Of JOHESU, health sector squabbles and the brigandage of health workers in Nigeria, By Ibrahim Idris

Minister of Health, Onyebuchi Chukwu

Do JOHESU members think they are more equal than the others (apologies to George Orwell)? What is good for the goose should also be sauce for the gander.

Any keen observer of what has been transpiring in the health sector within this period would certainly feel very sad about how everything seems to be working upside down in a system that is ferociously getting consumed by the days, by an untamed monster in the name of JOHESU; an acronym that stands for an amalgam of health workers other than those that are medically qualified.

For the records, JOHESU is an illegal body that is strange to the Nigerian Labour Laws. It is, in fact, curious that the federal government would easily submit to the blackmails of this anomalous creation even when it should be firm in locking up some of the characters behind this racket in jail.

Such thriving illegalities is what makes us as Nigeria, a unique country where leaders have lost all moral grounds to stand against injustice or reprimand miscreant actions. They rather deal with issues in reactionary pattern just to save face when in actual sense, it is deeply buried in a mess.

The health sector these days is effectively a captive of mobs action going by the way things are unravelling very fast in a furious manner. Not even the so called characters of a Hollywood flick blockbuster: The Inglorious Bastards, can surpass the level of lawlessness and brigandage being displayed by this cohort of workers. And like a medusa, it keeps on rearing its ugly heads with no end in sight.

What actually started like a joke taken too far, has now transformed before our eyes into a cancerous tumour that is eating deep into the fabrics of sanity and morality in the health sector. It is rather unfortunate that the penchant for industrial actions by JOHESU has been so misused to the extent that it has now turned into a revolving door syndrome- with the system practically held at ransom by preposterous and illogical demands that are not only alien to the scheme of service but entirely contradicts the norms of international best practices.

Ironically this group of health workers that include among others the cleaners, porters, nurses, laboratory technologists and the pharmacists, have thrown caution and decency to the wind to have allowed their spines to take over their collective faculty of judgement, all in a blind quest to rape a vulnerable system.

In fact, at a point it was widely reported in the media, that they once ran so wild and hysterical to the extent of storming an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of one of the public hospitals and switched off a ventilator; leaving behind a critically ill patient who could not breath unsupported. Can you imagine! Just hold your breath a bit more. For some of us that have keenly followed the disturbing developments in the healthcare sector, that action was a fraction of what one expects from this coalition of desperadoes when it is juxtaposed with the cruelty they meted out to the ex Chief Medical Director of ABUTH, late Prof. Bandipo. They tied the old man down and kept beating him until life was snuffed out of him, slowly and painfully. Incredible you may say, but you should remember it is not a moon tale- it happened!

But the question that always bogged my mind when I see people who are supposedly educated and civilised behaving like riffraffs is this: must health workers go down this irresponsible lane just to prove a point that they are equal to a medical doctor in terms of merit and metrics? Perhaps, a regular lesson on ethics carefully built in their curriculum at school will help in restoring sanity to this unholy alliance which, albeit ignoramus, thought by behaving like rogues its members can acquire the nobility of a medical doctor, even undeservedly. It is pertinent to highlight that God did not create us all equal, but we are all important in what we do. There is no way a society will recognise you for what you are lacking in competence and productivity just by attempting to muscle it with killer instinct for compensation.

For the benefit of doubt, let us dissect their demands on why they want to go on another round of irritating national strike coming up almost two months after they had totally shut down the public hospitals in a gangster mentality. I thought there may be genuine reasons for these incessant desperate measures until I got to read the communiqué signed by JOHESU’s hydra headed leadership.

Among the demands, they want the federal government to allow them to be skipping salary grade level 10, which in essence means that from grade level 9; all JOHESU members will now be promoted to level 11- effectively translating into jumping career by about 6 solid years! If I could recall correctly, it was the Obasanjo’s administration of public sector reforms that brought about the current consolidated salary structure which became operational in Nigeria in 2006.

