Imagine if as President Muhammadu Buhari arrived in London the penultimate week, British doctors were on strike and consultants were not ready to attend to any patients! He would have wasted money and time traveling across the Atlantic only for him not to be attended to. So many Nigerians today find themselves in that situation where medical doctors could not attend to them.
The latest industrial actions embarked on by the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) and the threat by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) to also begin another strike speak volumes of how the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) has not managed well the trust reposed in it by the two foremost professional bodies in the country. The two bodies called off their industrial actions with belief that the federal government would fulfill all the obligations the parties reached during their last negotiations. Here we are today; the resident doctors have embarked on another industrial action.
The 16,000 Nigerian resident doctors represent 38 percent of the 42,000 doctors in Nigeria. In 2013, the World Health Organisation (WHO) reported that sub-Saharan Africa had a 1.8 million-health workers deficit and that deficit was projected to hit 4.3 million by 2035. Nigeria is one of the Sub-Saharan countries with an acute shortage of medical personnel. Presently, Nigeria’s doctor-patient ratio stands at 3,500, implying a medical doctor attends to 3,500 patients. This is against the 1 to 600 recommended by the WHO. Even if the 20,000 Nigerian medical doctors working in various countries abroad were to be at home, to bridge the gap, this nation needs at least 300,000 medical doctors in its service.
Nigerian medical doctors and academics are within their legitimate rights to ask the federal government to fulfil its obligations for them to discharge their duties to the Nigerian citizenry
Nigeria’s other health statistics are not impressive in that it requires 800,000 nurses while only 125,000 are presently engaged across all the layers of healthcare service delivery. The number of beds per patient in Nigeria is 0.9. This compares to 1.6 in Egypt, 1.7 in Zimbabwe, and 2.8 in South Africa. This is in addition to the $1billion the nation loses to other countries through medical tourism.
The demand made by resident doctors bordered on the previous agreements reached with the Federal Government of Nigeria. These agreements were not reached at gunpoint because it took a while before the FG was able to reach a compromise with representatives of the doctors’ union. Therefore, it is disheartening not to see the federal government fulfilling its obligations months after the last industrial dispute was resolved.
The downside of the FG’s foot-dragging in fulfilling its obligations is that other professional bodies might not trust the federal government to the point of reaching a compromise that might be fulfilled at a later date. This does not speak well for the nation. Expectedly, a sizeable number of Nigerian medical doctors are planning to go overseas in search of greener pastures. Their belief is now being reinforced by the President’s current overseas trip to the United Kingdom to receive treatment for an undisclosed ailment. Of course, if the medical centres here in Nigeria are up to the standards of the hospital President Buhari patronises in London, why go there in the first place?
This time, Nigeria might face two industrial actions in very sensitive sectors. That is if a compromise is not reached between the FG and the officials of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), the body might go on another industrial action. While it is disturbing is that the ASUU’s grouse against the FG is on account of the government not fulfilling its obligations, just like the medical doctors.
South African universities dominated the recent ranking of universities in Africa. Nigeria’s premier university, the University of Ibadan (UI) was ranked 18th by Webometrics, and among the top 20 universities in Africa, only UI made the list compared to 10 from South Africa.
The next 50 years will be a significant role in whether Nigeria will retain its status as the largest economy in Africa. The truth is this period will be driven by a knowledge economy and only countries with their ivory towers adequately prepared will be reckoned with. Therefore, Nigerian medical doctors and academics are within their legitimate rights to ask the federal government to fulfil its obligations for them to discharge their duties to the Nigerian citizenry. Both the health of Nigerians and education are critical to its development. The Federal Government should as a matter of urgency initial genuine roundtable talks that will resolve these intractable issues once and for all.