BY SIMON REEF MUSA
Few Nigerians are happy, with a majority of them still entrapped in gloom and sadness. For many that are engaged in any form of employment, there are many reasons to be unhappy. It is either the monthly salary can’t take them home or the absence of any pay day, thereby throwing them into a flood of disillusionment anguish.
The few happy ones are either felons or brigands that have found solace and comfort in reaping where they never planted. If violating the law means more money, these happy ones don’t give a damn over the consequences of what may follow. After all, who cares about the rule of law? To find solutions to life’s pressing needs is far more important than sticking to some rules that can’t bring additional money to the pocket.
For those happy; they are also struck with the pathological fear of being deprived of their happiness. With money, everything bad can change for good. Those oblivious of the power of money often get to understand this wisdom too late in the day. That explains why many are interested in making a career of being a medical doctor where the urge to be successful is easily realised. The many years of toiling to become a doctor can be endured so as to pave way for a new dawn.
Those who think our country is devoid of a bright future, foreign lands with alluring prospects of endless possibilities are waking up from their slumber to join their compatriots making it in other countries of the world. Arising from the grim hope of what our nation holds for citizens, the joy of independence has been replaced with the present darkness of despair. Professionals are finding it increasingly difficult to stay in our country. Instead, the lure to relocate to foreign lands with fully developed infrastructure have continued to attract them.
Of all the professionals that have placed their lives on the lines so that citizens can survive the current pandemic are medical doctors. They represent the symbol of hope and sacrifice that are now being celebrated worldwide. In the battle to save the world of this scourge, countries have carved out a special place for these life savers. In them the world is successfully battling the COVID-19 pandemic to save mankind of another scourge threatening to wipe out mankind.
Instead of the pandemic transforming our health sector as we have seen in other countries, our health sector has become bereft of any sense of urgency. A visit to any government medical facility will probably expose the horrors and rot of a system that is incapable of performing its mandates. Our hospitals have become throes of death and a visit to any of them will reveal the hopelessness of the health sector.
Closely tied to infrastructural decay and lack of basic tools that has incapacitated Nigerian public hospitals, the fate of health workers that are in the frontline is left to the uninspiring national and state leaderships that are barren of proficiency or urgency. The ongoing strike by the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) highlights the tragedy that has befallen Nigeria’s collapsed health sector.
To some Nigerians, the strike action embarked by NARD on April 01, 2021 is an obvious attestation of the greed and laxity that rule the affairs of the resident doctors. However, a careful appraisal of the health sector lends credence to calls by NARD that all salaries and allowances owed them be paid promptly. Not only are some of them owed several months in salaries, their allowances are not paid for several months and even years. Considering the lack of sincerity demonstrated by both the federal and state governments in tackling the 10-point demands of NARD, it has become glaring that both the federal and state government have embraced apathy to resolve some of the issues that culminated into the ongoing strike. For governments to call for negotiation with the aggrieved doctors on the eve of the expiration of their two-month’s ultimatum reveals gross insincerity on its part. In its communique issued after a virtual meeting of the leadership of NARD on April 07, 2021, the doctors reviewed their 1o-point demands that must be implemented as a condition for calling off the strike.
The 10-point demands are the immediate payment of all salaries owed to all House Officers including March salaries (regardless of quota system) before the end of business on the 31st of March 2021; payment of all salary arrears including March salaries for doctors in all Federal (GIFMIS platform) and State Tertiary Health Institutions across the country; upward review of the current hazard allowance to 50% of consolidated basic salaries of all health workers and payment of the outstanding COVID-19 inducement allowance; payment of Death in Service Insurance for all health workers who died as a result of COVID-19 infection and other infectious diseases in the country and payment of salary shortfalls of 2014, 2015 and 2016 to resident doctors working in all Federal Institutions, including State owned Institutions as earlier agreed with NARD.
Other demands are Universal domestication/implementation of the 2017 MRTA by all federal and state-owned training Institutions to ensure proper funding of residency training in the country as stipulated by the Act; abolishment of the exorbitant bench fees being paid by our members on outside postings in all training Institutions across the country with immediate effect; immediate payment of 2019, the balance of 2020 and 2021 Medical Residency Training Funds (MRTF) to resident doctors, including those under state government employ; review of the Act regulating Postgraduate Medical Training in Nigeria in line with international best practices and reintroduction of Medical Super Salary Structure and Specialist Allowance for all doctors as already approved for some other health workers.
It is inscrutable for the government to neglect the welfare of health workers in a nation where the health sector has almost collapsed, and the health conditions of citizens left to the devices of traditional and quack medical practitioners. Last week, I met a doctor working in a public health medical facility who disclosed that since she was employed four months ago, she was yet to be paid a dime. When asked how she had been coping, the newly recruited health worker said but for the sake of her aunty, things would have been rough. How does a doctor who has not been paid for the past four months be trusted to save life?
As at Wednesday this week, public health facilities in Abuja and other states were deserted by striking NARD members whose critical roles in the health sector cannot be underestimated. The strike has temporarily forced patients to relocate to private hospitals that are also manned mostly by NARD members. It was high time we took the bulls by the horns by revisiting issues that have worked against the development of our health sector. It is not enough to build structures without furnishing them with the required equipment. The refusal to pay doctors for several months, including certain allowances that are rights and privileges, amounts to sheer wickedness on the part of authorities responsible for their welfare.
Government must review the permission granted to doctors to freely engage in private practice outside their official working hours. As long as resident doctors are allowed to participate in private practice, so long will they deny what is due to Caesar. Encouraging doctors and other professionals to remain in the country and develop critical aspects of national life must be pursued with vigor. Government must play its parts in ensuring their welfare is well taken care of.
The Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige, and the Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire must rise up and quickly without any form of hesitation implement the demands of NARD.