By Luminous Jannamike
ABUJA – JUST five days ago, the Joint Health Sector Unions, JOHESU, boycotted a meeting with the Federal Government over the ongoing strike action by its members.
In the five weeks the industrial action has lasted, the JOHESU and the Federal Ministry of Health have met six times but failed to reach a peaceful resolution on the trade disputes.
Blames, as expected, are flying back and forth. The Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, accused the JOHESU of turning down the Ministry’s overtures for peaceful settlement, while the health workers claimed the Minister is posing as a barrier to the resolution of the disputes.
JOHESU President, Comrade Biobelemoye Josiah, while accusing Adewole of sabotaging the negotiation process, said, “the Federal Ministry of Health as presently led by Prof. Isaac Adewole has constituted itself as a major hindrance to fruitful deliberation as he has never disguised his intention to symbolise the propaganda machine of the NMA through his posturing at all our meetings, which necessitated JOHESU to take a position that the negotiations were structured to fail ab-initio.
“His (Adewole’s) continued stay in office remains a major barrier to the resolution of the ongoing strike by health workers. This is a major threat to Public Health especially at a time that the dreaded Ebola disease is rampaging in some African countries.”
Similarly, the Chairman, Assembly of Healthcare Professional Associations, Dr. Godswill Okara, said the Minister has refused to demonstrate keen desire to have the disputes settled.
“We have had six meetings with the Minister over the ongoing strike. But each time we approached the negotiation table, Discussions always went back and forth without meaningful resolutions. It’s a shame to say that the Federal Government’s side led by the Minister of Health, Prof Isaac Adewole, has not shown any iota of seriousness about the on-going strike and its attendant negative effects on the health sector.
“The government said it has agreed to 14 out of the 16 demands on the terms of settlement. But the Minister of Health has refused to sign and issue an implementation circular to that effect. We insisted on the circular, which of course will be in print, because government business is not run by word-of-mouth.
“So, after six fruitless meetings with the federal government’s side, we felt there was no need to continue with a seventh meeting until we first consult the workers we represented at the negotiation table. Apart from that, we also had strong reasons to suspect booby-traps at that seventh meeting. That’s why we didn’t show up.”
On his part, Adewole dismissed the allegations as baseless, saying government has not reneged on its commitment to promote peace and industrial harmony in the health sector.
He maintained that the Ministry of Health under his watch will continue to engage in continuous dialogue on how to improve the health sector.
Adewole, however, blamed JOHESU for the collapse of the negotiation process, saying “We waited for six hours for JOHESU’s representatives so that we continue with negotiations but they boycotted without prior notice.
“Shortly after the adjournment of the boycotted meeting, an official communication titled: collapse of negotiation between the federal government and joint health sector unions was issued by JOHESU, informing that negotiation with us has broken down.
“But, we have put in place a reconciliatory process towards amicable settlement of the trade dispute.
“However, we appeal to members of the Union to consider the plight of innocent Nigerians in need of health care and return to work while negotiation continues,” he said.
Because of the critical role health workers play in the well-being of citizens, some civil society groups are threatening to stage street protests and institute more embarrassing litigations against the JOHESU and the federal government.
For example, the National Coordinator, Association of Positive Youths in Nigeria, Isah Mohammed, said his group was considering street protests and rallies at state capitals across the country to amplify the issues surrounding the health workers’ strike and draw global attention to the pitiable situation in government hospitals since the strike began.
He stressed that health-related CSOs are concerned with the collapsed negotiations between JOHESU and the federal government and, perhaps, the domino effect it could have on citizens’ welfare throughout the country.
“If more and more health workers feel they’ve been treated unfairly, they could switch careers or quit the health sector altogether. Then government might have an even harder time managing the capacity crunch,” he said.