The director-general of the Progressive Governors’ Forum (PGF), Salihu Lukman says Nigeria is recording preventable deaths as a result of frequent strikes by doctors under the aegis of National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) and other health workers.
The NARD last Monday commenced an indefinite nationwide strike to press home their demands for improved conditions of service, payment of salaries ranging between two and 13 months by some state governments, failure to domesticate Medical Residency Training (MRT) Act 2017 in states, among others.
But Lukman said the dispute was largely with state governments; specifically Abia, Imo, Ondo and Ekiti States which have been identified as the states with poor conditions of service. He wondered why these issues should justify NARD’s decision to lump all states and federal establishments in a single basket of dispute.
He noted that resident doctors who constituted 40 percent of the total (42,000) registered doctors in the country were a critical pillar of healthcare delivery as their absence always result in shutting down of hospitals across the country.
The APC chieftain in a statement on Sunday maintained that given the cost to human life from strikes by health workers, it was quite alarming that industrial actions in a sector as important as health would be taking place at all.
He said: “This is a sector that by every standard should be classified as essential, based on which there should be special legal restrictions regarding labour actions such as strikes”.
Lukman lamented that even when strikes produce human casualties, including deaths, both leaders of unions and employers, including governments behave as if it was normal, querying why demands for job protection, better conditions of service and higher remuneration should be more important than human life in Nigeria.
The DG said although government and political leaders in Nigeria would have taken wrong steps that breached conditions of employment, but that should not become the licence to sacrifice the lives of innocent Nigerians by withdrawing services in hospitals.
According to him, it is quite frustrating when political appointees, such as ministers of labour and health are unable to proactively pre-empt strikes of health workers in the country.
Lukman, therefore, called on the ministers of labour and health to wake up to their responsibility and end the strike which he described as political embarrassment to the All Progressives Congress (APC), coming with a huge cost to the citizens.
According to him, ministers of labour, health and all stakeholders must as a matter of urgency lock themselves in the most qualitative form of negotiations with all workers in the health sector to restore some minimum standards in the sector.
“Similarly, Nigerians must appeal to the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria to take necessary measures to restore ethical conducts of all its registered members.
“A situation where conducts of medical practitioners, being also members of trade unions, conflict with the Code of Ethics they subscribed to must be resolved in favour of protecting the lives of Nigerians.
“Under no circumstance should a registered medical doctor who is a member of the Medical and Dental Council conduct himself or herself in a manner that neglects the primary responsibility of attending to sick persons in Nigerian hospitals.
“In the end, priority attention must be given to the issue of redefining Nigerian federalism to ensure that labour issues, including negotiations for wages and terms of conditions of service and resolving all challenges that come with it are moved to the concurrent list of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution as amended.
“A situation whereby terms agreed with Federal Government are used for state employees will always create problems of implementation. State governments need to be more creative to introduce new incentives, which are not monetary but perhaps having higher monetary values than what obtains in federal establishments”, Lukman argued.