After two days of meeting, members of the House of Representatives could not persuade the striking members of the National Association of Residents Doctors (NARD) to call off their ongoing strike.
The meeting was organised by the House Committee on Health on August 9 and 10 to discuss the issues leading to the strike, make the doctors return to work and find a lasting solution to incessant industrial actions in the sector.
But after exhaustive deliberations, the doctors, who commenced the industrial action on August 2, said they would not return to work because nothing was achieved by the parley.
The meeting was presided over by the Chairman of the Committee on Health, Tanko Sununu (APC, Kebbi).
In attendance were representatives of the executive arm of government, namely the Minister of Health (State), Olorunimbe Mamora, Permanent Secretary Office of Head of Service, Emmanuel Meribole, Permanent Secretary Ministry of Finance (Special duties), Aliu Shinkafi and others.
The NARD team was led by its president, Uyilawa Okhuaihesuyi, while the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) was represented by its Secretary-General, Philip Ekpe.
At the meeting, four major issues were discussed, namely the training funds for the resident doctors, salary shortfall from 2014 to 2016, fate of doctors employed without due process and removal of resident and NYSC doctors from scheme of service.
N5.42 billion training fund
The committee resolved that the arrears of the resident training fund should be paid.
The Director-General of Budget Office, Ben Akabueze, assured that the outstanding fund for 2020 and that of 2021 will be paid to the doctors.
Mr Shinkafi said the department would be willing to pay if approval was given.
“If the money is provided in the budget, my department is the implementing department, if the money is there in the budget and we are asked to pay, we will pay. Even if it is not there, we have PSEH where adjustments are supposed to be sources. It depends on the resolution reached from these meetings, we will pay,” he said.
Reacting to the resolution, Mr Okhuaihesuyi said the union was happy with the resolution.
2014-2016 salary shortfall/Skipping
On the 2014-2016 salary shortfall, Mr Mamora said the matter was still in court.
He said the government was in court to challenge the skipping of work by medical personnel.
“Some time ago that we were here, the evidence that the matter was still in court was presented, and the matter was set aside. I am not aware that the status has changed.
“I had a personal discussion with the Minister of Finance, Budget and Planning, whose position was that as long as a matter—which to her knowledge was in court then — she said she would not be in a position to do anything,” Mr Mamora stated.
Mr Sununu then ruled that the House would not be able to discuss the matter if it was in court. He directed that the Ministry of Health should provide evidence of the existence of a court case.
At this point, Mr Askira said the government had been using the excuse of court case to truncate settlement.
Also speaking on the issue of court, Mr Okhuaihesuyi said the government was lying about the existence of an appeal.
“This matter has been brought up three times. I can assure you that this strike will not be called off if this matter is not treated today. I will assure you that this matter will not be called off so that everybody can start the brain drain and punishment,” he said.
“We have been sincere in the way we have acted. We have gone to court to verify the existence of this appeal. April this year, the same court matter was raised again. No document of appeal in court.”
The statement was subsequently withdrawn following an appeal by members of the committee.
Fate of doctors employed without due process
The meeting also focused on doctors recruited by some tertiary hospitals without clearance from the Head of Service of the Federation.
The association said despite verification by the budget office, the Head of Service had failed to regularise and pay them.
Mr Meribole said the salaries of the doctors were stopped because the Chief Medical Directors (CMD) of the affected hospitals did not follow due process. He; however; said the government would be willing to bend backwards on the matter.
Following the back and forth argument between the members of NMA and NARD on one hand and the government, the committee resolved that the government should fast track the process of verifying the personnel.
However, the associations insisted that something should be done in the interim.
They pleaded that the arrears of the affected workers should be paid and the government should guarantee that they would be given employment.
Removal of NYSC and Resident Doctors from the scheme of service
According to the associations, the decision of the government to remove NYSC and Resident Doctors from the scheme of service without proper consultation was wrong. They noted that the government should either withdraw the circular or risk a total shutdown of the healthcare sector.
Mr Ekpe said the NMA would discuss the circular at its annual general meeting, and that the association could embark on strike.
Mr Meribole stated that the decision was taken at the meeting of the Council of Establishment and that the council would not sit again until September. He added that the policy would not affect payment of remuneration.
But the immediate past president of NARD, Mohammed Askira, said some people were already saying the circular was a grand scheme by some persons to embarrass the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) before the next election.
“After the circular came, the NMA had a meeting with the permanent secretary to avert the situation of NMA issuing an ultimatum on the circular—the truth is the house officer and NYSC doctors are the ones manning the general hospitals in states.
“The House officers in some of the secondary hospitals are the ones running those hospitals. This is a grand scheme by the permanent secretary of states to render these people that really served to work without pay and have the statutory recognition by the scheme of service.
“We are going to fight this obnoxious circular because we have foreseen that it is detrimental to the healthcare sector. I am assuring you, this circular, at the NMA AGM in Benin at the end of this year, the NMA will call for a national NMA strike.
“To be candid, what people are even seeing is that there is a grand scheme to send NMA into a national strike like in 2014 so that the APC government will lose credibility before the next general election.”
Mr Sununu ruled that since the circular will not cause harm in the interim, the association should wait till September to write to the council of establishment on the matter.
Both NARD and NMA insisted that the circular should be withdrawn in the interim but Mr Meribole said it was beyond the federal government to take a unilateral decision on the resolution of the council.
Breakdown of talks
After six hours of deliberation on Tuesday, the last day of the hearing, the committee ruled that the NMA and the Ministry of Health should meet on Wednesday (August 11) to produce a document on the resolutions agreed on.
However, Mr Okhuaihesuyi noted that the association was not in agreement with the outcome of the meeting.
The NARD president noted that the association had not achieved anything from the meeting, though it would still meet the ministry on Wednesday.
At this point, the visibly angry Mr Sununu called for the adjournment of the meeting.
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