Doctos’ strike: Wake up from slumber, PGF boss slams Ngige, Keyamo

Director General of the Progressive Governors Forum (PGF) Salihu Moh Lukman, has slammed Nigerian Ministers of Labour and Employment Chris Ngige and Festus Keyamo over their inability to prevent the ongoing indefinite strike by the the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD).

On August 2, 2021, NARD began indefinite nationwide strike over demands for improved conditions, payment of salaries ranging between two to nineteen months by some state governments, failure to domesticate Medical Residency Training (MRT) Act 2017 in states, among others.

Less than four months back, between April 1 and 10, 2021, the Resident Doctors were on strike over the same issues and the strike was called off following a memorandum of understanding signed by the federal government and the leadership of the NARD led by Dr. Uyilawa Okhuaihesuyi.

Responding to the development through a statement released to newsmen Sunday in Abuja, the PGF boss also described as “scandalous that the agitation by the leaders of NARD is not about qualitatively reviewing those conditions that goes beyond cheap Naira and Kobo negotiations.”

According to the APC chieftain, the two ministers of Labour and Employment have been ineffective in discharging their duties.

“It is quite frustrating, when political appointees, such as Ministers of Labour and Health are unable to proactively pre-empt strikes of health workers in the country. As loyal members of APC, being the governing party, we must appeal to our Ministers of Labour and Health to wake up to their responsibility and end this political embarrassment coming with huge cost to lives to citizens.

“It is scandalous that the agitation by the leaders of NARD is not about qualitatively reviewing those conditions that goes beyond cheap Naira and Kobo negotiations. Eventually, no doubt, everything comes down to Naira and Kobo. But there are provisions with very high monetary value, which may not cost a dime to government.

“For instance, assuming that being a Resident Doctor or a health worker in a state government establishment qualifies one to be on priority list for land allocation for the purpose of building personal accommodation. Also, assuming state governments can facilitate financing arrangement with banks to NARD and other organisations of health workers for their members with valid Certificate of Occupancy to build personal accommodations. There are so many non-monetary incentives, which have very high monetary value to the beneficiaries that can be arranged.

“Sadly, both governments and leaders of workers organisations in these essential service sectors are locked in the limited negotiations of monetary awards, which at best whittled down the profile of a very special category of an important sector such as health, which is required to provide uninterrupted services dearly needed by all citizens for our survival and wellbeing.”

Lukman said the challenge before the nation is not about lamentation but creatively finding solutions, wondering why some Nigerians could easily justify why strike actions were taking place in essential service sectors such as health.

He added the need to appeal to all Nigerians, not just political leaders, “to all take steps to stop the current madness in the country whereby we can resort to actions that consume human lives.

“If the argument is that we have problems created by our political leaders, we should ask the question, is our actions solving the problem or creating new ones?

“When one listen to arguments canvassed by leaders of workers’ organisation in Nigeria, including NLC and NARD, all that one hears is the display of raw power with hardly any empirical or conceptual evidence highlighting a vision of how the problems we face as a nation can be solved.

“Rather than providing a roadmap of how problems can be solved, ego and loud voices of people who can best qualify for some physical contests with supposed opponnents have become the main attributes. Any opinion to the contrary is condemned and dismissed. This is the new face of leaders’ workers organisations in Nigeria. Street protests and strikes ahead of any negotiations are now very common.”

The PGF boss, however emphasised the need to reorient the practice of labour relations in Nigeria, saying a situation whereby because citizens are angry with government and political leaders, essential services are withdrawn, and lives of citizens cheaply sacrificed must stop.

“Ministers of Labour, Health and all stakeholders must as a matter of urgency lock themselves in the most qualitative form of negotiations with all workers in the health sector to restore some minimum standards in the sector. This is not simply about negotiating terms and conditions of services of health workers in the country. It more about creatively ensuring that these are sectors that are essential services sectors with commensurate benefits that is beyond monetary provisions.

“Similarly, Nigerians must appeal to the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria to take all the necessary measures to restore ethical conducts of all its registered members. A situation where conducts of medical practitioners, being also members of trade unions, conflict with the Code of Ethics they subscribed to must be resolved in favour of protecting the lives of Nigerians. Under no circumstance should a registered medical doctor who is a member of the Medical and Dental Council conduct himself or herself in manners that neglect the primary responsibility of attending to sick persons in Nigerian hospitals.

“In the end, priority attention must be given to the issue of redefining Nigerian federalism to ensure that labour issues, including negotiations for wages and terms of conditions of services and resolving all challenges that come with it are moved to the concurrent list of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution as amended. A situation whereby terms agreed with Federal Government are used for state government employees will always create problems of implementation. State governments need to be more creative to introduce new incentives, which are not monetary but perhaps having higher monetary values than what obtains in federal establishments. There is a wide scope for initiatives beyond the question of monetary value of employment.”