The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rep. Femi Gbajabiamila has once again intervened in the planned strike action by the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD).
This is not the first that that the Speaker would intervene in such a matter as he had last year held several meetings with the resident doctors and other health workers union, and convinced them not to embark on a planned strike at the time.
Gbajabiamila said the leadership of the House would not fold its arms while resident doctors embark on strike at this time of COVID-19 pandemic.
The Speaker said this at a meeting that lasted for about three hours with the two ministers of health, Osagie Ehanire and Olorumibe Mamora; the Director General of Budget Office, Ben Akabueze; the president of NARD, Dr Sokomba Aliyu; the Secretary General of Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) Dr Ekpe Philips, among others.
NARD had issued an ultimatum to embark on strike on Monday, next week, following what it said was government’s inability to fulfil certain obligations as agreed in a memorandum of understanding.
Part of the issues in contention as narrated by the chairman of the House Committee on Healthcare Services, Rep. Tanko Yusuf Sununu, were outstanding payments on hazard allowance, arbitrary disengagement of 23 doctors at the University of Jos Teaching Hospital, non-provision of life insurance despite the death of some doctors from COVID-19, non-provision of personal protective equipment (PPEs), reduction of doctors’ salary by the Kaduna State Government, doctors’ residency training, among others.
But Gbajabiamila, in his intervention, appealed to NARD to tarry awhile as government was working assiduously to meet their entitlements, but noted that the House could not intervene in the issue of doctors in Kaduna State as it is not under its jurisdiction.
Gbajabiamila also hinted that if need be, the House would come up with a law that would not only back the payment of hazard allowance but would also define same for clarity.
“As a House, we’ll keep taking steps to avoid strikes. This meeting will give us the opportunity to holistically address the issues at stake. Let’s agree on one thing: that at this time, we can’t afford to allow our doctors go on strike. Let’s agree that their welfare is a priority,” he said.
Gbajabiamila noted that the issues of hazard allowance was captured in the supplementary budget before the House.
On Kaduna State, Gbajabiamila said: “Unfortunately, we can only deal with federal matters here. We can only be persuasive, because there’s a structure in government. But all the other issues you raised, we will address them. We’ll see how we can talk to members from that state in the House to talk to the governor.”
The Speaker added that: “I want to appeal to the President of NARD and the association itself. My appeal is on humanitarian basis. You’re dealing with lives, so I appeal to you to suspend the strike. I’m making this appeal because of your professional calling. You’re dealing with lives.
“I want you to understand that government is doing its best to meet your entitlement.”
Gbajabiamila also assured that the resident doctors’ training would be captured in the 2021 budget whether or not it is included in the ministry’s budget.
Although Sokomba did not give a direct commitment on the suspension of the planned strike, he said he would get back to the national executive of the association and relate the Speaker’s intervention to them, after which he would communicate their decision to the House.
Speaking earlier, the Minister of State for Health, Mamora, said an agreement was reached at a meeting attended by all stakeholders including NARD leadership that payment would be made and that all other issues would be addressed.
Also, DG Budget Office, Akabueze, said a sum of about N20 billion was proposed as hazard allowance for the doctors in the budget, while the issue of life insurance was well covered.
Lanre Lasisi, Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to the Speaker, House of Representatives, Federal Republic of Nigeria.