Although the Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) has temporarily called off its nationwide strike action, the attitude of the government is being keenly observed by stakeholders to ensure that the right things are done towards forestalling any further breakdown of communication between both parties.
According to NARD President, Dr Godiya Ishaya, the temporary suspension of the strike was to afford it the opportunity to sort out some logistics bordering on its members remuneration.
“We are suspending the strike for six weeks to give room for movement in some of the items we noticed a stalemate. There was a stalemate in the enrolment of our members into the IPPIS and payment of their arrears,” he said.
Ishaya had blamed the prolonged strike on government’s refusal to come to the negotiation table. He echoed the fact that, rather than seek constructive avenues towards the early resolution of the imbroglio, government was adamant on its stance and preferred to go to court.
“The government was invoking the trade dispute article 41 – that is, the ‘no work, no pay’ rule. And since our members have been enrolled into IPPIS, it means there was not going to be any salary into their accounts. Without them being paid, they won’t get their arrears; that was a stalemate we felt we should give a window, to see if the government can start paying them salaries and push their arrears into their accounts,” he added.
Although government had stopped the payment of their residency and has also refused to pay their salaries for the duration of the strike action, NARD has vowed to resist any move aimed at cajoling them to forfeit their salaries.
Ishaya said: “On the issue of ‘no work, no pay,’ we have not agreed to forfeit our salaries. The strike was unnecessarily prolonged because of the government’s response to the strike. Instead of sitting on the table, the government decided to go to court and that kept prolonging negotiation.”
Some observers have pointed out the roles played by other stakeholders in resolving the stalemate between NARD and the Federal Government. The media was awash with moves made by the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) as well as the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige, to resolve the dispute.
While the government has not shown enough maturity and understanding with the doctors, Ngige’s new-found passion for a swift resolution of the matter, coupled with the intervention of the NMA leadership, must have had a great effect on the resident doctors who in turn decided to heed the call of the NMA.
NMA President, Professor Innocent Ujah, during the meeting that inspired the suspension of the 58-day NARD strike, said he was motivated by the understanding of the new leadership of NARD which he said was ready to resolve the crisis, especially due to the untold sufferings Nigerians had been subjected to medically.
“I’m here with the newly elected officers of NARD. They came to me and we had a meeting – very cordial, meaningful interaction. And after that, I told them that I had secured appointment to introduce them to you which I thought should be private but even if it goes on CNN, it means we have opened a new chapter, very positive chapter because a chapter can be bad,” he said.
Speaking on the deplorable state of things with government, he called for wisdom and understanding to prevail, adding that things cannot be allowed to continue the way they were. According to him, “We cannot pretend that all is well. We had to look at some of the things that have unravelled since 2 August. As you know, I’m a man of peace and my leadership is for peace. And we really want to resolve this once and for all, so we can move on. Nigerians are suffering and we can’t allow it to continue.”
While Ujah’s intervention, as well as FG’s transformed attitude and NARD’s new leadership should be commended for the temporary suspension of the strike, observers continue to hope that reason prevails to the fullest. Many have been calling on the government to reciprocate NARD’s gesture by providing them with at least 80 per cent of their demands for a start, while the remaining 20 per cent is provided overtime. This is imperative in view of the colossal infrastructural deficit that has continued to haunt our health facilities in Nigeria.
It is ironical that President Mohammdu Buhari keeps running to London for medical care while the federal government continues to fault the redemptionist efforts of NARD which can only be expressed through strike actions. It is hoped that this suspension will spur government into taking progressive actions that would better the lot of government hospitals in the country.