Health workers in Nigeria blame the reluctance of the Federal Government to meet their demands on the dominant status of Medical Doctors in the Federal Ministry of Health. In this interview with Federationews2day, the National President of the Nigeria Union of Allied Health Professionals, who also doubles as the Vice Chairman of the Joint Health Sector Union(JOHESU),Comrade(Dr) Ogbonna Obinna Chimela says this has been the major challenge for health workers in Nigeria. Excerpts :
How has it been for your union in the past two and half years ?
If something is reoccurring and you are using the same method in solving the same problem and expecting a different answer, then you are just deceiving yourself. So far so good, we have not had it any good with the Federal Ministry of Health. And we have noticed and it seems to us that the drivers of the system are predominantly form one professional group alone, that has not allowed for justice, equity and fairness to take place, in the demands that we are making, because the Minister of Health is a Medical Practitioner, the Minister of state of Health is also a Medical Practitioner, then when policies and decisions are to be taken, most of the time , they don’t look favorably to our own direction. And that is why we have been having this running battle, it has been on severally, because our demands are not judiciously met, so what we look at as a solution to this, number one, we would want to suggest, maybe in the next dispensation or when the President wants to embark on cabinet reshuffle, in order for peace to reign in the health sector, if the senior Minister is a Medical Practitioner, the Minister for state, should be from the Allied Health Profession or from the JOHESU caucus and vice versa, so, it will allow for balancing, it will allow for all inclusive policy generation and administration. Nobody will be crying foul, because we know that all of us are in the team, our views would be represented in the planning and execution of the policies.
How would you assess the performance of the Minster of Health, viz – a viz you demands ?
Really, if we want to score him, viz-a viz, our demands, he has not performed well, because all the issues we’ve being taking to the Government through him, have not been really looked into, pragmatically, some of the demands are met haphazardly and not holistically and not total, some of them are half way done, some are not even met at all. For instance , the issue of promotion of our members, we have had cause to tell the Ministry that whenever they conduct promotions, promotion is an elevation from an existing cadre or position to a higher one, for instance, someone who is on CONHESS 11, who is promoted to CONHESS 12, they would say that they have conducted promotion interview and that the person has passed, and when they would bring out promotion letter, they would still place that person on CONHESS 11, is that promotion ? That is not promotion. And there are other issues that have to do with the headship of Departments, in our various clinical areas, we still see some other professionals, like the Pathologists, who are full time employees of the Federal Ministry of Education, they are in the University, they are just on part-time appointment in hospitals, they still bring them and make them Heads of Departments of the Clinical areas, when we have competent and qualified professionals there, as permanent staff. Is that correct ? So, these are some of the things that we’ve been presenting to the Government and we are expecting them to implement accordingly. But up till this moment, some of these things have not been implemented. And when you see us go on strike, strike is a means of calling the Government attention to a prevailing obnoxious situation. When they call us for dialogue, they will agree with us,they would say, we would do this and this, suspend your strike, after a period of time we would settle this matter. But when that time lapses, what do we expect ? There would be another agitation, the strike would resume again. For instance, the strike that was just suspended a few weeks ago, the agreement is that within five weeks, especially one issue that cuts across, the adjustment of CONHESS salary, the way it was done for Medical Practitioners on CONMESS, should have been done and completed and approved and got from Mr. President. By next tomorrow been Thursday(2nd November) we would have clocked five weeks, we have not got any update. The union leaders would now group to begin agitation, who has failed ? Government of course. Through who ? Through the Federal Ministry of Health, Through who ? Through the leader, who is the Minster of Health. So, by the time we want to score him, if he has not met our demands, I think perhaps, we will say that he has failed. It is when he meets our demands and makes us happy, we will give him pass mark, but if he does not meet our demands, he has failed. So we are calling on him, personally, as an individual, he is an achiever, but we want him to bring that achievement to bear in this matter, it is when has done this, to our own benefit, then we will call him an achiever, if not, he has failed. I pray that he will succeed by meeting our demands.
The Government has said that it would begin the implementation of the rule ‘No Work, No Pay’, what is your reaction to this ?
It is with mixed feelings we receive this, number one there are procedures, according to the Trade Dispute Act, if you look at part 6, sub-section 41 of it, there are procedural ways of calling a strike, before we embark on any strike action, we should give the Government 15 days to look at our demands and now fashion out solutions or methods on how to handle or solve the problem. If we are law abiding and we follow due process, and give Government 15 days to meet our demands and aspirations, and within that 15 days Government fails, and mind you, there is also a provision of the law, the labour law,, that gives us backing, to show our grievances by withdrawing our services, through strike action. So, if Government is now coming out bold to say, if we go on strike, they will implement ‘No Work, No Pay’, I think they don’t have the right, because they are culprits in the matter, because if they have done their own part, would there be strike ? It is the court that should adjudicate over the matter to know who is right or wrong. Whether the Government is right, let the ‘No Work, No Pay’ take its course, but if the Government is wrong, then we should not be cowed, by saying that they would implement ‘No Work, No Pay’, that means they want to take us into slavery. There is Fundamental Human Rights in the Nigerian constitution. We have our have our Fundamental Human Rights to pursue our legal obligations. Number two, there is the Freedom of Information Act, should we not talk ? They want to cow us, it is against the law, we will not accept that. It is against our Fundamental Human Rights. If the Government is serious about this matter, it should go to court, we will go to court. Let the court be the final arbiter in this matter. You cannot be a Judge in your own case. We are calling on the Generality of Nigerians that they should stop the Government from taking this action, because if they do it, they will aggravate the situation. We are going to continue with strike action, until this obnoxious rule, they want to bring in, is quashed. We are not in a Banana Republic, we are in a Democratic setting, they must be ready to listen to us, no draconian laws, we are not slaves, we are rightful owners of this country together. So, that is our position.