It has been 33 days now since the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) embarked on a nationwide industrial strike, refusing to shift grounds since Federal government has refused to meet its 24 points demands ranging from the abolition of directorship appointments of other health workers, reasoning that it distorts the chain of command in the hospital and induces anarchy which exposes the patient to conflicting treatments and management directives. Chairman, Association of Medical Lab Scientist of Nigeria (AMSLSN) Dr. Gregory Ifeanyi, in this interview with Peoples Daily’s health correspondent, Doyin Ojosipe, reveals this much. Excerpts.
Looking at the demands of the NMA, what is your opinion on the ongoing national strike?
We have tolerated the excesses of the Nigerian Medical Association in this country and its now getting to the point of notoriety. NMA demands are anti people and illegal because a situation whereby an employee decides what should be given to him and by the same token, decides what others get offends the rationality and sensibility of the Nigerian people.
One of the ridiculous demands is seeking to set aside provisions in schemes of service of other health care professionals; these schemes of service were articulated in keeping with statutory regulations, because for a scheme of service to be, the parent ministry of that profession will sponsor it so, the schemes of service for Nurses, Medical Laboratory Scientists, Pharmacists, Physiotherapists, etcetera were all sponsored by the federal ministry of health, the establishment and management services in the office of the Head of Service to National Council of Establishments, which include all the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory before all these things became schemes of services and which is in tandem with other schemes of services, say for lawyers, engineers, etcetera, which provides that people in those services should reach the Zenith of their career pack which is directorship.
The demand of NMA, is that these categories of healthcare professionals in their own chosen area should not reach the zenith as provided in their schemes of services.
Part of the demand is that other health workers should not be called consultants in a hospital setting as it could lead to confusion; another demand was that all doctors on CONMESS 3 and above, must be paid specialist allowance or its equivalent that is not less than 50% higher than what is paid to other health workers; do you agree with these?
Now for goodness sake, the euphoria that because you have an MBBS degree, so every other health care professional is but a tissue paper is nonsensical.
In September 8, precisely 2013, the Minister of Health, Prof. Onyebuchi, Chukwu on an AIT programme said and I quote “if you are in the health sector, if you work in the Nigerian hospital, and you don’t have an MBBS degree, you had better go back to school.” If that is the opinion of the honourable minister of health, about other health care professionals, then you now see who is responsible for the crisis in the health sector; it was a Sunday morning, i was taken aback, the regard I had for the minister that day diminished.
The reason is this; it is the same University senate that ratified the degrees that we all hold in the health sector and therefore, no particular degree is superior to others, Nigerian doctors must understand that, it is the reality.
I want to say that for not less than 40-50 decades in the country, we’ve had circulars providing for the appointment of consultants, both medical and non medical consultants; they are asking government to reverse, to set aside a career provision it has made for the benefit of the Nigerian masses.
I want to think that this strike is another antic in play of Professor Onyebuchi Chukwu to actualise for his colleagues, some of the things he sought to achieve under the auspices of his person as the minister of health. I give you an instance, erstwhile permanent secretary of the federal ministry of health, issued a circular, because before now, CMDs and MDs were busy appointing deputy CEMAC including deputy CEMANC maintenance, please what is the link of a doctor’s duty with maintenance; repairing of chairs, tables, electricity, etcetera? We had deputy CEMAC maintenance; it is that ridiculous. So this worthy Nigerian, former perm sec of health, wrote to all the MDs and CMDs to put them on notice that, that particular is illegal and should be discontinued.
You wouldn’t believe that the Minister of health, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu compelled this same man, to what? To do a retraction so, is that not the part of the 24 point demand? That is what he could not actualise; he is using his colleagues to put pressure on government to achieve the demands.
And again, the same Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu, sometime last year, wrote a memo to all CMDs halting the appointment of other healthcare professionals as consultants, unilaterally, using administrative fiat.
JOHESU rose to the occasion and went to the National Industrial Court (NIC), and court ruled in its favour, that members should be allowed to reach the zenith of their career as provided in the schemes of services and government circulars, which is that those due for promotion to directorship, which is CONHES 15 should be promoted; the same court ruled that those health workers whose appointments as consultants for close to 30 years was terminated as a result of that circular be reinstated as the position by no means infringes on the appointment of clinicians and allopathic doctors as consultants; so the court ruled that the position subsists.
Now, rather than follow court process, the NMA decided to get what they couldn’t get through the judiciary by brow beating the federal government and arm twisting Nigerians to accede to their demands.
They went on an illegal strike, a strike that is anti people, particularly at a time the country is bedeviled by insurgency, at this particular time that the West African region is threatened by the Ebola scourge, every other country; their emergency preparedness is almost 100% the doctor collapsed the Nigerian health system, that for me is sabotage not just against the government but against the Nigerian People, with whose tax money, they are paid salaries, for me it’s an act of wickedness against the people and should be so seen.
There has been speculation that the Federal Government may privatise government hospitals, do you think such step would be in the best of Nigerians?
for me the first thing for Government to do is to proscribe the NMA because it is not a trade union, before now I expected that we will have upgraded the health services of the Nigerian police, Custom service, Nigerian force and of course, the military medical care to start providing medical services for the Nigerian Populace, it’s high time government go that way.
You see, 1985 was the birthday of this destruction taking place in the health sector, it came into effect following the obnoxious military decree 10 of 1985, before then, the Nigerian health system was administered as it is being done in Britain, America and of course, countries that are in the comity of nations. In the last four decades in America and Britain, there has not been a secretary of health that is a doctor; further to that hospitals in these countries are run day to day by hospital administrators. It’s a professional career and cadre in the health system; it has always been there until 1985 when the IBB led administration, through late Dr Olukoye Ransom Kuti got the obnoxious decree 10 which gave the absolute administration of the hospitals to doctors.
Go and profile our health indices from 1985 till date, it has been a downward trend, compared to other countries of the world. When Jimoh Ibrahim foundation did an evaluation and profiled the health sectors in African countries, we came 51 out of 52 countries in rating.
I want to say that President Jonathan gave the Minister of health one mandate when he was appointed but the minister has failed to accomplish that; he said to him “minister of health, go and put your house in order.” And almost four years down the lane, the minister of health has failed to put it through and if I was the President, because of this excesses and gross failure, I would have fired the minister of health.