By Omololu Ogunmade
The federal government yesterday took a decisive step to end the strike action embarked upon by the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), releasing N4.5 billion to 31 Tederal Teaching and Medical Centres across the country.
Consequently, the government which explained that the release would cover payment for hazard and inducement allowances for the month of April and May added that June allowances would follow.
The government which appealed to the doctors to resume work to save the lives of several Nigerians battling COVID-19 and other diseases added that it had also organised a meeting between the doctors and state governors with optimism that the strike action would be called off soon.
Briefing newsmen in the State House yesterday, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, said the meeting between the governors and doctors had become compelling because the governors also had their own obligations to fulfil in the doctors’ demands.
NARD had embarked on an industrial action at the weekend to pursue its demands for shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and poor remuneration for its members who are at the forefront of the fight against COVID-19 pandemic.
Ngige, who was flanked by the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire and the Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Mr. Festus Keyamo, made the disclosure after a meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari.
“Just this morning, before we went to see Mr. President, the Ministry of Finance reported that as at this morning, 3a.m., they have paid the allowances for hazard and inducement to 31 Teaching and Federal Medical Centres and Specialist Hospitals of the federal government service and they have expended close to N4.5 billion in the payment because, we are paying them the arrears of April and May. The payment for June will also be done immediately these ones are sorted out.
“Again, it’s important to report to you that in consonance with what he’s saying, we have arranged a meeting for them to speak to the Nigerian Governors’ Forum because you don’t mix apples and oranges. The issue of health is on the concurrent list, so the federal government will do its own and the state government will be expected to do their own. Some of their grievances border on what they feel the state governments have not done,” he said.
Buttressing Ngige’s remarks, Ehanire who said they briefed the President on matters arising from the strike action, disclosed that Buhari was not happy that situations got to this level, explaining however, that all the demands of the doctors from the federal government had been met.
He said the only outstanding demands were those that are not within the purview of the federal government, pointing out that though the Ministry of Health could assist the doctors to explain their plights to the state governments, it had no power to compel them to meet such demands.
While appealing to the medical personnel to have faith in the federal government, Ehanire said the Ministry of Health would handle issues bordering on discipline, assuring that the current federal government would live up to their expectations.
He said: “We hope that there is a solution in sight. What we have done is to brief the president of the country, who as we all know, has the final responsibility for everything that goes on in government. Those of us who are ministers administer our ministries and have to report to him periodically.
“In this particular case, it has been important to report to him how things have been because of the strike action of resident doctors. We have to report to him the implications and the possible consequences of such a strike action.
“He listened to us carefully. Of course, he is not happy that it has come this way and we all hope that it would be resolved after all the demands that were made have been resolved. The Minister of Labour has listed those demands and how all of them have been fulfilled except those of them which are not within our ambit. If the association of resident doctors has quarrel with a state government, the ministry can put in a word for them but we cannot order any state to do anything.
“All those things that have to do with disciplinary action within the Ministry of Health will be attended to and what we have also urged the resident doctors to do is to have some trust in the system. This is a government, a regime that has always lived up to its expectations and always met its promise, and not to lump all regimes together in one box.”
Answering questions on the ongoing strike action by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), the Minister of Labour urged the striking lecturers to embrace Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) pending the resolutions of issues bordering on the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS).
According to him, the lecturers could migrate to UTAS the same way they moved into the Nigerian University Pension Management Company (NUPEMCO) after it was licensed to operate by the National Pension Commission (PenCom).
The federal government and ASUU had in March, agreed to find ways of reconciling the two salary payment platforms – IPPIS and UTAS – but there are still conflicts on terms on reconciliation, resulting in the ongoing strike action.