*Accuses NARD of trying to use strike to arm-twist govt to accept illegally recruited doctors
*NARD demands sack of Labour, Health ministers, hopes on Osinbajo to resolve crisis
Doosuur Iwambe & Ukpono Ukpong, Abuja
The Minister of Labour and Employment, Sen. Chris Ngige, on Tuesday, said the Federal Government is not owing any doctor or health worker in Nigeria monthly salary.
This is as he accused the Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) of trying to use strike to arm-twist government to accept doctors that were illegally recruited through the ‘back door’.
Ngige stated this in his opening remark during the Presidential Committee on Salaries meeting with the leadership of Joint Health Sector Union (JOHESU), and Assembly of Health Care Professionals (AHPA), in Abuja, on Tuesday, to review the hazard allowance in health sector.
He insisted that no doctor is being owed salary except those that were illegally recruited into the service.
Ngige noted that the general public have been fed the wrong narrative that government is not taking the issues of healthcare system serious by the doctors who are hell bent on using strike to arm-twist government to legalise illegality.
Ngige referred to the presidential waiver for employment into the critical Health and Defence Ministries in view of the general embargo on employment and assured that doctors illegally recruited would have their service regularised in due course.
“NARD has failed to tell the public that it is not salaries that were not being paid, but that these are special allowances that you earn for special work like all shift duty and consequential adjustment.
“Consequential adjustment is an increase given to you, consequentially because of minimum wage increase. So but your monthly salaries are on.
“The projection given out there is that government is not fulfilling their function of paying health workers, doctors, nurses, laboratory technologists, pharmacists and every other personnel.
“Everybody is saying, government is not taking a healthcare system serious. It’s not true. Nobody is owed monthly salary.
“Doctors said that their members are owed monthly salary. Those that are owed monthly salaries among the doctors are those who were illegally recruited. They had no waiver from Office of Head of service, they had no waiver from the Budget Office of the Federation in terms of the manpower financial need.
“So the money was not captured, but you will hear them say the government is owing us salaries, yet monthly payments are being done as and when due for those who are legitimately employed by government.
“For those who were not legally employed by government, you need to regularise those appointments, and part of the regularisation is that you have to capture it in the finances of government (appropriation). But no, nobody wants government to do the proper thing. They want us to legalise illegality. That’s not fair.
“When doctors were negotiating, they brought their papers and it was clear to them that there was an illegal recruitment of personnel, including doctors in teaching hospitals.
“Then you use strike to arm-twist government to legalise illegal recruitment and pay. It doesn’t make sense to me. Those people who even did the illegal recruit should be punished severely for flouting government regulations,” Ngige said.
The Minister however said that money which the Federal Government owes few doctors and other workers was the 2020 COVID-19 allowance, besides the arrears of the consequential adjustment of the National Minimum Wage and skipping allowance which cut across other sectors. He said work was in progress to clear this.
He blamed the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) and JOHESU for bringing segregation in the negotiation for the new hazard allowance which the Federal Government already budgeted the sum of N37.5 billion for.
“We started joint negotiation to round off discussion and implement new hazard allowance as early as possible so as to stave off the current wolf-crying by doctors. They brought in segregation and couldn’t agree with JOHESU and both now want separate negotiations. Why then blame government and make it an issue to strike for.”
In his speech, Minister of State for Health, Senator Olorunnimbe Mamora, said it was such a wrong time to go on strike, noting that despite financial constraints, government was committed to payment of salaries of doctors and health workers.
Minister of State for Finance, Budget and Planning, Clement Agba, rued the expanding budgetary expenditure of government even as revenue continues to dwindle. He added that government was doing its best and committed to workers welfare but certainly won’t continue to borrow to pay salaries.
President of JOHESU, Josiah Biobelemonye, said his union was “the patient dog of the health sector” and pressed for the swift tackling of the challenges facing its members, to avoid forcing them to strike.
Meanwhile, the Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) has called for the sack of the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige and his Health ministry counterpart, Dr. Osagie Ehanire over the way they have handled issues arising the ongoing strike which entered the 37th day on Tuesday.
Speaking while appearing on a national TV programme on Tuesday, NARD president, Dr. Uyilawa Okhuaihesuyi, said the demand is predicated on the fact that association has lost confidence in their ability to resolve the issues, saying the ministers are taking the matter as an ego thing.
He said: “We do not want to negotiate with the Minister of Labour, Ngige and the Minister of Health, Osagie. You cannot go to the president and be feeding him with wrong information and come on national TV and tell Nigerians lies.
‘’He comes on air regularly misinforming Nigerians when Nigerians are dying every day. I wonder what legacy they want to leave for Nigerians’’, he added.
Dr. Uyilawa declared that the Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) trusts Vice President Yemi Osinbajo’s judgement in resolving the ongoing industrial crisis between the Federal Government and the doctors.
The NARD president said this was necessary after the Vice President intervened and presented the true situation which other government officials have not given the medics since the dispute started over a month ago.
Dr. Okhuaihesuyi, who spoke on behalf of the association, stated that the association is now placing hopes on VP Osinbajo to resolve the issues, stating that if there’s a strong commitment from government, including payment of outstanding salaries and allowances owed doctors, NARD will be ready to call off the strike.
He said: “Vice President Osinbajo reached out to us and we had an intervention on Friday. He (Osinbajo) initiated the meeting because he wanted to get the information about what was going on.
“He said he needed details of everything that happened. He asked calmly and we believe that he would do something and we also believe that very soon, he would call us officially (for a meeting).
“We gave him the information (that he requested). The information we gave him was first-hand and authentic. We are sure other government officials won’t give him such details at all about the whole issue.
“He told us that he did not want the issue to be resolved now and later there would be another strike.
“He said he wants to put the problem to rest once and for all. We are waiting for him to invite us officially and we are certain that he is going to do it. We trust his judgement.”
Dr. Okhuaihesuyi said the association while lamenting that most of its members lost their salaries during the last industrial action revealed that it is ready to call off strike if there’s strong commitment from government.
‘’We have lost 21 resident doctors to Covid-19. This is the system that tells you all health workers are insured. We want all members to be paid every kobo being owed, they are owing us five months, we signed a document almost 5 months ago, they should honour their agreement.
‘’The people that you are owing, do you know how they are feeding, do you know how they are taking care of their families, this whole system needs to be overhauled,’’ the NARD president said.
In the meantime, the Minister of Health, Dr. Ehanire Osagie has declined to comment on the development.
When the Daily Times put a call through to Mr. Olusegun Adetola, the Deputy Director Press in the ministry, he said: ‘’I have not heard anything about that and we are not responding to that. We are not talking about it yet’’.
Also when contacted on Tuesday for reaction regarding NARD’s call for the sack of Labour minister, officials of the Ministry said the minister is yet to comment on the matter.
But another official in the Ministry of Labour and Employment who pleaded anonymity as he was not given approval to speak on the matter said the minister is too busy to respond to such comments as conciliating and restoring industrial harmony is top on his agenda at the moment.
The official said such comments shouldn’t be taken serious as the same NARD, few months ago commended the minister for his dexterity in handling labour matters.
“Even the number one Labour centre in Nigeria, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), on the minister’s birthday described him as one who has “penchant of leaving the door of frank discussions, open negotiations, and genuine reconciliation open. These are the traits of a truly great man,” the official said.