Even though this salary structure came with full complements of all grade levels, unlike in the HATISS which had no grade level 11, only the health workers with exception of medical doctors (among all the public servants) found a dubious way of skipping an entire level. This cheating continued unabated until it was finally fished out by the eagle eyes of the former Head of Civil Service, Steven Orosanye, who ordered that such fraud which has cost the federal government billions of naira to be immediately stopped- a directive that did not go down well with this group of workers, hence the apparent resort to mob justice.

Truth be told, there is clear and present danger in government willingly or otherwise submitting to this kind of prebendal demand, which we all know it encourages rent seeking psyche to proliferate, and at the end it will only open up the Pandora’s Box there by dashing hopes of putting the system on a sustainable path to greatness. What if all other workers in all the MDAs now insist on skipping grade level 10? Can government shoulder this efflux from its coffers? Do JOHESU members think they are more equal than the others (apologies to George Orwell)? What is good for the goose should also be sauce for the gander.

It is disturbing enough that health sector crisis has snowballed to reach its zenith that even nurses, who are mostly auxiliaries with very shaky academic background being certificate holders whose merit is below that of Ordinary National Diploma (OND), are threatening fire and brimstones that they must be appointed ‘Consultants’ and Chief Medical Directors. And the race for this petty Vanity Fair has now found comfort in other hospital supporting staff like cleaners, porters, laboratory technologists and pharmacists.

I am afraid, from the way the unions keep coming up with all sorts of make belief demands, very soon, chauffeurs working in the ministries would go on strike demanding that they be accorded the status of Permanent Secretary, and the ‘other ranks’ in the army would categorically go for the position of Chief of Army Staff- after all we are in the era of equality!

I want to make an appeal to JOHESU to be a bit more refined in its incredulous transformation. Her members ought to know that the privileges they derived from being part of a health team are not all that sacrosanct. Government has the liberty to be tough when pushed to the wall by ordering for their sack and employ fresh graduates who would be more amenable to standard practice.

They should also remember that there are hundreds of thousands of graduates of biological sciences and biochemistry who have better university grades that are parading the corridors in search of jobs, and despite being even smarter than most of the third graders that have populated the health sector these days. With single advert, the government can get all that it wants to keep the system running.

I once read a report that showed that over 50 percent of the laboratory test results in Nigeria are unreliable; which has contributed greatly to misleading clinicians into making the wrong diagnosis. Yet, the technologists have resisted all treaties to make them realise that they need to catch up with what is done in the established global trend by collaborating with pathologists to help in producing qualitative test results. Nigeria’s public hospitals can learn a thing or more from the way standard private laboratories in Nigeria are operating. It is reassuring that every test result is signed by a pathologist to ensure quality. This is how a health team should operate anywhere in the world. And a pharmacist should focus his/her attention on how to curtail counterfeiting by putting into practice his/her university knowledge on drug manufacturing. As it is now, people just see pharmacists as mere drug dispensers or peddlers. Majority of them are now experts as drug reps of marketing labels; a job that even market women can do with equal precision and mien.

It’s painful to see our drug markets being overtaken almost completely by semi-literate business men who import up to 70 percent fake drugs into Nigeria from countries like India and China.

As professionals, if they can ensure that the drugs we buy every day are qualitative, wholesome and genuine, I guarantee you that Nigerians will respect them more. In a nutshell, I think what we need now is for all professionals and even non professional groups working in the health sector to work harmoniously with each other to improve the healthcare delivery in Nigeria. And this vicious cycle of incessant national strikes must stop or be stopped now. It is an ill wind that blows no one any good!

