THE Nigerian government has not contacted its striking doctors since they proceeded on indefinite strike on April 1, leadership of the medical practitioners told The ICIR on Tuesday, April 6.
Consequently, doctors say the strike will continue as long as government fails to take them and the health sector seriously.
The strike affects at least 74 public hospitals across the nation, including those owned by federal and state governments, crippling services.
Doctors in the country, under the aegis of National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), agreed to down tools over unmet demands by the government, including payment of salaries for house officers who have been owed for three months and resident doctors who are owed between three and six months.
NARD’s decision to embark on strike was contained in a communique issued after its Extra-ordinary National Executive Council Meeting in Abuja on March 28.
Speaking with our reporter on Tuesday April 6, NARD President Uyilawa Okhuaihesuyi said the federal government had not contacted NARD since its members proceeded on strike and had not scheduled a meeting.
At meetings with doctors in the past, the government had been represented by Minister of Labour and Employment Chris Ngige; ministers and other top functionaries of Federal Ministry of Health; Budget Office of the Federation, Head of Civil Service of the Federation, among others.
“The government promised to send NARD leadership an invite. As at today, it has not sent us any invite. We have not seen any invite from the Ministry of Labour (whose responsibility is it to bring aggrieved employees of government for a dialogue),” Okhuaihesuyi said.
He explained that for the first time in the history of NARD, there had been no division among its members. “Every member of NARD is observing the strike,” he said, adding that there were daily feedbacks from each of the affected hospitals, nationwide.
Okhuaihesuyi vowed that the strike would continue as long as government refused to meet doctors’ demands.
NARD is one of the groups through which medical doctors in Nigeria relate with the public and their employers.
Reacting to the fact that NARD goes on strike almost yearly (as it also changes its leadership yearly), Okhuaihesuyi said the recurring strike was because of government negligence of the nation’s health sector for many years and its failure to honour past agreements with the association.
He said the worst part of the failure was refusal by the government to pay salaries of house officers and resident doctors in the country for months.
While appealing for understanding from Nigerians, many of who had been stranded or abandoned at hospitals because of the strike, he said government should be blamed for the crisis.
“You don’t expect a doctor that is hungry, that is not able to pay his house rent, that is not able to pay his children school fees, whose children are sent back home to be able to function properly. Doctors are human beings like any other human beings. You don’t say because I’m a doctor, I should not pay for the house I rent or pay my children school fees because my salary has not been paid,” he stated.
In a report published by The ICIR on Sunday, April 4, the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) countered Ngige for claiming that resident doctors were not paid in the UK and US, but paid in Nigeria. This newspaper proved the minister wrong by citing how resident doctors were paid in the UK and US.
Ngige’s gaffe came after he had threatened the striking doctors with ‘no work, no pay’ on Friday March 2.
The ICIR had reported on Thursday, April 1, how President Muhammadu Buhari relaxed and enjoyed quality, accessible, affordable and uninterrupted health services in London, while doctors in Nigeria grounded the country’s public hospitals.
The ICIR had reported on March 14 how rift between two medical groups in the country denied house officers three months salaries across tertiary health facilities in the country.
One of the doctors is Venatus Okorie, who collapsed at University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital in February this year, after he had reportedly worked uninterruptedly for 72 hours. He confirmed his ordeal to The ICIR in an exclusive report.
NARD embarked on strike twice in 2020, resulting in the Federal Government approving additional N8 billion for hazard allowance and other demands by doctors and other health workers in the country.
Government had, in the past, issued directives to chief medical directors and medical directors of hospitals (as the case may be) to replace striking doctors with corps members and other health workers who did not receive training as doctors.
However, such a directive has not yet been issued in the current circumstance.
Meanwhile, an aide to former President Goodluck Jonathan Reno Omokri has led protests against Buhari at the Abuja House in London, demanding that the president return home to fix his nation’s healthcare.
A pro-government group has also converged on the premises, ‘praying’ for the president.