By today, the nationwide strike action by the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) would have entered its 27th day. This means 27 days of perhaps, a harvest of unannounced deaths and hopelessness for an ordinary Nigerian who require the essential service of a general practitioner in a government hospital.
I can only imagine for how long things have been retrogressing in the country’s health sector and indeed other critical sectors, and stakeholders have laid bare their displeasure and disbelief, particularly through an industrial action of this nature.
I do not also intend to remind Nigerians how incessantly the Academic Staff Unions of Universities (ASUU) have gone on strike since the return to democracy in 1999, and it is worse enough that the government which promised change could not stem the tide in the last six years. At the end of the day, we may not have any significant difference between the PDP and the APC as Nigerians may wake up from their slumber to realise that as an old wine in a new bottle, the APC is just another brand name for indigenous imperialists who parade themselves as political leaders.
It is more annoying that the stakeholders, and in this particular case, doctors whose plight ought to be treated as the part of topmost priority of the government are manipulated by key state actors and tossed from one politician to another only to be left in the cold when it’s time to fulfill promises.
I cannot but express surprise that the speaker, Femi Gbajabimila who in resent time have taken shine and glory from various intervention in serial labour disputes have refused to alter a word in the last 26 days of doctors strike. I take it as the speaker has put himself in a tight corner, perhaps made commitments that the government would honour every agreement reached with the doctors during his intervention, and has lost his voice to the reality of the matter.
In July 2019, the resident doctors extended their strike notice to the federal government following the intervention of the speaker. Gbajabimila met and persuaded the association and officials of the Ministry of Health to reach an agreement on how to settle the matter.
The then president of NARD, Dr Olusegun Olaopa, said they were seeking their salary arrears, skipped salaries amounting to N23.6bn, and the resolution of the irregularities in the implementation of the Resident Doctors Act.
To reassure the doctors, the speaker said, “We’re going to put our reputation on the line and try to see how we can get the executive to bring whatever is agreeable and due to them (NARD) into the budget. On our part, we will make sure that whatever is due to you forms part of the 2020 budget.”
In keeping with his promise on residency funding, the Speaker raised the matter during consideration of the 2020 budget, and the sum of N4 billion was approved by the House from the Service Wide Votes for the commencement of funding of residency programme as provided for by the Medical Residency Training Act.
However, In June 2020, the resident doctors, raising similar concerns, embarked on a strike, but again, after series of interventions by the speaker and the House, the strike was suspended after about 10 days.
At one of his intervention meetings, Gbajabiamila declared that the leadership of the House would not fold its arms while resident doctors embark on strike at this time of the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, it happened and it’s happening again!
About four months ago in April, after signing a memorandum of action with the federal government, NARD suspended another 10 days old the strike started on April 1. Gbajabiamila a few days after held a meeting with the leadership of the resident doctors and said the minister would be invited to discuss how to accommodate some of the financial matters regarding the doctors in the supplementary budget.
Surprisingly, after series of agreements and promises, the doctors are back on strike and the country now witness one of the longest if not the longest surviving industrial action by resident directors in history. At this time, Gbajabimila deafening silence is worrisome, he showed so much empathy in the past, and his efforts yielded results, why should he tarry now? The number four citizen cannot be tired of the government he’s part of!