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"NMA Membership Not Compulsory For Physicians" - Court Rules

Justice D.U. Okorowo of the Federal High Court in Abuja has declared in a landmark judgement that the membership of the National Medical Association is voluntary in line with section 40 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended).

In a judgement delivered on May 6, 2024, regarding a suit between Dr. Olusola Adeyelu and the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria and The Incorporated Trustees of Nigerian Medical Association as Defendants, the court affirmed the submissions made by the plaintiff on his right to freedom of association. It also affirmed the right of Dr. Olusola Adeyelu to associate or dissociate from the Nigerian Medical Association.

The court held that under Section 40 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), every person shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons. The court noted the plaintiff may form or belong to any political party, trade union or any other association for the protection of his interests, adding that the membership of the Nigerian Medical Association cannot be mandatory or imposed but rather voluntary for medical doctors in Nigeria.

In 2019, Adeyelu, a Nigerian activist and specialist respiratory physician, after alleging a lack of internal democracy in the running of the affairs of the NMA, particularly as regards the indiscriminate imposition of levies he considered extortionist, wrote to the association to withdraw his membership of the body, and notify the regulatory body of medical practitioners in Nigeria, the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria.

On September 20, 2021, SaharaReporters reported that Olusola Adeyelu had sued NMA and MDCAN over the alleged imposition of unjustifiable charges on medical practitioners. It was reported that he also sought a court order declaring NMA membership as voluntary and that he has the right to resign his membership from the association and still practise as a medical doctor.

However, in 2020, upon payment for the renewal of his practicing licence, the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria insisted that the payment of the Nigerian Medical Association’s building levy was compulsory for all doctors in Nigeria before practising licence could be renewed and indeed made it a precondition for the mandatory renewal of the practising license for the year and without any legal justification.

The MDCAN had indirectly saddled itself with the duty to serve as a levy collection agent on behalf of the NMA, of the building levy prescribed by the NMA which formed one of the reasons Adeyelu resigned his membership from the association to stop paying such levies.

Consequent upon that, he went to court to challenge the imposition and in 2020, through his counsel, Tope Temokun, filed an action by way of originating summons before the Federal High Court Abuja in suit No FHC/ABJ/CS/1094/2020 (Dr Olusola Adeyelu Vs Medical and Dental Council Of Nigeria and Nigerian Medical Association), praying the Court, among other things, a declaration that membership of the NMA is voluntary and that neither the NMA nor the regulatory body, MDCAN could force membership or membership obligation of the NMA on him.

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