“No more promises. We want practical commitments,” the doctor’s leader stated.
The President of the National Association of Resident Doctors, NARD, Jubril Abdullahi, has said his union will continue its ongoing nationwide strike until all its members get their entitlements. He said the doctors have learnt not to believe the words or promises of the Health Minister, Onyebuchi Chukwu, and the federal government until the right things are done.
In an exclusive interview with PREMIUM TIMES, Mr. Abdullahi debunked some claims made by the Minister of Health on Monday and revealed that many other salient issues about the doctors’ demands have been hidden from the public.
The NARD strike has been on for about two weeks. NARD are doctors that are undergoing structured six to eight years medical training in specific fields in order to become specialists in that aspect of medical practice. They constitute a large percentage of doctors in public tertiary hospitals.
PT: The Minister of Health yesterday (Monday) said the ongoing strike is illegal and hasty as the ministry was already handling the issues NARD is agitating over even before the commencement of the industrial action. How true is this?
NARD: That is very untrue. He’s not putting the facts straight.
PT: So, what are the facts that could put an end to the lingering crisis?
NARD: The minimum as far as the payment of our members are concerned, is that the payment must hit the accounts of our members because prior to their engagements, dates were given but government did not fulfill its commitment.
PT: Is this what you arrived at yesterday night during your emergency meeting?
NARD: The people who came from the various centres came with a strict mandate: they are not going to trust their (government’s) words again. If money is made available, then it hits the accounts; that’s the evidence that the matter is being handled well.
PT: In essence, what you’re saying is that the Minister’s promises are not enough this time round?
NARD: No more promises. We want practical commitments.
PT: What about the residency training, why is it still a major bone of contention?
NARD: On the issue of residency, we’ve had earlier agreement with the government, but we were surprised at that meeting (Friday) that the honourable minister of health was trying so hard to deny that the meeting took place.
PT: What meeting is that and when did it take place?
NARD: The meeting took place between 5th and 6th of July, 2012 at Chelsea hotel in Abuja. The meeting deliberated on the funding of residency training, the introduction of foreign clinical attachments and long-term plans for residency training. But sadly after the two day meeting, a communiqué was drafted but the minister was not around; he was represented by the then Permanent Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Health. It was stated at the end that the communiqué would be drafted, signed by the minister and distributed. That communiqué never saw the light of day.
PT: Are you saying the Minister of Health outrightly feigned ignorance of such a meeting ever holding and what proofs have you to show such a meeting took place?
NARD: While we were talking, he kept on denying until we showed them a picture of the people that participated in that meeting. Virtually, the majority of the chief medical directors and medical directors were there, the ministry of finance was represented, NMA was there, other principal officers were there, and at that meeting, participants were divided into four groups with specific functions and we all deliberated and came up with resolutions. And it was based on that, that the plan for the overseas attachment for 2013 was itemized. But sadly as I am speaking with you, nothing has been done! The communiqué was not issued, and we were trying to see whether our senior colleague who was the NARD president would own up and when we showed him that picture, he was trying to trivialize all issues. What we are saying is that, they should bring out that communiqué and from there, we can discuss.
This is our country, let’s discuss. Is it that they cannot afford it? If it is affordability, let’s talk together and discuss the way forward.
PT: But the Minister of Health says you resident doctors are being restive and averse to discussion. Don’t you think so?
NARD: We are not averse to discussion but it is obvious that it is the ministry that is averse to discussion.
PT: The module of operation of hospitals with regards to residency engagements seems to differ across the nation. Don’t you think NARD should tidy this aspect first rather than hold the whole nation hostage?
NARD: There’s this issue for a document/guideline for residency training that we already talked about. They now reduced it to a template of appointment letter which they gave us a copy. But this so called template of uniform letter for appointment of residency is only two page and is not on any letter headed paper, and is devoid of so many things. So, we feel a document that is more comprehensive should be available so that there won’t be any difference in how the residency goes among the various centres and therefore we can avoid such issues such as discriminatory implementation, and victimization. If it is the minimum guideline of the ministry, then hospitals will have to at least maintain that minimum. On the issue of the crisis in Owerri, they talked about due process but we have a problem. In a situation whereby there’s obvious bias in the board, we’re going to write a petition, we hope due process would be followed and there would not be any cover up. Let due process be allowed and take effect.
PT: So, how do you intend handling the Enugu unrest?
NARD: On the Enugu matter, we’ve started engaging them. Within the next two three weeks, we would still engage them and see what comes out of it. Because one thing happened, when we declared this national strike, the Enugu State Teaching Hospital joined the strike and they started threatening our members there. They called our members.
PT: Who are the they?
NARD: Principal Officers of the state. They called them (the Enugu doctors) and started threatening them. So, for now, we are pushing diplomacy, let them create an enabling environment for us to talk. But if in two three weeks nothing concrete comes up, we are still going to shut down the state.
PT: Shut down the state? So, have you called off the strike?
NARD: No, the strike is still on and we just entered the second week. Until alert (bank statements) starts hitting us before we would review.
PT: What was your conclusion with the Minister on house officers being on IPPIS?
NARD: The issue of whether they remain on IPPIS, or oracle, or SPSS or whatever package they want to call it, it’s the government’s business. If the government of the day brings in a policy that is apparently good, but is now dysfunctional, it’s up to them to look and decide on what they want to do. What we are saying is that a labourer has earned his wages and deserves to be paid! If they are not able to fix their platform, then it’s up to them. We are saying that it is a good system but if they are not going to fix it then that is their headache!
PT: But don’t you think the situation is synonymous with using a sledge hammer to kill a fly?
NARD: No! The problem is not limited to house officers. We have residents that have not been paid and those that have been underpaid for so long. My South-West caucus leader was paid only N1000 a month as well as so many others. There are issues that must be corrected.
PT: On Friday when you and other representatives held a meeting with the Ministers of Labour and Health respectively as well as other principal officers of the federation, did the National Association of Resident Doctors sign any communiqué after the meeting?
NARD: Good! It was a deliberation! We told them one thing: strike was called by an emergency National Executive Council meeting, and we would not consider suspending or otherwise until we have an emergency NEC meeting. And at the emergency NEC meeting, representatives of all the hospitals came to participate and these same representatives who gave us the mandate to proceed on strike came to participate and were dissatisfied with the issues.
PT: In a Yes or No response, did NARD on Friday sign any communiqué?
NARD: No, we didn’t sign any communiqué. We only had deliberations which were not concluded as we insisted on holding an emergency NEC meeting. The emergency NEC meeting held yesterday (Monday) night up till early hours of this morning and we are not satisfied because the government has made promises which were never kept. Government should live up to its responsibilities and commitments.
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