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JOHESU’ s strike and needless loss of lives

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Joint Health Sectors Union (JOHESU)

I was not unaware of the Joint Health Sector Union (JOHESU) members’ indefinite industrial action which commenced nationwide on April 18, but did not really give it much consideration as it was viewed as one of the usual national brouhahas that will somehow fizzle out with time. After all, ours is a nation of many troubles and overtime we have become used to coping with troubles. Unknowingly, I was to be caught in the whole JOHESU’s commotion through a colleague who was hospitalised at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, LASUTH. I was, indeed, highly elated when I paid him a visit at the hospital and discovered that he was stabilizing quite well. Though, he was still under observation, he was in high spirit.

However, things took a dramatic turn with the commencement of on-going JOHESU’s strike which effectively ensured he no longer have unhindered access to medical attention. It did not take long before his condition began to deteriorate; thereby making a mess of initial gains recorded in his recovery process. Presently, his condition calls for speedy divine intervention. As if that was not enough, one of my colleagues recently lost a dear brother who was shot at close range by dastardly armed robbers. He was allegedly rejected by private medical facilities on the account of police report and was referred to a public medical facility where he could not be attended on account of on-going JOHESU’s strike action. Having lost so much blood in the process, he eventually gave up the ghost and thus ended the dreams of a promising young man.

Though the JOHESU’s imbroglio is strictly between the union and the Federal Government (FG), reports across the country, however, indicate that other tiers of governments (State and Local Governments) have already joined in the strike. For instance, in Lagos State, health workers have joined the JOHESU strike in solidarity with their federal counterparts. Accordingly, reports had it that at LASUTH and other General Hospitals across the State health workers were not at their duty posts and only skeletal services were offered by the consultants and resident doctors available. It will be recalled that JOHESU embarked on a nationwide strike last September to protest among other issues, salaries adjustments, promotion arrears and improved work environment for its members. The negotiation started in 2009 which later resulted in an agreement in 2012 and 2014 between the union and the FG.  Now, the main grouse of JOHESU is that the FG has refused to honour the agreement it had with it. JOHESU has gone ahead to accuse the FG of gross bias since it had honoured similar agreement with members of the Nigerian Medical Association, NMA.

Thus, now, JOHESU is fighting on two fronts as it is engaging the FG on one hand and the NMA on the other hand. JOHESU leaders have particularly accused NMA of frustrating efforts geared towards the implementation of its agreement with the FG. It needs to be stressed that the NMA had repeatedly declared its opposition to many of the demands made by JOHESU, describing them as objectionable. The NMA is explicitly opposed to salary harmonisation; one of the important agreements which the FG reached with JOHESU, insisting that doctors cannot be on sane same salary scale as other health workers.

In the midst of all these hullabaloos, JOHESU has also singled out the Ministers of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole as well as Labour and Employment counterpart, Senator Chris Ngige, as the biggest culprit in the alleged scheme to frustrate efforts of the health workers to get fair treatment. The two men have, however, vehemently described this allegation as spurious, unfounded and baseless. Meanwhile, hapless Nigerians, such as my colleague, who are critically in need of prompt healthcare, are, as usual, at the receiving end of this pointless entanglement.  In an increasingly piercing economic season, hapless compatriots have had to cope with the extra financial burden on medical bills.  From the way things are, the only way out is for the people to opt for private hospitals which, for obvious reasons, very few patents can really afford. According to reports, there is already an upsurge in the number of casualties across the country. This is rather unnecessary as it is quite avoidable.

Therefore, there is need for the striking JOHESU members to thread softly in the interest of the people as the country cannot afford to go through another needless circle of pains and anguish that usually accompany industrial action in the health sector. The avoidable anguish experienced whenever the health sector is faced with industrial unrest is needless.  Lives that are wasted when health workers embark on strike cannot be restored. JOHESU members should, thus, be wholly concerned about the need to save human lives. Hence, it is imperative that they exercise sufficient restrain in resorting to strike each time they have issues with government. In as much as it is their constitutional right to embark on industrial action, the sacredness of life and the delicate nature of the work they do should always be above every other consideration.

Health workers are wonderful people, no doubt, but so also are teachers, sportsmen, journalists, engineers, lawyers, Inland Revenue officers, surveyors, accountants, auditors and other professionals who toil endlessly to ensure that we have livable society. No doubt, agitation for wage increase is a legitimate universal practice; but the overall interest of the people should always be given utmost priority.  One is at a loss as to why JOHESU is dragging States and Local Government chapters into a matter that is strictly between it and the FG. In Lagos State, for instance, it is not on record that the State Government has industrial dispute with the States local JOHESU. Is it, therefore, not morally wrong that the State JOHESU is actively involved in the on-going strike? Nevertheless, the Federal Government and other key stakeholders need to urgently step up efforts to mitigate in the current imbroglio before it cripples the country’s health sector. Our health system is already weak and allowing the strike to continue will only make things worse. Since the well-being of the citizenry is universally a fundamental responsibility of government, the Federal Government should muster the sufficient political will that is required to end the current strike. We need a system that cares for the citizenry as they need to be healthy in order to contribute meaningfully to nation building.

There is no gainsaying that the ongoing strike in the health sector raises questions on the exact state of our public health system. There is, thus, need for JOHESU and the Federal Government to urgently reach an agreement, to prevent avoidable casualties. The way forward for industrial harmony in the health sector is for all stakeholders to be ready to make necessary concessions, at least for the sake of the people.
Ogunbiyi wrote from Lagos State Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja, Lagos.


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