Nigerian doctors blast Health Minister, accuse him of scuttling efforts to end strike

Minister of Health, Onyebuchi Chukwu

The Nigerian Medical Association [NMA] has lambasted the Minister of Health, Onyebuchi Chukwu, accusing him of prolonging the seven-week long strike that has left millions of patients stranded, amid an Ebola outbreak.

The union spoke Thursday after the government announced it was suspending talks with its leaders, who had earlier assured Nigerians that negotiations with the government were fruitful and the strike would soon be suspended.

The Nigerian Medical Association, NMA, described as untrue reports that the government had suspended further negotiations with it.

Speaking to PREMIUM TIMES Thursday, the Secretary-General of the group, Adewunmi Alayaki, said the association was speaking with “government at a higher quarter”.

He accused the Minister of Health, Mr. Chukwu, of undermining efforts to resolve the crisis, and sponsoring reports that talks had been shelved.

“Chukwu is saying his own,” said Mr. Alayaki. “All he is saying is just a distraction to the whole thing. And the whole body will now see what he has been doing to scuttle the efforts of NMA to suspend this strike.”

Mr. Alayaki said the minister has been a “clog to progress” and the main factor the strike has lingers. “Even when we are at our meetings, the way and manner he speaks, he has been the clog to progress in our meetings. We are speaking at higher quarters, we know what they have told us, and we know the agreement we have had, only for him to go on air to say what he was saying. Everybody will now see who is the problem between the federal ministry of health and the NMA. It shows the direction,” he said.

“Let Chukwu be saying whatever he is saying. But we are speaking with people higher than him. And if he likes, let him go and tell the whole world they have suspended negotiations because he is so irrelevant that’s why he is saying what he is saying. You cannot want solutions to a problem and you are creating more problems. He shouldn’t have done what he did. And if he really wants us to go to this roforofo fight (muddy fight), we would give it to him. We are only giving him respect as minister of health but if he now decides to do what he is doing, I think it is very wrong of him. But we are still speaking with government at a higher quarter than him, I won’t lie to you” he said.

There were reports Wednesday that the Federal Government suspended further negotiation with the NMA in order to resolve the ongoing doctors strike until a presidential committee of experts on inter-professional relationships in the public health sector finishes its work.

The Secretary to the Government of the Federation [SGF], Pius Anyim made the claim while receiving members of the committee in his office in Abuja, Wednesday.

Mr. Anyim said the final decision of the Federal Government will be hinged on the outcome of the committee’s report.

Another senior representative of the medical association also denied that the government had suspended talks.

The president, National Association of Resident Doctors, Jubril Abdullahi, said the striking doctors had not been officially informed about any suspension. He also accused the minister of not presenting the facts to the public. “Well, we have not been informed formally, because we don’t generally react to what they say in the newspapers. Unless the channels we are using, the channels we are discussing with inform us that there are no more talks then there would be no more progress. But that is not the case,” Mr. Abdullahi said.

“So whatever it is, we are watching. It is just unfortunate that the minister will be coming to public to say things that are untrue” he added.

But the minister has rejected the allegations. Speaking to PREMIUM TIMES, his spokesperson, Dan Nwomeh, debunked the claims that the minister was frustrating attempts at ending the strike.

The minister said the federal government had fulfilled over 80 percent of its own part of the agreement with the association, and assured that the process of resolving outstanding issues was in progress.

Mr. Chukwu also blamed the leadership of the NMA in particular for the strike, and recalled that as the president of the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), he once stepped aside and offered to resign his position rather than be pushed into an unnecessary strike by members over issues he was convinced could be resolved amicably through more dialogue.

The minster regretted that despite several protracted meetings with the NMA, including the intervention of senior members of the profession, the NMA had remained adamant.

He also disclosed that President Goodluck Jonathan personally met twice with the NMA without him (the minister of health) in attendance, in a bid to get to resolve the issues.

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