FG drags striking doctors to industrial court today
• Seeks to enforce ‘no work no pay’ rule on NARD members
• Aggrieved workers accuse govt of oppression, vow strike continues
• Pay doctors with N4.8b meant for policing WhatsApp calls, SERAP tells Buhari
Efforts by the House of Representatives to reconcile striking resident doctors under the aegis of National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) and the Federal Government seem to have hit the rocks as the latter have taken the former to the Industrial Court of Nigeria (ICN).
The Guardian reliably gathered that the executives of NARD, led by their President, Dr. Uyilawa Okhuaihesuyi, would today be arraigned by 10:00 a.m. at the ICN, Abuja, by the Federal Government.
The Federal Government is urging the court to ask the doctors to go back to work, failure of which it would enforce the ‘no work no pay’ policy.
The House of Representatives, led by the Chairman, House Committee on Health, Dr. Tanko Sununu, had last week Monday tried to broker a truce.
Sununu is a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist and a former National Secretary/Secretary General, Nigerian Medical Association (NMA).
Present at the peace meeting were: the House members’ team; Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire; Minister of State for Health, Dr. Olorunnimbe Mamora; Director of Hospital Services, Dr. Adebiyi Adegbite; Director General of Budget Office, Ben Akabueze; Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) Director, Ben Isika; Chairman, Committee of Chief Medical Directors, Jaf Momoh, of the National Hospital Abuja; and 10 other Chief Medical Directors (CMDs) including that of University College Hospital (UCH) Ibadan, Maiduguri, Gombe, Jalingo, and Gwagwalada.
Unfortunately, the talks broke down after the doctors accused the Federal Government of insincerity and swore to continue the strike until their demands are met including: payment of four to seven months salaries; hazard allowances; and insurance benefits of members that died on active COVID-19 duty.
The Guardian also reliably gathered that the NMA has disassociated itself from the industrial action embarked upon by the resident doctors.
It was learnt that NMA President, Prof. Innocent Ujah, is accusing the leadership of NARD of not getting the Association’s approval before going on strike.
NMA is the parent body of all medical doctors in Nigeria while NARD is one of the subsidiaries and the militant arm.
Okhuaihesuyi, meanwhile, told The Guardian: “The strike goes on. They said we were not supposed to go one strike. They have taken us to the industrial court. They said that under International Labour Organisation (ILO) law we are not supposed to go on strike after agreements reached with the Federal Government. The court case is by 10:00 a.m. today. They said we should tell the court why the ‘no work no pay’ rule should not be applied on our members for embarking on strike.
“We are asking Nigerians to come and see our plight and come to our aid. We are being oppressed. We are owed for four to seven months. Our members are suffering.”
This came as Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) urged President Muhammadu Buhari to redirect the proposed spending of N4.8 billion for monitoring WhatsApp messages, phone calls and text messages of Nigerians to paying the salaries of striking resident doctors and meeting other national health challenges.
In an open letter dated August 14, 2021 and signed by SERAP’s Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare, the organisation said: “Redirecting the proposed spending of N4.8 billion would be entirely consistent with your constitutional oath of office and the letter and spirit of the Nigerian Constitution of 1999 (amended), as it would promote efficient, honest and legal spending of public money.”
The letter was copied to the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, and Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed.
SERAP noted that redirecting the proposed money would remove threats to the fundamental human rights of Nigerians and ensure access to quality healthcare for socially and economically vulnerable people who rely solely on public hospitals.
It said: “Any appropriation law ought to comply with the Nigerian constitution and the country’s international human rights obligations and commitments.”
It said the constitutional oath of office provides safeguards on the appropriation and spending of public funds and imposes a legally binding obligation on public officers to preserve public money and not disburse it without recourse to the constitution.
SERAP said: “The mere threat of mass surveillance, even when secret, coupled with the lack of remedy, can constitute an interference with human rights, including the rights to privacy, freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association.
“The proposed spending of N4.8 billion of public funds, as contained in the Supplementary Appropriation Act, which you signed last month, would give rise to serious violations of the human rights of Nigerians and other people. It would grant free rein to government agencies to conduct mass surveillance of the communications of people.
“The proposed spending also fails to meet the requirements of public interest, legality, necessity, and proportionality. Additionally, the lack of any safeguards against discriminatory decision-making, and access to an effective remedy, shows the grave threats it poses to constitutionally and internationally recognised human rights.”
SERAP stressed that the United Nations General Assembly has condemned unlawful or arbitrary surveillance and interception of communications as ‘highly intrusive acts’ that interfere with fundamental human rights.
It expressed concern that the powers to conduct arbitrary, abusive or unlawful surveillance of communications may be used to target political figures, activists, journalists and others in the discharge of their lawful activities, especially given the growing repression of civic space, suspension of Twitter and attacks on freedom of expression and media freedom in the country.
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