President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday in Abuja urged health workers to return to their duty posts, urging others contemplating strikes to opt for settlement of issues by negotiation, no matter how long it takes.
“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,’’ the president noted while receiving members of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) at the State House.
Buhari in a statement by his presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu, assured that all outstanding benefits owed medical doctors would be cleared after verifications, noting that embarking on industrial action at a critical health period for the country and citizens was not a good option.
“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.
“This administration has a good track record of paying all debts owed to government workers, pensioners and contractors and we have even revisited debts left by past administrations, once due verification is done. Debts genuinely owed Health workers will be settled.
“I learnt that some of the 12 points demand in the ongoing strike were already addressed. Though the review of a new hazard allowance has not been fully negotiated because of the sharp and deep division within the ranks of the striking doctors.’’
Buhari said the outstanding issue of an establishment circular issued by the Head of Service removing 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.
“I request that the agreement reached in the meetings of 20th and 21st August captured in the MOU which I have seen be religiously implemented,’’ he added.
To further improve the health sector, the president said budgetary allocations had been increased and a Health Sector Reform Committee under the chairmanship of the vice president had been commissioned to identify and address weaknesses in the health system and align with global best practices that raise public confidence.
The president commended the positive role Nigerian Medical Association has been playing, as the apex professional medical association in Nigeria, especially with regard to the ongoing industrial action.
The minister of health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, said the NMA had been playing a critical role in development of the health sector, particularly in tackling pandemics, participating in policy formulation and population health.
President of the NMA, Prof. Innocent A. Ujah, thanked the president for appointment of members into strategic positions in government, assent to the Medical Residency Act and immunization coverage.