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Doctors strike: NMA keeps mum despite FG’s threat

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Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige

FG yet to invite us for talks, says NARD president
• PGF DG slams Labour, Health ministers for inaction, wants strikes in health sector criminalised
• Strike compounding already worrisome situation in Nigeria says Kaigama

Despite threats by the Federal Government, through the Minister of Labour and Productivity, Dr. Chris Ngige, to enforce the ‘no work no pay rule against striking resident doctors today, indications emerged last night that the strike, now in its eighth day, is not likely to be called off soon, just as the parent body of all medical doctors in the country, Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), has refused to comment.

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President, NMA, Prof. Innocent Ujah, yesterday, refused to pick calls from The Guardian on efforts the association is making to resolve the impasse between the Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) and the Federal Government.

Reacting to the threat from the Federal Government, President, NARD, Dr. Uyilawa Okhuaihesuyi, yesterday told The Guardian: “They have not invited us for any kind of meeting, neither have they met our demands. Rather, we are getting threats of no work no pay. We can see which party is sincere to resolve the issue.”

NARD is the militant body of all medical doctors in the country and there are about 16,000 resident doctors working in Nigeria out of over 40,000 medical doctors.

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NARD had last Monday began a nationwide industrial action over unpaid salaries, benefits to families of members that lost their lives to COVID-19 pandemic and hazard allowances, improved conditions, and failure to domesticate Medical Residency Training (MRT) Act 2017 in states, among others.

Less than four months ago, between April 1 and 10, they were also on strike over the same issues and the strike was called off following a memorandum of understanding signed by the Federal Government and the leadership of NARD.

Okhuaihesuyi stated further: “There is no going back on plans to shut down public and government hospitals due to inability of the Federal Government to keep to its promise to the doctors in meeting their demands.

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“Even if they communicate to us now, there is no going back. It is now over 120 days after we signed the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) and Memorandum of Agreement (MoA). They should be ashamed for not being truthful. We cannot be working and not get paid. You make commitments with doctors and you don’t keep them,” he said.

On the negative effect the strike is having on ‘common’ Nigerians, he said: “The doctors are also human beings. Abia State owes doctors 19 months salary; Imo State eight and Ekiti two months. Those doctors who lost their lives have not got their insurance benefits and most of us are yet to get the paltry hazard allowance of N5,000. You bring out circulars that you are going to pay and yet you don’t. What will the doctor tell his or her landlord?

“We go to the same market with ‘common’ Nigerians and our children attend the same schools. How can we survive in the midst of this gross negligence on the part of government? If you were a medical doctor, would you be working in Nigeria? Little wonder more graduating doctors are leaving the country in droves. No wonder more Nigerians are seeking medical treatments abroad because they don’t trust the medical system in the country.”

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MEANWHILE, Director General of the Progressive Governors Forum (PGF), a think-tank for Governors of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Dr Salihu Lukman, has decried the frequent strikes by resident doctors and health workers in the country.

Condemning the indefinite nationwide strike embarked upon by NARD, Lukman said there should be legal restrictions on strikes by all essential services personnel.

Lukman, in a statement issued yesterday in Abuja, also slammed the Ministers of Labour and Health for their lethargic responses to industrial issues, which usually culminates into strikes in the sector and consequent loss of lives.

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Lukman said: “Given the cost to human lives from strikes by health workers, it is quite alarming that strikes in a sector as important as health would be taking place at all.

“This is a sector that by every standard should be classified as essential, based on which there should be special legal restrictions regarding labour actions such as strikes. Healthcare, utility services such as electricity and water supply, law enforcement, firefighting and food services are all categorised both by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and United Nations (UN) as essential services.”

The PGF boss in a piece entitled ‘Labour Issues and Need for Reorientation in Nigeria,’ remarked that there is the urgent need for labour issues, including negotiations for wages and terms of conditions of services, to be moved to the concurrent list of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution as amended.

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He stated: “It is scandalous that the agitation by the leaders of NARD is not about qualitatively reviewing those conditions that goes beyond cheap Naira and Kobo negotiations. Eventually, no doubt, everything comes down to Naira and Kobo. But there are provisions with very high monetary value, which may not cost a dime to the government.

Continuing, he noted: “It is quite frustrating, when political appointees, such as Ministers of Labour and Health are unable to proactively pre-empt strikes of health workers in the country. As loyal members of APC, being the governing party, we must appeal to our Ministers of Labour and Health to wake up to their responsibility and end this political embarrassment coming with huge cost to lives to citizens.”

Also weighing in, the Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, Most Rev Ignatius Kaigama, yesterday, said the doctors strike is compounding an already worrisome situation of hunger in the country due to the escalating prices of foodstuff.

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He called on the government to swing into positive action to see that the resident doctors resume their duties, considering that the third wave of COVID-19 is already here and infections and fatality rates are on the increase.

In his homily yesterday, in Abuja, Kaigama said that the frequent industrial actions of various professional groups reflect the poor attention given to workers with very sensitive responsibilities.

He lamented that it has become normal for the government to dilly-dally in finding the best solutions until people have died or suffered irreversible damages.

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According to him, “it is not surprising that many of our doctors are happily taking job opportunities in European countries and beyond, where their services are needed and valued.

“Hope is the most important commodity we all need at the moment. We need hope to trust again in our political leaders. We need hope to trust again in the dream of a better Nigeria, and we must rise above the clouds of hopelessness, anger and division and engage ourselves in constructive thinking and action,” he added.

MEANWHILE, the President of the National Association of Seadogs (Pirate Confraternity), Mr. Abiola Owoaje, has urged the striking doctors to suspend their action, saying it is a bad omen that will badly affect the poor, who could not access medication at private hospitals.

Owoaje, while providing medical intervention to residents of Ogwashi-Uku Kingdom in Aniocha South Council of Delta State, appealed to the Federal Government to urgently meet the demands of the doctors. He also called on the doctors to show understanding, by considering the poor they are rendering their services.

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