WHEN will Nigeria ever have a stable social sector? When shall we have at least ten years of unbroken services in the education and health sectors?
When will government learn to fulfill its obligations to the social sector workforce to enable them deliver unbroken services to the people, especially ordinary citizens?
These questions are germane to the strike of Nigeria’s Resident Doctors which started on September 7, 2020. The doctors had only suspended a week-long strike on June 22, 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic cases worsened across the country.
After waiting in vain for over two months for government to fulfill its residual obligations related to hazard allowance and life insurance, the doctors resumed strike, this time “indefinitely”.
The Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, argues that it is illegal under the International Labour Organisation, ILO’s, regulations for workers to go on strike while conciliatory efforts are ongoing. However, this argument holds water only when both parties show preparedness to abide fully by the spirit and letters of agreements reached after such conciliations.
The Nigerian government has a very bad reputation when it comes to fulfilling its own side of any bargain. Government either backtracks wholesale or picks and chooses agreements to meet.
This has been the perpetual bone of contention between government and the Labour unions, especially the tertiary educational institution and health sector workers which are incessantly on strike.
The unions see these strikes as their only potent weapon against a government which is at home with its predilection to breach trust. Unfortunately, it is the common citizens who suffer when these unions withdraw their services. The Resident Doctors form about 40 per cent of the about 52,000-strong community of medical doctors in Nigeria. They are mostly the ones manning the wards in public-owned hospitals.
Wealthier Nigerians, including those who make and implement government policies, can afford to get treatment in expensive private clinics or in hospitals abroad. Whenever the resident doctors withdraw their services it is the ordinary citizen that bears the brunt of it.
We put the blame for these frequent strikes at the doorstep of government. We declared a war on an invisible enemy, the coronavirus pandemic. We designated the health sector workers as the “frontline warriors” to fight this enemy. What is in the life insurance and hazard allowances that they would remain unpaid till date despite N31bn the Federal Government claims to have spent in four months on the COVID-19 efforts?
These doctors toil to cope with humongous caseloads everyday due to dearth of doctors in Nigeria. Most of them have hardly had a weekend’s rest since the pandemic started about six months ago.
The Federal Government must fulfill all agreements reached with them and strive to be trustworthy.