Ibrahim Idris is Coordinator, One Health Initiative, an Abuja based NGO


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  • ify

    Ify,:Sounds like a paid advert!!! I dont support any form of violence in pressing home whatever group’s need but i put it to u dat not all technologists have OND and HND. Iam a B.Tech holder! Notwitstanding,if u are sincere u will agree with me dat doctors also go on strike to press home their needs,so why is dis different? They d doctors set a pace by striking so if other health workers follow suit,no problem! And d salaries of other health workers are nothing to write home about! D difference between dat of a doctor and another health worker should is so far apart but d doctors will always want some more! They are always like oliver twist!!! And u have no right to insult other health professionals and call them ignoramus and all what not! By all standards doctors are very greedy too! They cant hide it! Always so unsure of themselves,they cant do all d work alone! Healthcare is a team work! Is not a one man’s show!!! For instance in dentistry there are dental surgeons,dental technologists but a dental surgeon whose job designation is surgery will still wana do a technologists job! They feel they get more than they do by constructing appliances but doctors forget that they earn more,so what do they do? They go about chasing d technologists all over the places and making work environment unconducive for them and before long there are fights!!! If we all can respects our selves and maintain our boundaries and get well renumerated as per work,then there wont be squabbles!!! By d years a doctor spends in school so they claim,a doctor should earn more,oh! No problems but it should be times a millon of what others earn! If a doctor had spent 7years in school,i spent 5years.he chose a career path,i chose mine too! So why d disparity! And if there be disparity must it be to d detriment of other profession? Am also happy d nurses are challenging d doctors!!! Yes! Cos they doctors actually gave them wings to fly! They connive with d doctors to downgrade other health professionals!!! Some of these nurses earn more than degree holders!!! Some are not even qualified!!! Health sector in Nigeria is all about politics,power play and bottom power! If a body has a few cash to throw around,u have a few women to sleep with d doctors and a few persons to pass d bill,then u are there! And most bodies that have numerical strength than the others do some to the detriment of others! So its disheartening! What is happening is more than u can think of! I rest my case for now

    • Sam

      Ify if you are outside Nigeria , you will not last a day in your job with this attitude!

      Sam, MD

    • Usman Bashir

      Ify, you can go and buy a jamb form apply for MBBS,voila disaparity done with,STOP WHINNING like a child over some thing you can overcame.Go for it Sky is your limit,BUT if you re Intelligent to pass through the rigors. Medicine has a way of natural selection and follows the Normal curve distribution!

      • balo fgci

        Senior! Na yu de whine infact your talk is so glaringly sentimental it makes u look like an illitrates! U fall mu hand

        • Usman Bashir

          Sorry bros in FGCI we dont breed illiterates,is it realy FGC I lorin or dts ur pseuodnym,if by advising someone who whine over someones achievements is illiteracy and sentimental to you… I dont have further comments

    • tibax

      Ify weldone oh.i hope if u r ill,u know who to see…doh!

    • Authe

      Ify,if u go out of this country like u said,u will no dat doctors deserve more ,just google d salary scale of a doctor in say usa and compare with ur own,……do u thinks say na yams…..try pass thru med sch,then u understand what i am saying

  • Tayo Oluokun

    JOHESU,a most illegal and unholy association..I
    think an association of all health workers,that
    excludes a particular segment of health
    workers has only one aim;oppose the excluded.
    It should be banned by law if possible.

  • Olubunmi Agwai

    Ibrahim Idris I read ur article with nostalgia because U have just talked like a man without information.with people like U,this country is in serious trouble ! Pls get ur facts correctly before addressing people.!

    • Usman Bashir

      His facts are as rock solid,its just painful to those blinded by hatred for their Team leaders

  • AU Gamawa

    Ibrahim idris, from your article i am convinced you are no more than an
    uninformed and a blind mercenary that is if you are not a medical
    doctor. If you are a doctor, it describe your real attitude of
    arrogance. let me start by educating you a little. You mentioned only
    one reason for the strike while the reasons are up to twelve, which are
    all problems in the health sector created and continously worsened by
    your arrogant, barbaric, INJUST, ingreateful and selfish sponsors ‘the
    medical doctors’. The medical doctors have been robbing and extorting
    the Nigerian govt for many decades, now we have come of age that
    transparency is gaining grounds and their bluffs are every day called
    and exposed by another set of vibrant, principlled, humble and
    intellectual professionals in the health sector. In those days their
    were only pharmacists and nurses in the JOHESU. Now they have gained
    more alliance from more professionals like physiotherapists, medical
    laboratory scientists, Radiographers and many others. People need to
    realise that there is an extreme level of injustice committed by medical
    doctors in the health sector and peace without justice is an
    unrealistic phenomenon. Until the medical doctors dropped arrogance,
    selfishness, INJUSTICE and barbarism then peace shall reign in the
    Nigerian Health sector.

