When the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), for the umpteenth time, embarked on an industrial action over age-long unresolved issues between the association and the federal government, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila swung into action by engaging the group on the way out. JOSHUA EGBODO writes on how the intervention has yet, put the expected strike on hold
The NARD members had on April 1, 2021 embarked on an indefinite strike, making some demands, which included non-payment of house officers, abolishment of bench fees, non-payment of national minimum wage, salary shortfall for 2014, 2015 and 2016, residency training allowance, and payment of resident doctors on GIFMIS platform.
Chiefly, the issues in contention between NARD and the federal government revolve around nonpayment of house officers salaries, as well as erroneous deduction from emoluments as rent, which the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the association insisted must be refunded to the affected members.
Another was the case of failure in payments to some of its members, while others were paid severally, as the association argued that the payments of salaries to its members was a far cry from reality, as some are still in anguish from the failure of payment synchrony by the IPPIS, Budget Office, and the Federal Ministry of Health as it were. Its NEC therefore demanded that that those erroneously paid should make refunds to the account number provided for that purpose, so that those affected can be paid.
While seeking payment of arrears of consequential adjustment of the minimum wage, the association also wanted arrears of salary shortfalls of five years paid to its affected members, as it frowned at the delay tactics employed by the Federal Ministry of Health over the matter, even as hazard allowance to its members was named as another contentious matter.
Gbajabiamila stepped in
Armed with the unresolved issues after a long period of waiting for the government to act on the earlier agreements reached, the association hinted on its intention to down tools, amidst experts’ concerns that the nation’s health system had been under serious challenge, and worsened by the outbreak of Covid-19.
Apparently, out of similar concerns, Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila moved in by inviting the national leadership of NARD and relevant actors of the federal government, and during his meetings with the stakeholders, last of which held on May 4, far reaching understanding was reached.
Promised suspension of planned strike
From the exhaustive meeting with the speaker, NARD came out with an initial hint that it was ready to suspend its planned resumption of strike on Friday, May 7, however with a caveat that that would be as soon as its members got payment for their salary arrears.
They took the position after the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, said funds were available for the payment, assuring that her ministry would pay immediately a verified list of the beneficiaries was received. The move got a boost when the Director-General of the Budget Office, Mr Ben Akabueze, who was one of the stakeholders at the meeting, confirmed that his office was in receipt of the said list, prompting the minister to give her words that payment would be made by May 7.
At the end of the meeting, all the issues presented by the doctors were resolved, except that of salary shortfall for 2014, 2015 and 2016. The issue involves all health workers with a cost implication of about N23 billion, which the Minister of State for Health, Sen. Olorunnimbe Mamora, described as “huge and complicated”.
In what to many Nigerians came as a sigh of relief, NARD through its national leadership on Monday, May 10, 2021 issued a media briefing in which it commended Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila on his intervention, alongside other leaders of the House of Representatives, a move that saw its decision to shelve the planned resumption of a nationwide strike action.
The association, which expressed satisfaction with Gbajabiamila’s efforts, said on Monday that any further actions in relation to the strike would await the outcome of the Ordinary General Meeting of the association to be held in three weeks in Awka, the Anambra State capital, stressing that it had reviewed all the actions taken so far by the government to address the demands of NARD, commending notable Nigerians, particularly the Speaker, for their fence-mending efforts.
The resident doctors recalled after the latest strike was suspended based on the immediate intervention of Gbajabiamila, that “the Speaker visited our National Secretariat on April 13, the first time by any top government official of his status, being the Number 4 Citizen, where he promised to see to it that our demands were met before May 7.
“True to his word, the Speaker summoned a meeting on April 29 where officials from the Federal Ministry of Health, Federal Ministry of Finance, Federal Ministry of Labour, the Budget Office of the Federation, Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN), Committee of Chief Medical Directors (CMDs), among others, were in attendance.
“The speaker deserves special commendation for this uncommon interest he has shown not just in the affairs affecting the Association, but for the promotion of healthcare delivery in the country”.
The association in the document jointly signed by the President, Dr Uyilawa Okhuaihesuyi; the Secretary-General, Dr Jerry Isogun; and the Publicity/Social Secretary, Dr Dotun Osikoya, added that as a result of the Speaker’s directive, a follow-up meeting was held on May 4 to review the ultimatum issued by NARD and the steps taken by the government to meet the demands, explaining that the NEC, rising from that meeting, sat to review the outcome and gave a detailed update on the actions taken on the contentious issues. “A final decision will be taken at NARD’s Ordinary General Meeting in Awka in three weeks”, it said.
Beyond NARD’s specific commendations to Gbajabiamila, who had since assuming office, been on the issue of the resident doctors to ensure planned strikes were averted, health sector pundits have also expressed appreciation over the way and manner he had succeeded in preventing industrial actions by the doctors, especially in a period that the world is doing its best to encourage frontline workers in the sector, with the ravaging effect of the novel corona virus.
To such analysts, the move got the doctors to be on the side of the helpless citizens, and it could only be a keep it up message to the speaker and other leaders in such capacity, with high hopes that all issues in contention will, at this time be fully addressed, and threats of strike by the doctors permanently rested.