The reported plan by resident doctors to embark on a nationwide indefinite strike should not be overlooked. The National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) issued a warning more than two weeks ago. They reiterated the warning some weeks after. Concerned citizens and shareholders are saying that it will be unfortunate if the government ignores the warning and allows the threat to become a reality. Such warnings had been neglected on too many occasions until it was too late. It caused avoidable collateral damages.
Nigeria as a country suffers from acute health facility deficiencies and brain drain. A lot of professionals are moving out of the country in droves to countries such as the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, etc. for greener pastures and a more conducive environment. For this reason, a strike action by doctors at this time will undoubtedly cause serious harm to the lives and health of Nigerians, especially the unprivileged. Nigerians are now asking that the government should rise to the occasion and avert the impending strike action in the interest of the general public.
Meeting was scheduled for January 24-28, 2023.
NARD has written to the Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire, advising him of the plan of the association to lead doctors in public health facilities on another round of industrial strike action because of its lingering demands were not addressed. Members of the association in public hospitals reportedly said that its National Executive Council (NEC) meeting was scheduled for January 24-28, 2023 to discuss the issues. The decision to embark on a strike or not will be determined at the meeting.
Issues raised by the letter sent to the Minister of Health and signed by the President of NARD, Dr. Emeka Orji, include: the omitted 2020 MRTF payment; irregularities in the new MRTF circular which is inconsistent with the Medical Residency Training Act; existing Collective Bargaining Agreements; and current economic realities and review of CONMESS salary structure. A copy of the letter tagged “Imminent National Industrial Disharmony in Health Sector: A Matter of Urgent Administrative Importance” was sent to the Senate President, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Director of Budget Office, Chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum, and the Inspector-General of Police, among others.
The government had refused to meet NARD’s demand for a long time.
It was noted that the NARD had issued an ultimatum to the Federal Government six months ago on account of lingering unresolved issues affecting its members, including the irregularities in the new circular on upward review of the Medical Residency Training Fund (MRTF), outstanding payment of the arrears of the new hazard allowance, non-payment of the skipping arrears for 2014, 2015 and 2016. Other demands include the non-payment of the consequential adjustment of minimum wage to some of its members, delay in the upward review of the Consolidated Medical Salary Structure (CONMESS), salary arrears of its members in State Tertiary Health Institutions running into several months, including Abia, Imo, Ondo, Ekiti and Gombe States, and non-domestication of the Medical Residency Training Act (MRTA) in most states across the Federation.
Current problems in contention are not new. They have lingered over the years and have been the source of industrial disharmony in the health sector. Some of them have been on the table since 2013. The Federal Government had on occasions promised to implement the demands of the doctors without fulfilling its promise. As a result, the strike has been recurrent with damaging effects across the country. Unless the government acts proactively on this, Nigeria’s already parlous health care system will receive yet another bashing and the poor citizens who cannot afford the expensive services of private hospitals would be the main victims.
Government should meet with the union to resolve the dispute.
Medical doctors in Nigeria play a crucial role in the health sector. The government at both the state and federal levels should act immediately and avert the threatened strike by urgently meeting with the union to resolve the issues. The government should honorably fulfill its own side of the agreement if it had signed any with the union at any point. There is no excuse that can be given for not meeting the demands of healthcare professionals whose services are crucial to the survival of Nigerians.