    • Usman Bashir

      Gamawa you re moving around and heaping insults on Doctors with no substance in your submission,you need a little more finishing so that you can concur your points with some refinements. you need more education please!

    • Isyaku Mukhtar Gwarzo

      i have been searching all day to see your ‘twelve points’

  • Paul Dike

    I wonder what the President Goodluck Jonathan is still waiting for to disband this illegal union called JOHESU.

  • Dan

    In the US, the mean annual wage of a doctor in is about $200k, that of a Pharmacist is $110K, Nurses about $70k, Medical Lab Technologist and Radiological Technologist is about $55K. Have you ever heard of their other health workers protesting the wages of their doctors?

  • pharm Jack

    The door to medical college has never been shut. Anyone can be a medical doctor. Next time when your neighbor calls you ‘doctor’. Proudly tell him/her NO! I am a ……This joke has gone too far. Wage disparity is real and a global phenomenon. We aren’t a socialist economy where anyone is paid same wages irrespective of their job description . Doctors are not arrogant, they are just not given to squabbles and idle past times. The present misunderstanding in the health sector is a classic positive feedback scenario that will ultimately result in worsening health indices and annihilation of our helpful paramedics.( all pun intended). The solution I propose is computerisation of our laboratories to achieve standardisation, outsourcing of pharmaceutical services and nursing care to privately run service providers, use of computerised information retrieval systems to aid patient record keeping etc. It is time the government carries out a full audit of service efficiency and provision and relevance of different cadresof hospital staffs to modern health practice as done in other countries. This unnecessary macabre dance cannot be allowed to continue. Enough is Enough!

  • Peter

    For those saying that doctors are always striking and are greedy, please check and note that all wage increment for doctors are always accompanied by same for other health workers. Patient care is team work but the team always has a captain. No one is better trained than a doctor to be the team leader. It’s very easy to become a doctor; write JAMB, pass, write Post UME, pass, pay the acceptance fee and study for six + x years, where x is a value from 1/2 to 4. JAMB form are currently on sale.

  • tibax

    What people fail to realize is that the doctor does not only think he is the head of the medical team,he is trained to be the head of the medical team.Johesu can go ahead with all their rantings,they will never be like the doctor unless of course they get the training be one.the truth will always remain….

  • Scientist

    Mr Ibrahim Idris, pls I will like u to get more information about issues before discussing on it.You don’t just under rate people when you are ignorant about what there profession entails.I am a BSc. Holder in Medical laboratory Science and I passed through the 4 walls of a university,so also we have nurses that are BSc. Holders.If you have any grievances on the issue in question,it is better you seek clarification than just insulting people.We are people with honour and prestige and not ignoramus.So get your facts and discuss issue with wisdom like an educated person and stop being bias. A word is enough for the wise.

    • Usman Bashir

      Scientist? The real Scientist do a little RESEARCH before they open their mouth in public. All the cadres you mentioned were hitherto employed to assist the Doctor in service delivery not to compete with him in wages and placements. So Please get your facts right before heaping unfounded insults.

    • lulu

      in an airport, there are all sorts of workers, air hostesses, security personnel, ticketing agents, ground crew but only one captain designated to fly the plane with or without a co-captain. that u work in the airport does not qualify u to be the captain or fly the plane, even if u spend all you life there. they are all trained in their various job descriptions. same with JOHESU, that u work to facilitate the work of the team leader does not qualify u to be the leader. my thoughts.

  • Esi

    Alright aint even a health sector worker, but one thing is so certain from all the comments. These JOHESU( I hope I got that) guys are not even sure of the reasons for their strike. Sombody please itemize them. I just hope you guys aint following the leadership of this union blindly. Is this some game or what? A union comprising all health workers except doctors? It doesn’t make sense. This union is obviously founded on mischeif. Enough of this rubbish. I don’t care if they have professors as members, they obviously seem unserious to me. Let the government be firm on this, you don’t negotiate silly demands.