Editorial: Federalism is the answer, after all – Part 51
The work-a-day drudgeries of the Nigerian state exude the deep contradictions of the polity. The challenges are expression of the foundational crisis of state over which we have been advocating ‘federalism’ as the answer. The national workforce despite the segregation at the state level exercises its rights to industrial action in a manner that is national perhaps due to the atomisation of the federal essentiality of the Nigerian state by the military, which ran the country on a unitary code while it prevailed.
The other day, the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) suspended its 63 days old industrial action. It took effect from the 6th of October, 2021. NARD leadership decided to suspend the strike, “After a critical appraisal of the performances of both the federal and state governments on all the issues that led to the strike, the progress made in implementing previous agreements reached with the government, as well as the intervention of President Muhammadu Buhari, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Minister of Health, Registrar, Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria, Chairman of House Representatives Committee on Healthcare Services and his deputy, President of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) and well-meaning Nigerians and government’s show of goodwill to return to the negotiating table, NEC resolved by the votes of a simple majority, to suspend the total and indefinite strike embarked upon on August 2, 2021.” Besides, it noted that substantive progress had been recorded in the implementation of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) reached with the Federal Government and confirmed the commenced payment of medical training allowances in some centres nationwide.
It came as a relief that the very important resident doctors in the health delivery architecture have suspended their strike after several months of being off work to press home the remediation of the shortcomings in the sector as well as matters of wellbeing. The resident doctors constitute about 40 per cent of our medical doctors. It would be recalled that NARD had commenced a nationwide indefinite strike on 2nd of August 2021 to press home their demands, namely, pay, insurance benefits and poor facilities.
To be sure, doctors going on strike is not new, whether both at the state or federal level. The Hippocratic Oath commits the doctors to saving lives. This does not, in our opinion, apply when the government shirks its responsibility of creating enabling environment for the efficient dispensation of service by the doctors. Also, we argue that government should not enter into agreement they cannot implement. It amounts to gross irresponsibility. Integrity matters and violating contracts freely entered into violate the national ethos. The point must be made that we are yet to have exemplary nodes where the doctors could claim satisfactory service in terms of infrastructure, emoluments and other conditions of service.
Nevertheless, the industrial action gave accent to the current question of federalism, our pre-occupation in this serial. The incessant violations of agreements with various segment of the workforce are, in our opinion, unleashing the dynamics of federalism unbeknown. Is it not high time the states assumed responsibility over their resident doctors? Should the states in the country pay uniform salary? Shouldn’t they pay within their means while taking cognisance of the national minimum wage?
Of a truth, resident doctors are employed by both the federal and state governments in Nigeria as well as the private sector. In a federation, apart from issues of national minimum, it is the duty of both the state and the central authorities to define the condition of service of resident doctors without national industrial actions. That this is not the case points to the deficit in the quasi federal system operational in our country.
Undoubtedly, the military legacy and approach to governance in the country allow for national solidarity of the workers in relation to industrial actions beside the dictate of the working class ideology on the need for workers solidarity and unity though not mechanical in its operationalisation. The problem is the nationalisation of the state bureaucracy/public service leading to the idea of consolidated salaries. In 1972, the Udoji Commission made recommendations for increase in the salaries of public servants, civil servants training, and a unified and integrated administrative structure among others. The competition for quality and growth that had existed between the regions in the country was thus undermined. Today, this is the picture everywhere one turns in our country, and the very reason for the skewed nature of Nigeria’s state structure.
The re-federalisation process we harp on every week here must address the lumping of matters between the state and central authorities instead of differentiation in action and public policy. The increasing complication of governance issues and the gross inefficiency at the centre make inevitable the restricting of our country along the federalist path. As Gianfranco Poggi, the author of The Development of the Modern State has argued, the state necessarily devises the right institutional framework for its perpetuation, in other words, for its existence. This is the challenge before the Nigerian state and its re-configuration into a genuine federal entity is the way to go for its perpetuation. When will the authorities in Nigeria listen to the voice of reason and courage?