Season Of Strikes

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The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) is on strike to press home their demands from the federal government. The implication is that all academic activities in the tertiary institutions are, by that move, crippled and brought to a halt. The government is yet to sought out the issues involved as the lecturers hold on tenaciously to their position. Meanwhile, the students and their parents are left wandering what happens next.

Now, the resident doctors who form the bulwark of the nation’s healthcare delivery system are flexing muscles. The National Executive Committee, NEC, of the National Association of Resident Doctors, NARD, rising from a marathon meeting recently, voted for a total and indefinite strike as a result of what they claim to be government’s failure to pay salary shortfall of 2016 and January to May 2017 and failure to rectify the salary shortfall from August 2017, as well as inability to circularize House Officers’ entry point.

The Minister of Health, Prof Isaac Adewole and his Labour and Employment counterpart, Senator Chris Ngige, were reported to have met with the resident doctors to find a middle ground on the issues at stake so as not to paralyse the already fragile health sector.

From the tone of the statement by the doctors, there seem to be a crisis of confidence between the doctors and the government. The doctors are of the opinion that the government is presumably notorious for its inability to keep to negotiated and agreed terms.

When ASUU commenced its strike we argued on this page that the decision to resort to strike was hasty as they did not exhaust other options open to them in the effort to resolve all contending matters. We even accused them of blackmail given the parlous state of the economy. Little did we know that the government itself is not getting its labour relations right.

Tertiary education is a very critical arm of the sector that must not be toyed with or treated with levity. We do not want to begin to contemplate the likely effect of a strike by resident doctors based on past experiences. On those occasions when they were compelled by official inertia to down their stethoscopes, the effect had always been immediate as hospitals begin to discharge their patients prematurely and, in most cases, avoidable deaths are recorded. It is trite to say that the nation’s health sector is stretched to breaking point as a result of inadequacies in the system ranging from decay in infrastructure where they are available at all, inadequate supply of medical consumables to shortage of trained staff and of course, paucity of fund. The last explains why there is failure on the part of the government to meet its obligations to the doctors. It is obvious that there is recession with its challenges. That is the argument of the authorities. But can that argument still hold bearing in mind that almost all the issues in contention are part of agreements reached with the government when the economy was on a relatively even keel and officialdom could have met the doctors at least half way. What has been the case is a total disregard for a gentleman’s agreement reached due, mainly, to a lack of political will and an outrageous misplacement of priorities.

That all these important sectors of the polity that touch on the most vulnerable segments of the society use strikes and industrial actions to get the government to do what it ought to have done speak volumes of the ineptitude in service delivery in government agencies. Every year, the nation wastes very scarce resources on medical tourism by the citizens who go in search of remedies for ailments that, under normal circumstances, could easily have been managed in the country.

We have our reservations about strikes as instrument of addressing issues in labour relations, but we are persuaded by the reality on ground to see reason with the doctors who may have persisted in rendering services to the populace in obedience to the Hippocratic oath they took to put lives first before all else. Should they do that at the expense of their own lives, their welfare and those of their families? There are reports of doctors who, in the line of duty, contact deadly diseases that abridge their own lives. Whenever there is an outbreak of disease of whatever description, the doctors, particularly the resident ones among them, put themselves, actually, on the line of fire in response to their professional instinct. They do that convinced that the authorities will keep to their own side of the bargain. It has been proved not to be as straight forward as that because the government has a record of reneging on agreed terms. Does that justify the strike? In our opinion, yes, it does. The government must prove itself worthy of being  trusted.