A medical doctor, Olusola Adeyelu, has urged the Federal High Court in Abuja to declare the membership of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), the umbrella body of medical and dental practitioners in Nigeria, as voluntary.
In the suit in which the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN) and the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) are sued as the defendants, the plaintiff urged the court to declare him free of any financial obligation to the association following his resignation as a member in April 2019.
He also wants the court to issue an order of perpetual injunction restraining MDCN from further subjecting him to mandatory payment of building levies or any other levies imposed by NMA for his rights as a medical practitioner to be recognised.
His lawyer, Tope Temokun, argued in the suit that the MDCN’s imposition of NMA’s building levies and other financial tasks on him for his practising licence to be renewed was in violation of section 40 of the Nigerian constitution, which guarantees freedom of association and dissociation from the NMA.
The plaintiff also urged the court to hold that the NMA lacks the power to impose or continue to enforce its financial resolution or its building levies on him.
In an affidavit in support of the originating summons, Mr Adeyelu said while the MDCN was a creation of the National Assembly with the sole mandate of regulating medical practice in Nigeria, the NMA was a private organisation, registered under the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA).
The plaintiff said he never indicated interest of becoming a member of the NMA, the umbrella body of medical doctors in Nigeria, adding that upon his induction into the medical profession, he was automatically conscripted into the association.
“Although the 2nd defendant (NMA) is a voluntary association but has been operating in a manner that portrays it as a mandatory association for the medical practitioners in Nigeria.
“It is commonplace that every medical practitioner became conscripted through payment of annual practising fee to the 1st defendant (MDCN), which money is legislated to be subject to sharing formula of 30 per cent -70 per cent between the 1st defendant and the 2nd defendant,” Mr Adeyelu said in an affidavit filed in support of the suit.
He said as a result of the inextricable ties between the MDCN and the NMA, he had no choice to exercise in choosing the membership of the NMA.
“That it was through this statutory anomaly, which robbed me of the free exercise of right to choose membership of a supposedly voluntary association that I became a member of the 2nd defendant upon my induction.
“That to be eligible to lawfully practise my profession as a medical practitioner in a year, I am required by law to pay a medical practising fee to the 1st defendant (MDCN) before the 31 December of the preceding year.
“The implication of the above is that, even as a qualified medical practitioner in Nigeria, legally registered to practice medicine in Nigeria by the 1st defendant (MDCN), if I did not pay my annual practicing fee, from 1 December to ` December, before the end of every year, practicing license is deemed to have expired or lapse, since renewal of license is a result or offshoot of payment of annual practicing fee,” the plaintiff explained.
The doctor further revealed he had suffered deprivations with debilitating effects on his health as a result of happenings in the association (NMA).
“In order to save myself of the mental agony of sharing burden, financial burden of an association from which I derive no cognisable corresponding benefit, I resolved to resign my membership of the association of the 2nd defendant (NMA),” Mr Adeyelu said.
‘NMA membership not compulsory for doctors’
Both the MDCN and NMA have filed separate counter-affidavits urging the court to dismiss the suit.
They argued in their separate court filings that NMA membership was not compulsory for doctors.
Francis Ali, MDCN’s Head, Practising Licence, said in a counter-affidavit that Mr Adeyelu “was not forcefully conscripted” by the council to join NMA.
He added that “the plaintiff has the discretion to choose whether or not to be a member of the 2nd defendant (NMA)”.
He also said the MDCN never insisted on the payment of NMA’s building levy “as a precondition for mandatory renewal of the practising licence of the plaintiff”.
The MDCN admitted that section 14(4) of the Medical and Dental Practitioner Act prescribed a formula of 70-30 for sharing the practising fees paid by practitioners between NMA and MDCN, but noted that it did not amount to robbing Mr Adeyelu of his right to freedom of association.
“How the proceeds from practising fees paid by medical and dental practitioners is utilised is not within the rights of the plaintiff to challenge,” MDCN’s filing added.
The NMA similarly said medical personnel automatically became a member of the association upon induction into the medical profession, but, like every Nigerian, “has the right to either continue to be part of the association by comply with requisite conditions for eligibility or renounce its membership”.
Philips Ekpe, NMA’s secretary-general, who deposed to the association’s counter-affidavit, said Mr Adeyelu had ceased to be a member since his resignation through his letter dated 19 April, 2019.
Mr Ekpe added that the issue of building levy raised by the plaintiff had been decided by the Federal High Court, Enugu division, in a suit between Fedrick Awkadigwe vs MDCN and another defendant.
“The said judgement is subject to appeal at the appellate court,” he added.
Plaintiff faults MDCN, NMA
The plaintiff in his further responses has faulted the claims by MDCN and NMA.
He noted that contrary to their claim of voluntariness of NMA membership and despite his resignation as a member, he was left with no choice or discretion to choose whether or not to pay the association’s annual fee because the mandatory annual practising paid to MDCN “is cojoined with the annual association fee of the 2nd defendant (NMA).”
He noted that the share of NMA “constitutes the 70 per cent of my mandatory practising fees paid to MDCN yearly “for my practising licence renewal.”
He urged the court to stop the MDCN from further remitting 70 per cent of his practising licence renewal fee to the NMA, as he had ceased to be a member of the association.
Mr Adeyenlu also noted that the defendants continued to make payment of the association’s building levy as precondition for renewing his licence despite his resignation.
“I submit as a matter of fact that after having resigned my membership of the 2nd defendant (NMA)vide a letter dated 19 April 2019, I logged on to the website of the 1st defendant (MDN) to complete the process of my licence renewal, but surprisingly came to a halt when I got to a column requesting the confirmation of payment of the 2nd defendant’s building levy, invariably making it impossible for me to severe myself from any form of financial obligation to the 2nd defendant (NMA)”.
He also said the declarations and orders made by the Federal High Court in Enugu mentioned by the NMA “are in the most part distinct from the prayers sought” in his suit.
The trial judge, Donatus Okorowo, has 10 November for hearing.
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