The ongoing strike by the National Association of Resident Doctors of Nigeria (NARD) at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic is weaving a deathly trail across Nigeria leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.
But let’s look beyond the doctors for a moment.
President Muhammadu Buhari and National Leader of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Tinubu were reported to have gone abroad to access care in the midst of the strike. In an ideal society, both men should be ostracised from the political arena. How can leaders be taking the best medical services abroad while the people you are leading cannot access care amidst the third wave of COVID-19 and other deadly diseases that have become seasonal in Nigeria.
About 814 persons have died as a result of cholera outbreaks in the country. Should these leaders not bury their heads in shame that a preventable disease like cholera is still killing people in Nigeria?
But today, we are not focusing on these burning issues. We are already tired as a nation. Let us focus on the other players in this strike, the doctors themselves.
What are their demands?
Last week, the House of Representatives’ Committee on Health Services met with the doctors; as well as the relevant government officials in the healthcare sector. For two days, the committee tried to broker peace between the doctors and the government. On the government side, we had the Minister of Health (State) Olorunimbe Mamora; the Director-General of Budget Office, Ben Akabueze; the Permanent Secretary Head of Service of the Federation, Emmanuel Moribole and others.
On the other hand, the President of NARD, Uyilawa Okhuaihesuyi and the Secretary-General of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Philip Ekpe led the union members.
The dialogue failed spectacularly.
In the course of the conversation, one thing was obvious. The medics, rightfully so, did not trust the government, as the government has been acting in bad faith as far as keeping to promise is concerned.
The union had four major demands. They include resident doctors’ training funds; salary shortfall from 2014-2016; minimum wage arrears and removal of resident and NYSC doctors from the scheme of service. During the meeting, both parties reached an agreement on resident doctors training funds, salary shortfall from 2014-2016 and the minimum wage arrears. However, the meeting fell apart after the doctors were unable to reach an agreement on the removal of resident doctors from the scheme of service.
The point is, the doctors are on strike, not because of funding; but on the technical issue of scheme of service. Despite the assurance that the removal has nothing to do with remuneration; the doctors insisted on bargaining hard.
At the hearing, the striking medics had no concrete argument against the policy. Rather, they argued that either right or wrong, status quo should be maintained. One of the doctors even likened the situation to a cancerous tumour.
“Even though tumours are bad, not all can be operated on. Some you will open, and close back,” one of them argued.
Indeed, they have the right to use their collective bargaining to fight for their rights. But let us remove the pretense and the moral blackmail. The health sector is what it is today because the government and the doctors have failed in discharging their duties.
All ministers of health are doctors. All chief medical directors of our tertiary hospitals are doctors. Doctors will resist any form of reforms in the sector. When you go to hospitals, they treat you with disdain. Just like university lecturers, when they are fighting for their welfare; they hide behind the greater good for the greatest number.
The argument always goes thus, “we want the injection of N1 trillion to the schools and our earned allowances should be paid.” After a six-month strike, the government ends up paying the allowances; ASUU calls off strike, and no one gives a hoot about the students.
Doctors in our public hospitals engage in rigging the system to favour them. They all have private clinics they refer patients to.
Several people will die in the course of this face-off between the doctors and the government. Truth be told, the doctors are as guilty as the government. The Nigerian Medical Association is in firm control of the system. Chris Ngige, Olorunnibe Mamora, Osagie Ehanire are all doctors. For them, the suffering of the people is nothing but collateral damage.
As far as the doctors are concerned, thousands could die. As long as they have their welfare settled, nothing matters. In this case, it is not even about welfare. The doctors are engaging in a battle of supremacy with the government.
And while these giants elephants are fighting, ordinary Nigerians, who cannot jet out like Tinubu and Buhari, are the ones suffering.