Posts falsely claim Nigerian opposition leader sponsored doctor’s university education in UK

Social media accounts claim a photo of a young woman in medical scrubs shows a Nigerian surgeon who became the “first black girl” to perform a heart transplant within 30 minutes. They further allege she studied in England on a scholarship gifted by Nigerian opposition leader Peter Obi. But the claim is false: the woman in the picture was, at the time, a trainee doctor in Ukraine. She has since denied studying in England or receiving funding from Obi. Other photos shared in the claim are unrelated to Nigeria.

“Chimaka a 20 years old Igbo girl that Peter Obi sends to England on free scholarship grand, has become the first black girl to transplant heart into another human within 30 minutes (sic),” reads a tweet shared on January 7, 2023.

A screenshot of the false tweet, taken on January 8, 2023

Obi is a key contender in Nigeria's presidential election scheduled for February 28, 2023.

The claim was posted by an Obi supporter and has been retweeted and liked more than 19,000 times. “Chimaka” is likely a misspelling of “Chiamaka,” a popular Igbo name.

The tweet features four photos: one of Obi, another of a young woman wearing blue medical scrubs, a third showing surgeons in an operating theatre, and finally a heart.

It was published a day after the Facebook page “Igbo Times Magazine” shared the photos with the claim. The page’s transparency record shows it was created on July 28, 2022, as “Dr Yusuf Datti Ahmed” - the name of Obi’s running mate, Yusuf Datti Baba-Ahmed.

The page changed its title to “Dr Yusuf Datti Ahmed ‘Fan Page’” on August 1, 2022, and finally to “Igbo Times Magazine” on October 31, 2022, after being the subject of debunks by AFP Fact Check (here, here, and here).

A screenshot shows the page transparency of the Facebook account, taken on January 8, 2023

Several other Facebook accounts, including here and here, posted the pictures with similar captions.

Presidential hopefuls

Obi of Nigeria's Labour Party is one of three leading presidential contenders, along with his former ally Atiku Abubakar and the ruling party’s Bola Tinubu.

In January 2013, Obi awarded a scholarship to Rosaline Ijendu who graduated first in her year at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka in Anambra state, southeast Nigeria. Obi was the state governor at the time.

Four students from the state who finished with top honours from different universities were also given scholarships in December of that year.

But the claim that Obi sponsored a student doctor called “Chimaka” is false.

Doctor based in Ukraine

Using reverse image searches, AFP Fact Check found the photo of the young woman in medical scrubs was published by Ukrainian photographer Andrii Shevchuk on a photo distribution website called Dreamstime.

The caption with the photo reads: “Portrait of happy female african american young doctor pediatrician in blue uniform coat and stethoscope with books at hands (sic).”

Shevchuk also published pictures of the woman on Shutterstock, another stock photo website.

Meanwhile, the online searches also led to a tweet published by an account holder called "Doctor Candace" on May 7, 2020, which featured three of the pictures Shevchuk published on Dreamstime.

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In response to the viral tweet with the false claim, the same account holder explained the images were taken during her undergraduate studies at Ternopil National Medical University in Ukraine.

“My name is Wuraola,” she tweeted, adding that her parents sponsored her education and not Obi. She said she had only completed schooling recently. This rules her out of being a record-setting cardiologist.

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Wuraola told AFP Fact Check that Shevchuk took the pictures in Ternopil, Ukraine on October 2, 2019, and that she currently lives in the United States.

Meanwhile, Shevchuk said the pictures were uploaded to distribution platforms so that “anyone can take them from there.” The bio on his Facebook and Instagram accounts indicates that he lives in Ternopil.

A keyword search for “Wuraola Ternopil National Medical University” led to a LinkedIn profile for “Wuraola Awosan”. According to the page, she served as an official of the Nigerian students’ union in Ukraine between March 2020 and June 2022 and possesses a “native or bilingual proficiency” in Yoruba, one of the largest ethnic groups in Nigeria.

Pig heart transplant

AFP Fact Check found the photo of doctors in an operating room was distributed by the US University of Maryland School of Medicine after surgeons there transplanted a pig heart into a patient called David Bennett in January 2022. AFP covered the story and also obtained the handout image at the time.

Bennett died on March 8, 2022, two months after the surgery was performed.

Surgeons performing a transplant of a heart from a genetically modified pig to patient David Bennett, Sr., in Baltimore, Maryland, on January 7, 2022 ( UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND SCHOOL OF MEDICINE / AFP / -)

The photo of the heart was published on the website of the Institute of Clinical and Experimental Medicine in Prague (IKEM) in the Czech Republic and on Wikipedia. The date stamps on both sites show the photo was taken on October 21, 2019. The picture on Wikipedia is credited to Korozia45.

A screenshot shows the photo of the heart published on Wikimedia and credited to Korozia45, taken on January 8, 2023

A keyword search for "Korozia45" led to a Twitter account of a Prague-based Slovakian nurse called Maria Soukalova. Her Twitter bio shows she is a registered nurse at IKEM hospital.

A screenshot shows Soukalova’s Twitter bio, taken on January 8, 2023

Heart transplant in 30 minutes?

Yale Medicine described heart transplant as the “most dramatic surgery done in the operating room,” highlighting the careful and deliberate steps involved in getting the procedure done. According to the UK’s National Health Service, the surgery usually lasts “between four and six hours”.

Bennett’s transplant took seven hours and was described as a “first-in-the-world surgery” by lead surgeon Dr Bartley P. Griffith.