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The president gave the assurance after meeting the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) in Abuja on Friday, according to a statement released by his Senior Special Assistant on Media & Publicity Garba Shehu.
The NMA is the parent association of NARD. The group has led the campaign for an amicable resolution of NARD’s feud with the government since the association embarked on strike on August 2.
President Muhammadu Buhari told the NMA, led by its President Innocent Ujah, that the doctors should have exercised more patience to negotiate more with the government before embarking on the strike.
He also called on members of the Joint Health Sectors Union (JOHESU), who had issued a 15-day strike notice to the government, to rethink its decision.
According to the president, health professionals should consider the lives lost during a strike and help the government to protect people’s lives.
He urged NARD to return to work while the government implemented its agreement with the doctors.
“The lives of citizens that could be lost or damaged when doctors withdraw services are precious enough to be worth opting for peaceful resolution of differences,” Buhari was quoted as saying.
He added that “protecting our citizens is not to be left to government alone, but taken as a collective responsibility, in which especially medical professionals play a critical role.
“Let me speak directly to the striking doctors. Embarking on industrial action at this time when Nigerians need you most is not the best action to take, no matter the grievances.”
He said his administration had a good track record of paying all debts owed to government workers, pensioners and contractors, including those owed by his predecessor.
Buhari said the government was already addressing some of the 12 points demand by NARD, noting that the parties had not fully negotiated the new hazard allowance demanded by the doctors because of the ‘sharp and deep division within the ranks of the striking doctors.’
The doctors had complained that they only got N5,000 monthly as hazard allowance while federal lawmakers received at least N1.2 million monthly.
President Buhari said another demand by NARD – the outstanding issue of an establishment circular issued by the head of service which removed house officers, NYSC doctors from scheme of service – had an addendum circular from National Salaries and Wages Commission to clarify that they would continue to earn the wages attached to them on their present wage structure.
He promised that all outstanding benefits owed medical doctors would be cleared after verifications.
The president pleaded for understanding from the doctors following what he described as dwindling revenues of the government.
He vowed that the agreement reached at the meetings between NARD, Minister of Labour and Productivity Chris Ngige and other government representatives on August 20 and 21 would be ‘religiously implemented.’
The president also urged the doctors to continue to offer their best to support the government fight against COVID-19, other diseases and improvement of the nation’s health system.
The ICIR reports that the president had overruled Ngige after threatening to sack the doctors and engage what he described as ‘local doctors.’
The parlance is unknown to the medical profession and the nation’s health care system. There is also no educational institution in Nigeria to train such persons.
Doctors in the country have widely criticised Ngige’s stance on their demands and issues that could improve health services in the country.
A medical doctor, Ngige held leadership positions in the Federal Ministry of Health before retiring and joining politics.
The Federal Government had, through Ngige and the Federal Ministry of Health Osagie Ehanire, dragged NARD to the National Industrial Court of Nigeria to compel the doctors to go back to work.
Despite the court’s ruling ordering NARD back to work, the doctors have remained adamant and continued with the strike.
Ngige has argued, among others, that the doctors were asking too much from the government after studying with taxpayers’ money.
NARD President Uyilawa Okhuaihesuyi had repeatedly told The ICIR that his group would not return to work until the government met its demands.
Nigeria has continued to battle with the challenges posed by COVID-19, cholera and other killer diseases as the strike lingers.