The Federal Government on Tuesday initiated moves to arrest the on-going strike by the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) and the planned strike by health workers.
Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige; the Minister of Finance, Hajiya Zainab Ahmed and the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, are expected to meet today with the leaders of NARD and the Nigerian Medical Association(NMA).
The government team will dialogue with the Joint Health Sector Union (JOHESU) on Thursday.
Ngige, said last night: “We are meeting with the leaders of the National association of Resident Doctors(NARD) on Wednesday(today). The Minister of Finance, the Federal Ministry of Health and others will attend the meeting. We have asked them to come with the leaders of the Nigerian Medical Association(NMA), which is their parent body.
“We will also hold another session with JOHESU on Thursday. We cannot afford to allow them to shut down our hospitals.
“Of their eight demands, the government has met six. Two other matters are in court. For instance, the issue of skipping of grades and payment of arrears of skipping were taken to the National Industrial Court(NIC).
“The NIC gave a ruling and there is an appeal on it. All the parties agreed that any matter in court should be allowed to go its full judicial course.
“These associations have no reason to go on strike. It is not necessary, but it is obvious that the boys are playing to the gallery. They are doing it because it is the only way to arm-twist the government. But, we are hopeful that we will resolve the issues by Wednesday. “
The minister gave insights into some of the demands of the doctors and how the Federal Government has addressed them.
He added: “Take the case of payment of hazard allowance. it was the government that offered it proactively. We designed something that is bigger and we agreed to pay three months. We have expended N20billion, but there were some shortfalls which we are addressing.
“The N9.3billion insurance cover is for all Federal Government workers. It is left to them to approach the relevant insurance firms to make their claims.
“The government has also directed the Nigerian Social Insurance Trust Fund(NSITF) to take action in respect of accidents in the course of work.
“The area of those who retired during the COVID period being taken in is also taken care of. This is why we asked them to come with the NMA leaders to meet with us. There is no basis for this strike.”
The minister added: “The issue of residency training programme and allowances is a big privilege. There is N4billion in the Revised COVID Programme for residency training and it is being processed. In fact, it is at the level of cash backing.
“I am not happy with them because the issues raised did not warrant strike in view of what the government has done. We have kept faith with them on all their demands. They should not toy with the lives of millions of Nigerians. We appeal to them to shelve the action.”
President of NARD, Dr. Aliyu Sokomba, who confirmed the meeting, said: “We have received a notice of invitation for a meeting scheduled for tomorrow (today). We are looking forward to the meeting and we hope that at the meeting, the issues we have will be addressed and we will go back to work and continue seeing our patients in earnest.
“What we presented before the government are issues that we cannot do without them being addressed. We have a barrage of demands, but we have reduced all of that to basically four demands. All of these four demands are quite important on their own merit.
“First is the provision of life insurance; there is already a legal framework for that. They are already in existence, but we only need the government to implement. Surprisingly, all our demands are those that even the government on their own had come to terms with their genuineness, and all that is required to do is to implement.
“The life insurance is what we are asking that they implement. The resident training funding is already captured in the budget as proposed by the Medical Residency Training Act. There is already a lot supporting the Act, but we are only asking that government implements.”
Sokomba added: “The COVID-19 hazard allowance was proposed by the government on their own. All we demand at that point is that we want our hazard allowance to be reviewed from the N5,000, which is what we have been collecting for the past 30 years. Senator Ngige himself confirmed that when he was working with the Civil Service, that was the amount that he was collecting far back in 1991. We are only asking that it be reviewed.
“These are concerns that any right-thinking person will not wait for us to demand and proceed on strike before addressing. We are not going to take any promises this time around, unfortunately. But we will just go to the meeting with open minds and hope that they make reasonable proposals. Of course, we are just messengers; whatever they propose, we will take back to our members for deliberation.”
“We have resumed the suspended strike, which we embarked on in June. We suspended the strike in order to give the government time to assess our concerns. Unfortunately, they failed to do so.”
The NARD President said the suspension of the strike then was in deference to the intervention of Speaker of the House of Representatives Femi Gbajabiamila and Secretary to the Government of the Federation Boss Mustapha ,and other respected Nigerians.
Sokomba reiterated that his members were compelled to resume the strike due to government’s failure to meet their demands after wasting a grace of 10 weeks.
“They have not made PPE available in various institutions across the country; we don’t have life insurance and our residency programme has not been funded since last year,” he said.
To address protracted crisis foisted by irregular funding of residency programme, Nigeria enacted the Medical Residency Training Act of 2017, which was signed into law on 26 June 2018 by President Muhammadu Buhari. Among other things, the Act seeks to relieve the public hospitals from funding residency training, which many tertiary health facilities used to pay haphazardly from their internally generated revenue, and place the burden on the shoulders of governments at the state and federal levels.
Sokombo said the Federal Government has not implemented it since last year, despite budgetary provisions for same last year and this year.
Families have been moving their sick out of the University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, following the doctors’ strike, which entered the second day on Tuesday.
Private hospitals have been benefitting from the situation.
Mr Tunji Lana told our reporter that his family moved their sick members to Halafia Hospital because of the ongoing strike.