by Abiola Akintunde
On June 21st, it was shocking that Nigeria could once again retrace the path of anarchy, as the federal government ordered the replacement of striking resident doctors nationwide. This was announced in spite of ongoing negotiations; many of which had failed, on the demands put forward by the representatives of the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) under the auspices of the Nigerian Medical Association.
The Minister of Health, Isaac Adewole, in a circular signed by Amina Shamaki, permanent secretary of the ministry directed Chief Medical Directors(CMDs) and Medical Directors (MDs) of FG tertiary health institutions to fill the vacancies created by resident doctors who have “abandoned” their programme. A decision that was taken a day after resident doctors in government hospitals embarked on a nationwide strike.
It is natural for people to demand for better working conditions and packages, neither is it illegal for workers to embark on industrial action to ensure that their employers do not remain rigid in addressing their concerns to secure a better welfare package. What is irresponsible, is for the government to ignore the message the strike is encoding, and intentionally misrepresent the message to justify it’s irresponsible decision.
It was true that NARD did not allow the bad state of Nigeria’s economy to fully dictates it’s stand during negotiations, but to see attempts to continue to bring closer the differences of NARD and the government as unproductive, abandoning such attempts and the use of state power to put an end to the stalemate by sacking the striking doctors is irresponsible of the government.
It is only those that celebrates anarchy that will conduct themselves in the manner the Nigerian government had done, it is only those that believe in use of force that will consider firing striking workers and hiring new set of workers as a strategy to resolve labour crisis. The circular of anarchy reads: “It has come to the notice of the Management of the Ministry that some Resident Doctors in your establishment have voluntarily withdrawn from the Residency Training Program by refusing to report for training without authorization.”
The odour of anarchy became impossible to cover after the circular that directed striking doctors to be sacked stated that: “In view of this development, you are hereby directed to replace all the Doctors that have withdrawn their services, with others from the pool of applicants for the training programs in the various disciplines in order not to create ominous gap in training with attendant disruption of health care delivery in your facility.”
The question is; if the federal government which is expected to lead by example can behave so irresponsible and walk the path of anarchy in resolving labour crisis, what should be expected from state governments which are known for their undemocratic practices in dealing with labour crisis? Why would the government be interested in dragging out a strike that have locked down our teaching hospitals, denying Nigerians access to healthcare services and may create a situation whereby resident doctors may no longer be resident in hospitals for a long time?
The lack of understanding that even if these doctors are replaced, sooner or later, their replacement will also agitate for improved welfare package is diminishing for a government. Minster of Health Prof. Isaac Adewole, has been the most criticised for such government decision and as argued by many, he was solely responsible for the decision. An argument that acquit President Buhari of involvement. On the contrary, Prof Adewole can not singlehandedly come to such conclusion without the President rubber stamping it. This catastrophic measure was the doing of President Buhari.
To those saying that what if the President knew nothing about it, I say assuredly that Prof. Isaac Adewole would have been sacked for sacking over 14,000 workers on his own and bringing the government under the beam of public criticism on its show of anarchy and irresponsible display. But this did not happen. We can not continue to live under the pretence that all is well and neither can we continue to exempt the President from the bad conduct of his administration.
If this government will continue to appeal to Nigerians to support it towards restoring the country to the path of development, the government must desist from nailing those that are seeking to exercise their fundamental rights to the cross. Though NARD has suspended the strike which it embarked upon on June 20th, the impression that the government coarse NARD to suspend the strike surely saturated the minds of Nigerians.
Abiola Akintunde is a political commentator based in Nigeria. He tweets at @AAbiolat on twitter, blogs on www.abiolaoakintunde.wordpress.com and can be reached via [email protected]