• Ngige: Strike in bad faith
• Return to work, Adewole pleads
By Martins Ifijeh in Lagos and Senator Iroegbu in Abuja
Many Nigerians who reported sick at federal government-owned medical facilities nationwide yesterday were stunned to find out that doctors had embarked on an indefinite strike, leaving them stranded and at the mercy of private hospitals.
Their woes were compounded by their inability to access funds to look elsewhere for medical care as banks were closed as a result of the Eid-Maulud holiday which began last Friday.
Medical doctors under the umbrella of the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARDS) had commenced an indefinite nationwide strike in the early hours of yesterday following the rejection by its National Executive Council, of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) its leadership had signed with the federal government last week.
The development attracted a firm rebuke from the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, who condemned the strike describing it as an act of sabotage.
His Ministry of Health counterpart, Prof. Isaac Adewole, however, sued for peace, pleading with the doctors to return to work and give the federal government time to resolve their grievances.
The resident doctors had last week met with Ngige and Adewole, where the federal government made some offers to them.
But a terse statement signed by NARD President, Dr. Onyebueze John, in Abuja yesterday said: “Rising from our National Executive Council meeting, which started by 7pm yesterday (Sunday) and ended 3amtoday (Monday), we have resolved to reject the promissory offer from government and proceed on total and indefinite strike action until all items in our demand list for strike action are resolved by government.”
The association had last week warned that it might embark on an indefinite strike from September 4th if its demands were not met by the federal government.
It had demanded that all heads of tertiary health institutions that have received funding from the federal government for the payment of all outstanding financial obligations to its members should pay them immediately, adding that its members were demanding the resolution of persistent shortfalls and unpaid arrears of salaries earned in both federal and state tertiary health institutions.
Other issues in dispute include the demand for the enrolment of resident doctors into the Integrated Personnel Payroll Information System (IPPIS) since 2003 and non-implementation of adjusted House Officers’ Entry grade level equivalent since 2014.
The resident doctors are also asking for the resolution of the stagnation of promotion and non-promotion of members who had met requisite criteria despite all collective bargaining agreements and circulars.
In his reaction yesterday, Ngige in a statement yesterday by his Special Adviser on Media, Mr. Nwachukwu Obidiwe, said the strike was unnecessary, expressing surprise that NARD downed tools despite assurances to the contrary.
He said NARD had marathon negotiations with the federal government team led by Adewole and him as well as other relevant actors in the industry where some understanding was reached to shelve the strike.
According to the minister, the strike was totally uncalled for, adding that there was no reason for the doctors to abandon their duty post other than to embarrass and sabotage the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration.
Ngige said he was totally taken aback by the strike because he had the commitment of NARD President John that the doctors were satisfied with the assurances given by the federal government that their concerns would be dealt with.
He said: “The President of the Resident Doctors Association, Dr. Onyebueze, expressed satisfaction at the outcome of the meeting. Here are the extract and the video recording of his statement: ‘From the conclusions, we reached here, they are far reaching; that will go a long way in assuaging the members that are already aggrieved and feel that all issues have not been sorted out. Like we said, these issues have been lingering since 2013 but we have a new hope and we feel we have seen the green light at the end of the tunnel. I want to believe that if this document is presented to our members, we are very hopeful it will be given a favourable consideration. Thank you so much.’
Ngige asked: “What then happened? One is therefore forced to ask whether it is a case of weak national leadership on the part of the executive of NARD or an outright sabotage of the efforts of the Buhari administration?”
Adewole, on whose shoulder the health sector rests, however, appealed to the doctors to suspend the strike in the interest of Nigerians who were in need of medical care.
The Health minister in a statement yesterday, gave assurances of the federal government’s commitment to addressing all the issues in contention, saying government needed a little more time to address all the issues.
According to him: “Another round of meeting has been scheduled for Wednesday, September 6, 2017, and it is hoped that more progress would have been made in reaching a consensus on all the issues being discussed,” adding that the Buhari administration was determined to promote industrial harmony in the Health sector.