the National Assembly, and based on the outcome of the meetings MDCN held with the leadership of Joint Senate Committee on Health and House of Representatives Committee on Health Care Services and the House of Representatives Committee on Public Petition, MDCN hereby states as follows: The MDCN hereby withdraws the publication on the six-month attachment for foreign-trained medical and dental graduates and candidates are now left with the discretion to seek knowledge that will assist them with the Assessment Examination wherever and however they so desire. Candidates who have paid N10,000 registration fees will have their money refunded.”
The retraction of the earlier statement is not enough. There is a lot that is wrong with medical practice in Nigeria and no one is ever held accountable. The public needs to know that the council is not motivated by the need to generate revenue. That is why the National Assembly should get to the bottom of this.