Lagos State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr. Lateef Aderemi Ibirogba
By Omololu Ogunmade and Sunday Okobi
The dismissal of 788 medical officers by Lagos State Government on Monday is final and irreversible, the state Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr. Lateef Aderemi Ibirogba, has said.
However, counsel to the state Medical Guild, Mr. Bamidele Aturu, described the act as “Inscrutable illegality”, just as the Lagos League of Political Parties (LLPP) called on the state government to reach a compromise with its doctors in order to restore health services in the state.
Speaking with THISDAY over the telephone, Ibirogba advised those thinking that the state government would reverse itself to drop the thought, insisting that nothing calls for any reversal since the state currently has 1,059 doctors in its employment.
According to him, before the 788 doctors were fired on Monday, the state had a 1,474, saying instead of reversing its decision on the dismissal, it will rather employ more.
The commissioner added that the state could only allow a return of any of the sacked doctors if he/she shows remorse for his/her action.
However, he said such return would not be automatic, disclosing that such doctor would have to comply with the civil service rules whose custodian, he said, is the head of service.
He also said the person would have to answer the first query, the second query and await the judgment of the Personnel Management Board (PMB). Further, he said after exhausting the procedure, the returning doctor will be invited for a face-to-face discussion to ensure that he has satisfied the requirements of the law for any possible return.
On why only 788 of the initial 1,474 members were sacked, Ibirogba said some had complied with instructions by answering the queries issued to them with a sense of sobriety adding that others were not part of the perceived conspiracy because they were on leave and hence would not be right to sack such persons.
Ibirogba, who said the government was compelled to take the decision to avoid seeing dead bodies everyday, also dismissed the 24-hour ultimatum issued by the state chapter of the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) to the government to reverse the sack as empty and baseless.
He said the NMA did not have controlling influence on the state government.
He said whereas the duty of NMA was to mediate in a dispute between employers and its employee members, the association failed and allowed the doctors to derail. “I think doctors were trained to ensure that people don’t die, but it’s unfortunate that NMA wants people to die,” Ibirogba remarked.
He also dismissed insinuations that the NMA would shut-down the state’s health sector and disallow the newly employed medical officers from working as laughable, as he asked: “Did NMA pay their school fees? Did NMA give them licence? I don’t know how reasonable that is.”
On the NMA’s declaration that the sack was illegal, Ibirogba asked: “Are they doctors or lawyers?” He said they were free to go to court as the state government is prepared to meet them at whatever level the matter attains adding that NMA doesn’t have any right to dictate to the government what it should do to its employers.
“There is no law that says I must employ you or you dictate the conditions of service. Lagos State Government is the one which gave them jobs and every job comes with conditions of service. If you feel you can’t comply with such conditions, then you should leave. It is not right for an employee to stampede an employer. No state or even the Federal Government pays more than we do. We‘ve been transparent enough to tell Nigerians what we pay and let them come out and say it is not true. So, there are conditions of service and anybody trying to be above them should leave our job,” he reiterated.
In a related development, Aturu in a statement made available to THISDAY, frowned on the decision of the state government to relieve the doctors of their jobs, saying it was made in spite of its awareness of the suit filed by the doctors at the National Industrial Court (NIS) seeking an order of injunction restraining the government from dismissing them from service.
Aturu said in the suit whose hearing comes up tomorrow at the NIC with Suit No. NIC-/LA/158/2012 filed on April 24 against the state government, Commissioner for Health, Lagos State Health Commission and Lagos State Teaching Hospital, the doctors are seeking the following reliefs:
“A declaration that the refusal of the defendant to completely implement the consolidated medical salary (CONMESS) scale in favour of the claimant association constitutes a violent breach of the agreement reached between the defendant and the claimant on the full implementation of Conmess and is therefore unlawful, unconstitutional, null and void and constitutes unfair labour practice.
“A declaration that the planned disciplinary action against the members of the claimants by the personnel management board of the defendant in respect of the 3 days warning strike embarked upon in pursuit of the full implementation of CONMESS agreement between the defendant and the claimant is wrongful, arbitrary, ultra vires the power of the defendant’s management board and is illegal, unlawful and constitutes an abuse and violation of the claimant’s rights.”
“An order of perpetual injunction restraining the defendant from taking any disciplinary action against any member of the claimant for taking part in the 3 day warning strike organised by the claimant association in pursuit of the full implementation of the CONMESS agreement between the Claimant and the Defendant.”
The counsel disclosed that they (counsel) had we written to the state government intimating it of the pendency of the suit before a court of competent jurisdiction, “but the regrettable consequence of the decision of the state government is that it has illegally dismissed the doctors as the Supreme Court has held in the case of Ojukwu v Governor of Lagos State that a party that is aware that injunctive relief has been sought against him ought to refrain from doing anything to foist a situation of complete helplessness on the court.
“We urge it to reverse the indefensible and unconstitutional decision before the 9th of May 2012 when the matter comes up before the National Industrial Court.
“While we do not deny that the government has the power to exercise disciplinary control over its workers, the doctors inclusive, our position is that it cannot do so illegally and in violation of the tenets of constitutionalism and the rule of law,” Aturu added.
Meanwhile, the LLPP’s Chairman, Chief Udoka Udeogaranya, said: “We definitely supports any action that will produce amicable settlement between the Lagos State Government and the Medical Guild in restoring health services in the state.”
“However, we call on the Lagos State government to recall the sacked doctors immediately before the matter will escalate and find a peaceful resolution to the lingering matter. Increasing the job market and swelling the unemployment rate with 788 doctors is not desirous at the moment and will not add any social, political or economic value,” he said.