The Federal Government has welcomed the suspension of the strike of the Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), which lasted for about 63 days.
The Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige stated this while receiving the leadership of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) who led the NARD on a thank you visit to his office.
Ngige who thanked the new NARD leadership led by Dr Godiya Ishaya for asking their members to return to work, announced that the Federal Government has proposed N47 billion annually for payment of hazard allowances starting from 2022 budget.
The Minister said the latest strike would not have degenerated to the point it got to, if the former NARD leadership had given their members the correct information.
He maintained that the Federal Government did not owe any doctor up till August 2, 2021 when NARD embarked on the strike, although there were contentions about allowances such as the Medical Residency Training Fund (MRTF) and some doctors who were not paid the Special COVID-19 allowances.
He said, “The previous NARD leadership hoarded information from your embers. Instead things wouldn’t have degenerated. There is no need being pugilistic. We know that we have opposition to our government. It doesn’t mean that if we are doing something right, we should not be praised.”
According to Ngige, if the former NARD leadership were not playing politics, they should have reported well to their members, especially after the Elders Forum of which the President and Secretary Generals of NARD were members.
“I came to that Elders forum and briefed them. I am not Minister of Health. So, I have a limit. I kept on telling them that Minister of Health is their direct employer. I am not. But, you are lucky to have me, a medical doctor and health system manager here as the Minister of Labour and Employment. So, when the matters come, the issues are clear to me.
“If you ask people who were here before, the former Ministers of Labour avoided tricky matters like this. They will refer you people to either the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) or the Cabinet Office or the Industrial Arbitration Panel (IAP). They don’t do arbitration here, especially when it is as tricky as your own.
“But I do it. I didn’t read that in the university but I can do it. If you go and read the records of this Ministry, all these things terminate at the Office of SGF and that resulted in very prolonged strikes. Today, we normally want to tackle them here because I have the cognate experience required to deal with them.
“But, when you bring advice to both parties on how things should be done and it is thrown away completely, you leave us with no other option than to do what the law says that we should be doing. That was why I sent this matter to the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN).”
Ngige explained that the issue of circular removing NYSC doctors and house officers from scheme of service was the decision of the National Council on Establishments chaired by the Head of Service of the Federation.
“The HOSF is the Chairman of that council and so, the Secretariat is housed in her office. That council is like the Governor’s Forum. The Governors Forum has a secretariat and a Chairman. But their Chairman cannot dictate to them or override them on any decision. He has to come back. The same goes with our FEC. We had to come back to review some of our decisions.
“Unfortunately, the former NARD leadership was playing politics. If they were not playing politics, they should have reported well to their members, especially after we held that Elders forum.”
On the issue of the migration of some doctors on the GFMIS platform, Ngige explained that there are things that the government cannot do immediately, but needs time to accomplish.
He said that nobody can be migrated to IPPIS platform in less than three weeks because there are procedures to be followed including waivers and approvals of government.
“By the time we got the approval of OHSF, I knew that the matter was already solved. So, anybody doing strike on it at that time was no longer helping the matter.
“The Head of Service initially refused to bring the approval, but we put pressure on her after I made my presentation. She told us what to do and we did it. Some of those things were not what should have prolonged that strike.
Ngige thanked the new leadership of NARD for being amenable to dialogue, saying information reaching him shows that they have been traversing offices for the welfare of their members, which their predecessors lacked the patience to do.
Ngige said the erstwhile NARD leadership complained of not getting attention from the Head of Service of the Federation and Ministers, who are occupying very busy offices.
“The Head of Service is a very busy person, I she occupies a busy office. She has six Permanent Secretaries heading strategic departments in her office. Permanent Secretaries from other Ministries come to her with their own problems. I kept telling them that Ministers are very busy people.
“I told them that they shouldn’t use me to equate other ministers. My own is that I have time for unions and associations because that is my constituency. I have open door policy for unions and associations, if I don’t have time, I carve out time.
Ngige assured that all the contentious issues were being addressed, including the payment of Medical Residency Training Fund and Special COVID-19 allowances for those omitted.
On the issue of benefits of deceased doctors, he said Government received report that next of kin of the deceased doctors were not seen
“Do you pay ghost? The next of kin is a very delicate issue between wives and family. You must do authentication of things irregular or you get sued. We have renewed that insurance, if you conclude, the people will be paid.”
“On the issue of hazard allowance, the ball is in your court. You know how it started and how NMA changed their mind and we divided you. CBA allows that if you are not doing the same job, we can separate you. We thought we could take you together with JOHESU. Since it was not working we separate.”
Ngige however said the Government has increased the aggregate money in the 2022 budget for hazard allowance from N40 billion to N47 billion.
Earlier in their separate speeches, the Secretary General of NMA, Dr Philip Ekpe and new NARD President, Dr Godiya Ishaya thanked Ngige for his conciliatory efforts that led to the resolution of the strike but appealed to him to fast forward the full implementation of the Memorandum of Understanding they entered into with the Government.