Government must endeavour to keep to terms of mutual agreements
From the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) to the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) to the Joint Health Sector Union (JOHESU) to the Nigerian Union of Allied Health Professionals (NUAHP) and others, perhaps the only regular news from them in recent years was that of strikes. Apparently taking inspiration from the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), those who should attend to the medical needs of Nigerians almost always stay away from work. Yet, the cost of these incessant strikes on human lives can only be appreciated if figures of the dead are computed across the nation. They must be in their thousands.
Unfortunately, the situation has refused to abate. Last week, NARD again ordered its members to withdraw their services from 25 tertiary medical facilities across the country. According to NARD President, Dr. Muhammed Adamu Askira, the decision became inevitable because of a breach in the agreement reached with the federal government following the suspension of an earlier strike. “Based on intervention and our genuine act of patriotism, we accepted to suspend the indefinite strike for negotiation to resume,” said Askira. “Based on our negotiations, we agreed that our members would not be victimised and those unduly sacked would be reinstated. We also agreed that payment of the arrears of our remuneration would commence latest end of July. As we speak, 25 out of about 54 branches are yet to start. Our members have not been reinstated.”
We consider this development to be very unfortunate even as we call on the federal government to move in quickly to resolve whatever the issues are. If they reached agreements with NARD members, they should endeavour to meet such commitments in the interest of the people. And if for any reason they find it difficult meeting such obligations, they have to go back to the health practitioners to explain and probably seek a renegotiation.
Healthcare delivery is critical to the well-being of any society. Yet if the authorities in Nigeria understand this, they have not demonstrated it given the manner in which they have over the years dealt with this issue. More unfortunate still is the fact that most of the strikes which usually result in high death tolls could have been averted if the authorities had been more proactive and had embarked on genuine dialogue with health practitioners who themselves are also sometimes culpable. For instance, members of some of these associations had on several times gone on strike over issues that bordered on their competition with medical doctors.
We believe that as much as medical practitioners reserve the right to demand for improved welfare packages for their members, it is also incumbent on them to consider the plight of patients across the hospitals before they embark on their usual muscle flexing. There should be other mechanisms for addressing grievances without turning our hospitals to death chambers as they have become in recent years. If the interest of Nigerians is topmost on the agenda, the best way to demonstrate it cannot be through staying away from work.
However, a fact we also cannot ignore is that government, at practically all levels in Nigeria, pays little or no attention to workers in critical sectors and it is notorious for violating mutual agreements. The lingering strike is partly the result of non-implementation of collective bargain agreement and Memoradum of Understanding between the unions and the federal government. But it is also not in the interest of our country that these unions would be alternating strikes which often lead to the death of ordinary citizens who patronise public health facilities. The federal government must find a way to put an end to incessant strikes that take heavy toll on human lives.