FG, Health Workers Trade Barbs as Strike Paralyses National Hospital, Others


Senator Iroegbu in Abuja

The Federal Government and the Joint Health Sector Unions have engaged in blame game over who is responsible for the ongoing strike by health workers, which has threatened the lives of Nigerians across the country.

This is coming as activities in the National Hospital Abuja and other secondary health institutions across Nigeria have been paralysed following the industrial action.

Speaking to THISDAY yesterday, the National Chairman of JOHESU, Mr. Biobelemoye Josiah blamed the federal government for insensitivity over the plight of their members.

Josiah singled out the Ministers of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole as well as that of Labour and Employment, Sen. Chris Ngige, as the biggest culprit in the alleged scheme to frustrate efforts of the health workers to get fair treatment.

He accused the duo of Adewole and Ngige of intimidation and discrimination against JEHOSU members instead of engaging the union to resolve the issue.

According to him, the Minister of Health is trying to use divide and rule tactics to break their ranks, but assured listeners that they remain resolute in their quest to get justice.

He said: “To the best of my knowledge, the federal government has failed to reach out to us and the Ministry of Health in its cruelty is now applying the method of intimidation to also divide us but we are not affected.

“Two years ago the Ministry of Health adopted the policy of intimidation of ‘no work, no pay’. As we speak, our members at the FMC Owerri have not been paid for over four months.”

Speaking further, the JOHESU President also said the Ministries are working contrary to the anti-corruption drive of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration that authorised the Whistle-Blower policy.

According to him, some of their members are being punished for exercising the rights of whistle-blower policy to expose the rots in the system.

“They threatened those who want to insist and comply with the whistle-blower policy and isolate them from the others they were able to intimidate. This is simply ‘divide and rule’ tactics but we are not deterred at all,” he said.

On Ngige, he also accused the minister of taking sides with members of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) and ARD over JOHESU

According to Josiah, “the NMA and ARD behave as trade unions and enjoy recognition and patronage of the federal ministry of health and sit with government to negotiate for the federal ministry of labour and employment just because the minister of labour, who should be an arbiter but chooses to close his eyes to such illegality, is himself a medical doctor.”

Against this backdrop, he maintained that the body has the right to embark on strike despite the government’s threat to invoke the ‘no work no pay’ policy.

But speaking to THISDAY on the issue, Ngige blamed the health workers for not following due process and reneging on their agreement.

The minister denied the allegations by JOHESU that the federal government has not been fair on their members, stressing that the strike has been “apprehended”.

“Not true; the federal government has been fair to all. They shouldn’t be on strike now considering the fact we had been apprehended by my ministry”, he said.

Ngige further explained that “when a workers’ Union declares a trade dispute against his employer and we start process of mediation like in this case we have apprehended ‘the strike’.”

Meanwhile, the ongoing industrial action by the health workers has brought most activities to a halt at the National Hospital, University of Abuja Teaching Hospital, and other tertiary health institutions.

THISDAY findings revealed that most of the nurses and other health workers had abandoned their posts and deserted the hospital in compliance with the union directives, with most patients either stranded or turned back.

The hospitals are only making use of auxiliary nurses, Corp Members and Doctors to do all the work.

Speaking to our reporter, the Public Relations Officer (PRO) of National Hospital, Mr. Jacob Haastrup, said they have stopped admitting new patients except on emergency basis.

Haastrup, however, assured that those who have been admitted already or on a scheduled appointment are being attended to with doctors doubling up their efforts.

He said: “All doctors are working seriously. You know we have an active appointment system that ensures that people are being attended to as scheduled.

“Doctors are still seeing patients and doubling their effort but we have started limiting admission of patients. Those who were prescribed some drugs were being advised to purchase outside the hospital as our pharmacies are closed due to the strike,” he said.

But one of the patients, who spoke to THISDAY on the condition of anonymity, complained those of them who were on admission are left frustrated with no one to attend to them.

She lamented that its only student or junior doctors that manages to attend to them once in a while, adding that even some of the emergency wards have been locked up by the striking workers.

“This is frustrating I must tell you. There is no one to attend to us and people are leaving. It’s only junior doctors and all these Corps Members that attend to us once in a while. It is even worse that some of the emergency wards have been closed. What kind of country is this,” she said.

While some hospitals like Asokoro General Hospital and National Hospital seemed to have joined in the strike, others like Wuse General Hospital and Garki General Hospital have decided to carry on with their activities as usual.

Speaking with one of the health workers at Wuse General Hospital, THISDAY gathered that the health workers are of the opinion that FCT shouldn’t be part of the strike.

He further said “those who joined in the strike believed it to be the proper strategy to be employed in getting what they are agitating for”, which include salary adjustment, promotion arrears and improved work environments, among other issues

He however hoped that the government would look into their demands to see how best the situation can be handled.

He said “I also want to appeal to the government to listen to their agitation and request, meet with them and see how they can be appeased with their demands met because, the doctors and dentists alone cannot run the hospital and several lives can be lost by this indefinite strike action.”