By Tonnie Iredia
Any person visiting Nigeria in the last couple of months would likely form two unquestionable impressions. The first is that the nation is under siege from criminal elements while the second is that she is facing an overwhelming number of strikes by public workers. None of the two can be said to be older or more prevalent than the other. Although the strikes do not involve killings which hold sway in the case of insurgency and armed battles, the impact which the paralyzing strikes have had on the nation are no less impactful.
When agitations for restructuring or succession are added to the troubles of running Nigeria, one wonders why some of our citizens are not in any way dissuaded from the struggle to become candidates at the next general elections of 2023. Of course, because it is practically impossible to do justice to all these issues in one article, the goal today is to pick one of the issues – strikes and attempt to examine its core dimensions.
At the last count the major strikes that were on-going were those by Judiciary workers, Resident Doctors and Polytechnic lecturers. No one knows yet if the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU which holds the gold medal in strikes in Nigeria will soon declare another round of strikes. Perhaps it might not; following a crucial meeting scheduled for last Monday between ASUU and Education Minister, Adamu, Adamu.
But then the point to worry about is that considering that strike connotes a breakdown of relationships, why are such breakdowns so rampant in Nigeria? However, the frequency of strikes these days has altered the old propaganda that Nigerian workers are forever fighting for increased salaries. In truth, a fair review of the issues at stake in our strikes would clearly establish that the real problem is the unending nature of the insincere agreements between the government and workers.
In the case of the National Association of Resident Doctors NARD, there is a consensus that no time is good for doctors to go on strike in view of their fundamental service to humanity. Certainly, with security challenges in parts of the nation coupled by high unemployment rates, inflation and the COVID-19 pandemic, this is the most inauspicious time for a doctors’ strike.
Yet the country’s managers willfully allowed NARD made up of majority of our doctors to down tools. Our finding is that poor funding, obsolete and insufficient working facilities and low remuneration are not all that our doctors are made to endure. They are also, now and gain, served with demoralizing stories – tales that harden the aggrieved to never back down.
Those who often blackmail doctors with the ‘Hippocratic Oath’ forget that the oath is meant for the living and not dead doctors. In other words, one has to be alive to adhere to the ideals of the oath, certainly not in the midst of salary arrears. When government first introduced the Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System IPPIS, it was described as a technology that could efficiently and indeed, SWIFTLY deal with identity issues concerning the payment of salaries unlike the old analogue system that was marred by ghosts.
If so, how come, doctors and other professionals are victims of the IPPIS framework? Interestingly, government officials who keep blaming systemic hitches on the IPPIS, hardly realize that it makes little sense for a technology brought in to reverse analogue drawbacks, to take months to add a correctly processed new appointee to a staff list.
Polytechnic lecturers have had the same fate with ASUU and NARD. They are now aware that explanations made during any strike takes the same pattern. First, the workers continuously draw attention of the relevant supervisory authority to an existing agreement yet to be implemented and get no response. Second, they issue an ultimatum to begin a strike.
A few hours to the deadline, the relevant workers’ union is invited to a meeting where government explains how ready she is to handle the observed grievances. Irked that the government is playing on their intelligence, the union stubbornly continues with the strike. Thereafter, the government evolves what it calls Memorandum of Action (MOA). Some of the workers are prevailed upon to have pity on those who would suffer mostly from the strike, such as students or patients. Then the strike is suspended but not cancelled because they know the MOA is a smokescreen.
During this period, Labour Minister, Chris Ngige, who in fairness has almost become an encyclopedia of labour relations begins to tutor everyone on the statutory processes and procedures for strikes. Unfortunately, Ngige convinces only a few because though he is supposedly a conciliator between the parties, he is also a Minister in the same government the workers are dissatisfied with. For example, he is usually quick to remind adamant workers of the ‘no work no pay rule’ but always silent on which work he is referring to – is it future work or the one done in the past that was yet to be paid for?
In the case of the Resident Doctors, he is now blaming, the President of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) Professor Innocent Ujah for failing to play his expected role, yet he knows that apart from the fact that the striking doctors would hardly listen to the man, he is currently preoccupied with a new assignment as Vice Chancellor of the new Federal University of Medical Science, Oturkpo, Benue State. In any case, it is only the doctors in government that are on the same page with the authorities against their striking younger colleagues. No one else is.
So, the chorus that officials sing every time there is a strike is now unpopular and we have a duty to say so. To the health sector which the other day produced a story of missing billions of naira, we demand that it should be found and used judiciously for the sector. As for the Judiciary workers who are on strike over the refusal of state governments to allow for judicial autonomy many are with them because without autonomy justice is impossible.
Even the opinion of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) that the strike was ill-timed suggests support. Already the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Justice Tanko Muhammad appears exhausted over the drama the political class is playing with judicial autonomy. Last Tuesday at a meeting with the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria, (JUSUN) in Abuja, Tanko said he would ordinarily have spoken to the individual 36 state governors, but couldn’t do so because it would “amount to asking for their favours, and that some of them would ask him to do 10 favours in return.”.
With a court judgment as far back as 2014 in favour of judicial autonomy and the 2020 directives of President Buhari that local councils as well as the judiciary and the legislature in the states should all enjoy financial autonomy, what else can anyone do? Last week, the House of Representatives Committee on Health Care Services, having identified Dr. Tajudeen Sanusi, Registrar Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN) as one of those toying with the Resident Doctors’ matter threatened to arrest him. Who will they threaten over the non-implementation of the judicial autonomy issue? Certainly, 36 MOUs and MOAs can’t help; may be judiciary workers should organize their strikes during election petitions!!!