Update: Nigerian doctors suspend three-day warning strike

The doctors said Nigerian lawmakers intervened.

By Tobore Ovuorie

Striking resident doctors in Nigeria have suspended their three-day warning strike. The doctors, members of the National Association of Resident Doctors, NARD, said they suspended the strike on Friday following appeals and interventions from stakeholders within and outside the health sector.

Speaking in an interview with PREMIUM TIMES, the National President of the Association, Lawal Ismail, said the association took the peaceful path as some senators and members of the federal executive had started having discussions with them.

“Within the last two days, we have been contacted by members of the senate and other members of the federal executive, while they have promised to look into our grouse and discussion is still on.

“They want to substitute what’s on ground because when a nation fails to train residents, there would be no specialists across different fields of medicine on ground” he said.

Commenting on the Federal Ministry of Health’s claim that the doctors embarked on the strike for selfish reasons and not the budgetary allocations as being alleged, Mr. Ismail said “that cannot be true. We appreciate the Minister of Health but the budgetary allocation is the reason we embarked on the industrial action and it’s because it is quite inadequate.

“N20million naira was approved for all institution this year to spend on residency training which obviously would not be sufficient. We communicated and deliberated with the minister on this and said if there could be more allocations in the supplementary budget but the minister said it would be impossible.

“NARD does not embark on strike aimlessly and incessantly. Before we take any action, we always iron things out and give more than enough room for intervention and communication” he added.

The Federal Ministry of Health had told PREMIUM TIMES on Wednesday that the doctors were on strike because of a local industrial issue involving some resident doctors and the Chief Medical Director of Irrua Specialist Teaching Hospital, ISTH; and not over the budgetary allocations as claimed by the doctors.

Addressing the local issue at ISTH, Mr. Ismail said “we didn’t embark on the strike over the ISTH disagreements. The CMD believes he can do and undo and was against residency training thus was working against it. Rather than advance those who pass exams, he paid some of the doctors their salaries and wouldn’t pay others. Consequently, we demanded for the suspension of the man.

“We all arrived at some agreements but he was the one who went to the industrial court to seek an injunction against us. As at the moment we gave the 21-day ultimatum and extra eight days over the poor budgetary allocation for training, no one reacted and that is why we had no choice but embark on the strike having exhausted all avenues of dialogue”.

“Though ISTH was not a major reason for embarking on the strike, Professor George Akpede, CMD of ISTH was not fair to resident doctors and he was removed today by the board of management of the hospital.

“Dr. S.A Okogbenin was immediately appointed as Acting CMD” he added.

But the President, Nigerian Medical Association, NMA, Osahon Enabulele, however said the removal of the CMD may not be true as he has barely six weeks left to be in office, while the removal of a CMD is never done over night.

“He may be on terminal leave but I’m not aware of such- that he has been removed as CMD. CMDs are never removed just like that, there are processes to be followed. So, it’s never arbitrarily done.

NMA’s sanction threat

Mr. Ismail, also reacted to the subtle threat by the NMA at the striking doctors, saying he never expected the NMA, to turn its back on the resident doctors.

“What I expect is that the NMA should support the action because we had considered all available means of communication and dialogue and we even communicated with the NMA before embarking on the industrial action. We were together through and in this all and the NMA is equally involved in the discussion with the senate and members of the federal executive,” he said.

Mr. Enabulele admitted that the NARD did communicate its intention to embark on the strike to the NMA, but that the strike was not approved.

“We didn’t give them any approval and we wrote them that we were not granting them such nor in support of it. They need to involve in consultative engagement, it’s not everything that should resort to strike,” he said.
“I’m not aware that the senate contacted them as I’m the one negotiating for them. I’m the one taking them to senate and not the other way round,” he stated.

Health sector be-devilled with many strikes

The suspended strike will not be the first by the resident doctors.
In 2010, the NARD issued a 21-day ultimatum to the Federal Government and subsequently embarked on a two-day warning strike between March 2 and 3, 2010, when its demand was not meant. It subsequently proceeded on an indefinite strike on April 15, while the strike was suspended on April 26, 2010
Its main grouse has always been the poor funding for training of resident doctors.

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