The public face of the doctors’ strike, Dr Stephen Ulimboka, was fighting for his life in hospital yesterday after he was kidnapped, badly beaten and left for dead by unknown people.
Dr Ulimboka heads the doctors’ committee that has been locked in a dispute over pay and working conditions with the government for several months.
Doctors went on strike on Saturday, accusing the government of failing to keep its side of the bargain that ended a crippling month-long strike earlier this year.
Dr Ulimboka’s own narration suggests that he was attacked by armed people, and the question that inevitably comes to the fore is: who wants him dead?
Meanwhile, Dar es Salaam Special Police Zone Commander Suleiman Kova said the Police Force had formed an investigation team.
What started as a rumour on Wenesday June 27, 2012 morning was confirmed at around noon when a battered and bloodied Dr Ulimboka was found unconscious at Bunju, about 30 kilometres from the city centre.
He was taken to a police post by local residents who found him dumped on the roadside.
Dr Ulimboka was apparently kidnapped as he was going to Leaders Club in Kinondoni, where he was to hold discussions on the doctors’ strike that began last weekend with a person who had called him earlier. He said he was waylaid and attacked by a group of at least five armed people.
“They told my colleagues that they weren’t interested in them and that it was me who they were looking for. They dragged me on the tarmac and bundled me into a black car without registration numbers,” Dr Ulimboka said.
Dr Elisha Osati, who was with Dr Ulimboka a few hours before he was abducted, said Dr Ulimboka had received a phone call from a Mr Abeid, who wanted to meet him and discuss the strike.
“He was initially apprehensive about holding the talks at midnight, but decided to go anyway because he had previously met the man on several occasions,” Dr Osati said.
He added that he did not know what had happened to Dr Ulimboka until around midmorning yesterday when he received calls from his colleagues who told him that Dr Ulimboka had been badly beaten.
Journalists could not reach Dr Ulimboka at the Muhimbili Orthopaedic Institute (Moi), where he was admitted, after they were blocked at the entrance.
Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC) executive director Helen Kijo-Bisimba said she received a call at midnight from one of Dr Ulimboka’s colleagues, who asked her for her assistance, after narrating what had happened to him.
“His kidnappers started beating him when he demanded to know where they were taking him. He realised that the car was heading towards Bagamoyo and he immediately feared for his life.
He knew that something was wrong because he had expected to be taken to the nearby Mabatini or Oysterbay police station if indeed he had been arrested for any offence,” Dr Bisimba said.
She added that Dr Ulimboka was taken to Mabwepande forest on the outskirts of the city, where he was dumped.Luckily for him, a passerby spotted him as he was struggling to free himself from the ropes that were used to tie his limbs. Dr Bisimba said they hired a private ambulance after the Muhimbili National Hospital (MNH) administration refused to give them one to collect Dr Ulimboka.
His arrival in the mid morning sparked chaotic scenes in which police struggled to contain angry doctors, nurses and Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences students, who were demanding that those behind the attack be brought to justice.
Almost all workers at MNH and Moi left their workstations and gathered in small groups to discuss what had happened to Dr Ulimboka.
Many doctors and nurses burst into tears when they saw a bloodied Dr Ulimboka, barely recognisable, on a stretcher. Some accused the government of being behind Dr Ulimboka’s beating.
“We will not take matters into our own hands over the fate that has befallen our leader, but we will continue to fight for our rights no matter what,” a man in the crowd was heard screaming.
The sentiments were echoed by officials of both the Medical Association of Tanzania (MAT) and Doctors Steering Committee. The MAT chairperson, Dr Namala Mkopi, condemned the incident, while the Doctors Steering Committee secretary, Dr Edwin Chitega, blamed the government for what happened to their colleague.
Dr Chitega said the development would persuade even more doctors to join the strike.