Resident doctors: One strike too many

The current strike embarked upon by the doctors makes it the second time that they will go on strike this year. In April, this year, their strike lasted for 10 days and this month, the industrial action is on-going. TOPE SUNDAY in this piece takes a look at development .

The strike

The current industrial action by the medical doctors practising in the nation’s state-run hospitals began on August 2, because of pay, insurance benefits and poor facilities, this came as at the time that the country faces a third wave of coronavirus. According to the President, Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), Dr. Uyilawa Okhuaihesuyi, the inability of the federal government to implement the agreements it entered with the union 113 days after it suspended the previous strike as a reason for the industrial action, necessitated the strike.

Other reasons for the strike according to the NARD boss include the poor working environment in public hospitals, irregular payment of doctors’ salaries and hazard allowances of N5, 000 which was reviewed last in 1991.

“We ask Nigerians when our government will become responsible enough to solve the challenges facing the health sector. Even with all these problems, only four per cent of the total budget is allocated to the health sector, while 25-50 per cent goes into payment of those in power. That shows that priority lies more in the interest of those in power than Nigerian citizens.

“While we apologise to Nigerians for the impact of the impending strike on them, we want the government to implement all the agreements we have had with them for over a decade standing to improve the health sector and doctors welfare,” he said.

Govt’s angle

However, the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, who spoke in Abuja at a media briefing, described the strike as “a big mistake” and urged them to return to work on Friday, adding that it portrayed them in bad light, especially as the country struggles to check the third wave and the Delta strain of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ehanire, who also said innocent Nigerians should not be put at risk because of money-related issues, especially as efforts were being made to address them, added that doctors should not work at cross purposes with the government and defeat each other’s efforts at providing effective healthcare for Nigerians.

The minister added that most of the issues about the strike concerned states and not the federal government, stating that the strike shocked the government because efforts to address the doctors’ demands were ongoing and called for dialogue to resolve the matter.

The issues for states to address, he said, include the salary arrears owed resident doctors in state hospitals; domestication of Medical Residency Training Act (MRTA) by state governments; speedy release of MRTA-approved funds by states; Minimum Wage-Adjusted CONMESS 2019; payment of Covid-19 inducement allowance by states; accreditation of unaccredited departments in states’ training institutions; and central posting of house officers in states’ institutions. On the doctors’ demand for hazard allowance, he said the federal government had set aside a lump sum for payment to its health workers.

Strike ill-timed?

In Nigeria, today, two major diseases/ pandemics are ravaging the country and they are taking their tolls on it. Covid-19 and cholera are reportedly two of the killers’ diseases in the country. According to reports, as of July 11, 2021, a total of 19,305 suspected cases including 479 deaths were reported from 18 states and FCT (Benue, Delta, Zamfara, Gombe, Bayelsa, Kogi, Sokoto, Bauchi, Kano, Kaduna, Plateau, Kebbi, Cross River, Niger, Nasarawa, Jigawa, Yobe, Kwara and FCT) since the beginning of 2021.

Also, as of August 6, a total number of 176,577 coronavirus cases were reported, out of which 2,178 deaths were recorded, while 165,323 recovered from the pandemic.

While Nigerians are not challenging the doctors’ rights to embark on strike, its timing, according to some of them, is not in the interest of the poor.

According to a facebook user, Adeoye Adefisayo Olufemi, doctors swore an oath to save lives, arguing that doctors in other climes are preventing the spread of the pandemic in their countries.

He said: “Doctors going on strike is against the ethics and oaths of their profession. Except fake doctors, before receiving their certificates, they all swore to an oath to save lives, but telling those handling Covid-19 vaccination to join the strike is like allowing the spread of the disease to kill more Nigerians. Others are preventing the spread in their countries; we are forcing ours to join the strike. What is the difference in how our government and the doctors handle things?”

For Isaiah Abiola Adeboye, they should pity the innocent Nigerians because of what he called bad leaders, saying, “Doctors should please pity innocent Nigerians, realising that we don’t have “humane leaders.” So, you can see we’re in this together until God delivers us from their hands.”

Another user, Adax Slak, queried the rationale behind the strike, and cautioned that the strike if not called off may result in huge losses.

“What do you intend to achieve or are you hired killers? When the economy of the whole world is facing a crisis resulting from Covid-19; that is when you deem it proper to make your demands and enforce it through loss of lives’’, he said.

Knocks, appeals

A social media user, Alhaji Abdul Fatai Oladepo, blamed the government for the strike , stating that if it had responded to the doctors’ demands on time, they wouldn’t have embarked on the industrial action and cautioned the striking doctors to be cautious in handling the matter.
“When ASUU went on strike for a whole academic session last year. What did they achieve in comparison with monumental loss by millions of the Nigerian students? Strikes have become the order of the day in the country, whereas it is supposed to be the last resort, if not the deaf and dump government that we have. However, in the interest of the masses, unions are advised to be cautious in handling strike matters,” he said.

Another user, Michael Shina Martins, said: “These politicians should stop being wicked, greedy and selfish. They collect their own huge salaries, allowances and pensions timely and without stress; yet they deprive a critical sector like the health sector of proper and timely remuneration simply because they can travel abroad for their own healthcare needs. This is absolute wickedness and selfishness.”
But Chadwick Aghogho queried why the government did not attend to the doctors’ demands before they proceeded on the strike.
“What baffles me much with this government is that when these various associations/unions give the government notices of strike, it looks the other way until the strike actions take place; that is when you will see the government coming on air to threaten. Why don’t they do the needful before it gets to the point of strike? Maybe they think all unions are like NLC which barks but cannot bite!’’