Doctors’ strike: Osinbajo is our only hope — NARD

L-R: Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and Dr Okhuaihesuyi Uyilawa, NARD president. (File photos)

The National Association Resident Doctors (NARD) has given credence to the appointment of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo as the chairman of the Health Reform Committee inaugurated by President Muhammadu Buhari, on Monday, declaring that, he is their only hope.

Dr Okhuaihesuyi Uyilawa, president of the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), who said this while speaking on the Channels TV news and current affairs programme, Sunrise Daily, however, expressed a reservation on the action of the Minister of Labour, Dr Chris Ngige, which he declared a personal issue with his body.

Uyilawa said: “The Vice President is our only hope, we met with him on Friday, and unfortunately, on Saturday, we were getting a wrong signal from the Minister of Labour, that is personal. It is more like an ego thing now.”

“If the Minister of Labour heard that we had a meeting with the Vice President and he is already intervening, why go back to the Presidency the next day to give a wrong impression that we were insisting on putting the no work, no pay in paper?” Uyilawa asked, adding, “We will do everything to end the strike. It is a trust thing. If you have someone that has the integrity, not the ones we have talked with earlier, we will by all means find a way to call off the strike.

Asked if his association believes the Vice President has the integrity? NARD president said, he has integrity, he has trust, and he is somebody I believe can make things work.

President Muhammadu Buhari had, on Monday, approved the setting up of a Health Sector Reform Committee to commence the development and implementation of a Health Sector Reform programme for Nigeria in collaboration with the State Governments and the FCT administration.

The committee which is set up for a period of six months under the Chairmanship of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo has members drawn from private and public sector health care management professionals, development partners, representatives from the National Assembly as well as the Nigeria Governors Forum among others.

The President’s inauguration of the committee is sequel to a Health Sector Diagnostic Review Report developed by a consultant, Vesta Healthcare Partners and the Federal Ministry of Health.

The committee is expected to undertake a review of all healthcare reforms adopted in the past two decades and lessons learnt and factor them into the development of the new Health Sector Reform Programme.

Recalled the resident doctors in Nigerian public hospitals began an indefinite strike on Monday, August 2, 2021 over grievances that include the delayed payment of salaries and allowances, the doctors’ union said, as coronavirus infections rise.

The NARD had declared the strike action on July 30 at its National Executive Council meeting with the theme “The Nigerian doctor, an endangered species: grappling with a pandemic, poor workplace infrastructure and security threats.”

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The association’s president had announced the action would begin on August 2 after the meeting held in Umuahia, Abia State, citing the failure of the Federal Government to implement the agreements it entered into with the union 113 days after it suspended the previous strike.

Nigerian doctors had frequently gone on strike over what they say are poor conditions of service. Last year they walked out from their jobs three times, including over demands for an allowance for treating COVID-19 patients.

Commenting earlier on the last industrial action, Uyilawa, president of the NARD president, had said the strike started early on Monday, August 2 and that the government had not reached out to the union since it gave notice of the job action.

Asked whether the strike would affect the COVID-19 vaccination drive, Uyilawa reportedly said: “Hunger is worse than COVID-19. We have lost 19 members to COVID-19, with no death-in-service insurance.”

But the Health Minister, Osagie Ehanire, had said in a statement the ministry was engaging the striking doctors to resolve the issues quickly, adding that medical directors should ensure service delivery is not disrupted.

NARD had earlier said in a statement on Saturday that salary shortfalls stretching over months, failure to pay some doctors COVID-19 allowances and shortages of manpower in hospitals were among the reasons that had pushed its members to strike.

But Lagos State said the decision by the doctors was hasty and appealed for restraint from NARD doctors in the state.

Resident doctors are medical school graduates training as specialists. They are pivotal to frontline healthcare in Nigeria as they dominate the emergency wards in its hospitals.

Uyilawa said his union represented 16,000 resident doctors out of a total of 42,000 doctors in Africa’s most populous country.

However, the Federal Government has pledged to do everything possible to end the ongoing nationwide strike by NARD, which has paralysed activities in government-owned hospitals nationwide.

The Minister of Labour and Employment, Sen. Chris Ngige, said this while addressing the Nigerian Health Commissioners’ Forum Quarterly meeting on Friday in Abuja.

Ngige said this in a statement signed by Mr Charles Akpan, Deputy Director, Press and Public Relations in the ministry.

The minister recalled that the doctors were “sleeping on their rights until COVID-19 pandemic broke out last year” and the Federal Government felt that, the N5,000 hazard allowance paid to them since 1991 was too paltry.

He noted that the Federal Government paid the doctors and other health workers “bumper money” as special COVID hazard allowance for three months in the first instance, to the tune of N32 billion.

He said that states were told to pay as much as they could afford.

Recalled before the inauguration of his committee, Vice President Osinbajo, had, on Friday, held a Zoom meeting with the NARD headship in a bid to finding a lasting solution to the strike action.

Vice President Osinbajo was meeting with NARD, 33 days after the commencement of the strike.

The Vice President of NARD, Adejo Arome, attesting to the Vice President’s meeting with the body, said, the meeting held virtual via Zoom app with officials of the association on Friday.

Arome, said, the Vice President had asked for the first-hand information on the issues involved.

He said, “Vice President Osinbajo reached out to us. He met with the President yesterday (Friday). It was actually a zoom meeting he had with our president ( Uyilawa Okhuaihesuyi) though some of us were there. He (Osinbajo) initiated the meeting because he wanted to get the information about what was going on.

“He said he needed details of everything that happened. He asked calmly and we believe that he would do something and we also believe that very soon, he would call us officially (for a meeting).

“We gave him the information (that he requested). The information we gave him was first-hand and authentic. We are sure other government officials won’t give him such details at all about the whole issue.

“He told us that he did not want the issue to be resolved now and later there would be another strike.

“He said he wants to put the problem to rest once and for all. We are waiting for him to invite us officially and we are certain that he is going to do it. We trust his judgement.”