The National Association of Resident Doctors’ of Nigeria (NARD) on Monday, commenced a nationwide strike after the expiration of its 14-day ultimatum. Prominent Nigerians had made clarion calls to the Union to rescind its decision to go on strike. All appeals fell on deaf ears.
Among those who made the appeal were the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, Minister of Health, Dr Ehanire and other stakeholders.
The President of NARD, Dr Aliyu Sokomba, while addressing Newsmen in Abuja on Monday, affirmed that the strike would not only going ahead, but was binding on all resident doctors, medical officers below the rank of Principal Medical Officer (PMO), and House Officers across the Federal and State Hospitals in the country.
He, however, noted that the Union had decided to exempt its members working in various COVID-19 isolation and treatment centres across the country, for the first two weeks, after which they will join the industrial action.
According to Sokomba, the exemption was made in recognition of the intervention of Hon. Tanko Sanunu, Chairman House Committee on Health Services, other stakeholders and a demonstration of NARD goodwill to the country. He added that the Union reached the decision to embark on the strike at its extra-ordinary National Executive Council meeting held last Sunday in Lagos to review the 14-day ultimatum it earlier issued. Sokomba noted that despite series of meetings between the doctors and the Federal Government in the last two weeks, several issues remained unresolved.
Some of these issues according to him include non-payment of special allowances for the resident doctors, the deplorable state of hospitals and the lack of protective equipment for members of the Union treating COVID-19 patients leading to the death of some doctors in recent times.
The doctors are also asking for universal implementation of the Medical Residency Training Act in all Federal and State Hospitals and ensuring pay parity among doctors of equal cadre, provision of funding of medical residency training in the 2021 Appropriation Bill, as well as the implementation of the revised hazard and payment of agreed COVID-19 inducement allowances.
The striking Doctors are also demanding for stoppage and immediate refund of all “illegal, unjust and callous cut in salaries” of members by some state governments.
In a response to the doctors’ petition, Speaker Gbajabiamila had expressed surprise over their insistence on the industrial action, after what he thought was a successful meeting between the Union, the two ministers manning the Ministry of Health, and stakeholders from the National Assembly last Tuesday.
He noted that some measures had been taken to meet their demands, and specifically referred to the sum of N4 billion approved by the National Assembly recently for the funding of residency programme as provided for by the Medical Residency Training Act.
On the issue of a template for implementation, Gbajabiamila directed that an emergency meeting with the National Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission be held on Monday, June 15, to produce a template within the next 48 hours.
He had also promised that the House would come up with a law to back the payment of hazard allowance and define the same for clarity. He assured them at the meeting that the resident doctors’ training would be captured in the 2021 budget whether or not it is included by the Executive in the ministry’s budget.
With the steps taken, the Speaker further appealed to the Union to suspend their action for a while as the government speeds up the process of meeting their demands.
Although some of the doctors’ reasons for going on strike are cogent, we wish to appeal to them to give the Speaker Hon, Gbajabiamila who appears to have been acting as an intermediary in this unfolding crisis, the benefit of the doubt. He has so far acted decently and conscientiously and we have reasons to distrust him. With the nation witnessing spiraling rise in the COVID-19 cases, all hands must be on deck to ensure Nigeria successfully joined the rest of the world to tackle this global pandemic.
The issue of protective equipment and necessary allowances for medical officers treating COVID-19 patients raised by the Union should be given immediate priority. However, no matter how plausible the Resident Doctors reason may appear , the timing of the strike makes it insensitive, uncaring and on the whole unacceptable, especially with the health crisis facing the country and the world as a whole as a result of COVID-19.