For spurning all entreaties by government and eminent Nigerians to call off their indefinite strike, the federal government has reacted to the insensitivity of doctors by sacking them en-masse and suspending residency programmes in its hospitals
| By Chinwe Okafor | Sep. 1, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT
WAS the federal government’s decision to sack resident doctor on Thursday, August 14, rational? This decision has continued to generate criticisms among the health workers in the country. Resident doctors in most states in the south west zone, on Monday, August 18, embarked on peaceful protests to further show their dissatisfaction over the recent suspension of residency programmes for doctors in federal health institutions across the country.
Tope Ojo, NMA chairman, Lagos chapter, said that the protests held at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LUTH, was geared at making the federal government reverse its decision. Also, Bamidele Betiku, Ondo state chairman of the association, said the decision of the federal government would make the country lack specialised doctors and make adequate healthcare delivery elusive to the masses.
Betiku lamented that the country’s medical sector was bedeviled with many challenges ranging from poor funding and lack of commitment on the part of the policy makers in the country. He, however, noted that the protesting doctors did not embark on the action only because of what they would get, but to ensure that the health system of the country was improved upon for the benefit of the people.
Speaking in the same vein, Muideen Olatuji, chairman of NMA in Oyo State, said the government’s action was condemnable, as it reflected traits of bad governance. He called on Nigerians to talk to the government to do what is right, saying the strike had continued to take its toll on Nigerians. Meanwhile, the NMA in Ogun State, has described the sack as suicidal and illegal. Olubunmi Odewabi, state chairman of the association, said the body was totally against the action of the government, arguing that the development was unacceptable to them.
“We are protesting the decision of the federal government against the health sector in Nigeria. Suspending residency training indefinitely is suicidal not only to the doctors but to Nigerians. Abolishing specialists training is not acceptable. We are against it. We are going to use all we have to stand against it. We are acting under the instruction of the national body to embark on this peaceful protest,” he said
Kayode Obembe, president of the NMA, said there was no way the resident doctors would accept their sack. He urged all doctors not to pick their letters at their respective hospitals. “NMA condemns in totality the alleged presidential directive via the Federal Ministry of Health suspending Residency Training Programme in Nigeria. NMA demands the immediate withdrawal of the suspension circular and an unconditional reinstatement of the so-called sacked resident doctors.
“Government should show commitment on its part in resolving the current impasse with the NMA rather than resorting to punitive measures that will only further aggravate the already deplorable situation,” he said. Obembe reiterated that the association would not suspend its industrial action unless government met its 24-point demand, adding that all attempts by the government to break the ranks of the association would be resisted.
But, Isiaka Yusuf, deputy director of press, federal ministry of health, who announced the suspension of the Residency Training programme, said it would be suspended pending when all challenges in the health sector would have been addressed. “The public could recall that the protracted strike action by members of the NMA has brought untold hardship to innocent members of the society who were in need of medical care. The NMA made good its threat of 11th June 2014 by calling out its members on industrial action on the 1st of July despite the federal government’s successive intervention meetings and dialogues including extensive deliberations with the leadership of the NMA on 25th and 26th June 2014, where agreements were reached on each of the 24 demands and an MoU was signed by both parties.
“In the midst of the strike action, the federal government had also cultivated the attention and intervention of some eminent personalities in order to prevail on the NMA leadership to respect the ethics of their profession and end the strike whilst the dialogue is ongoing. These personalities included the governor of Delta State, the secretary to Government of the Federation, members of the National Assembly especially the Senate and House Committees on Heath respectively, the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Chairman, National Salaries, Income and Wages Commission, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Public Affairs, the Honourable Ministers of Health, Labour and Productivity, the Honourable Minister of State for Health, Presidents and Registrars of the National Postgraduate Medical College of Nigeria, the West African College of Physicians and West African College Surgeons, traditional rulers, eminent and senior members of the medical profession and past executives of the NMA were also involved.
“It should be stressed that the Federal Government has implemented more than 90 percent of its responsibilities as signed by both parties. At the conclusion of each meeting, the NMA promised to call off the strike but would return another day to say that they could not. For the whole of July 2014, these doctors did not work yet government, owing to the emergency situation in our country, paid them the July salaries with allowances such as call duty allowance, teaching allowance, hazard allowance, etc. believing that this magnanimity of government would appeal to reason for the NMA to call off the strike.
“This strike action can be considered as one of the most insensitive steps to be taken by any association or a labour union in the history of this country. Pertinent to the issue under discussion are the current security challenges in the country with the attendant mass casualties. The situation has been compounded by the recent importation of Ebola Virus Disease into Nigeria on July 20, 2014. Following the Presidential declaration of a National Public Health Emergency on Ebola Disease, which has united the entire country in the efforts to contain the disease, it is quite regrettable that the people who should take leadership role in the fight against Ebola disease are now the most unsupportive.
“All efforts by the government to contain this disease are being frustrated by the continued industrial strike action of the NMA. The Federal Government has therefore decided that Residency Training Programme in Federal Government Hospitals be suspended pending the conclusion of the ongoing appraisal of the challenges in the health sector. This directive is without prejudice to any emergency measure that may be necessary for the hospital management to immediately restore full medical services. The federal government wishes to reassure the public that optimal medical health care delivery will be sustained in our hospitals,” he said.