The Nigerian government on Wednesday moved to avert a strike by doctors which was set to commence on Thursday.
The government also appealed to the doctors, members of the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), to consider the plight of millions of Nigerians that will be adversely affected and shelve the planned strike.
The NARD threatened to commence an ‘indefinite strike’ on Thursday if the Nigerian government fails to meet its demands.
The president of the association, Uyilawa Okhuaihesuyi, confirmed the development in a communique issued at the end of the NARD’s extraordinary National Executive Council (NEC) meeting held on Saturday.
He said the ultimatum given to the federal government to meet the association’s earlier demands will expire on March 31, with no significant achievement.
At a reconciliatory meeting on Wednesday in Abuja, labour minister Chris Ngige, who led the government delegation, appealed to the aggrieved doctors to consider the damage their withdrawal of services would cause on the country’s health system already besieged by the coronavirus.
Mr Ngige, before the meeting went into a closed session, said the majority of the welfare issues under contention were almost resolved even before the letter of complaint and notification of planned strike action was delivered to the ministry.
According to him, the government had started discussions on hazard allowance for health workers in the country.
He noted that as a conciliator, he has communicated the complaints of the doctors to the relevant ministries.
The minister added that several meetings have been held and proposals have been drawn to address the situation before it degenerates into a strike.
“We are here because we have started solving your issues. We put up proposals with given timelines on how to deal with them. We will look at those proposals with you, fix adequate timelines so that the people on the government side will be implementing and marking them as they execute them.
“I have held informal meetings with the finance ministry and they told me they have started solving some of the problems, the two committees in the National Assembly have also tried to get you and your employers on same page. We have to intervene to ensure industrial peace in the health industry.
“We are in a very bad period health-wise; the world over and Nigeria is not an exception. So, we have to think about the generality of Nigerians because right now, 80 per cent of Nigerians are outpatients because of the COVID-19 pandemic so we have to look at the issues that way and see how we can get the best out of this situation.”
The Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Health, Abdullahi Mashi, who represented the health minister, appealed to the doctors to reconsider embarking on strike, given that most of their concerns were almost resolved.
“Most of the issues are almost solved. The only thing remaining is to get the commitment of NARD to suspend the strike action. All efforts are being put in place,” the permanent secretary said.
The President of NARD, Mr Okhuaihesuyi, who spoke on behalf of the doctors, said they were looking forward to resolving all issues and grievances during the closed-door meeting.
The closed-door meeting was still ongoing at the conference room of the labour minister’s office in Abuja at the time of this report.
Resident doctors, who are undergoing training to become consultants, make up a large percentage of doctors in Nigeria’s tertiary hospitals.
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