Kogi State NMA Impasse: Setting the Records Straight by Gbenga Olorunpomi

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It has always been an integral part of the Governor Yahaya Bello administration to work from behind the curtains, being silent about the process and letting the progress of the work speak for us. However, in the face of overwhelming and delibrate misinformation, it has become imperative to clarify certain issues to the good people of Kogi State and the general public.
A few months ago, we told the world that the major reasons tendered by the Kogi State Chapter of the Nigerian Medical Association for embarking on an industrial action includes:
1. Special consideration for doctors employed in 2015
2. Payment of salaries to cleared members
3. Promotion of doctors who are due
4. Reduction or total waving of taxes for doctors
5. Implementation of corrected CONMESS (Consolidated Medical Salary Structure) for doctors.
Before we address these points, we need to make it known that an ideal negotiation is often a “No Victor, No Vanquished” scenario where every party finds a common ground to feel victorious. When interests clash, negotiating parties need to shift grounds in the interest of the common good.
Here goes…..
1. With regards to the issue of doctors employed in 2015, the Kogi State Government has reinstated all doctors so affected and paid them full salary arrears. Even those who left the service were also paid in full as appropriate. The public should note that no other cadre of staff in the Kogi State Work force has enjoyed such a waiver! It is our firm belief that the health of the good people of Kogi State cannot be toyed with and as such we sought for and secured such a waiver for the doctors, knowing full well that it might pitch the government against other health workers, who will perceive that as double standards. Fortunately, these set of workers have been the most considerate with this administration!
2. During the last meeting between NMA and the State Government with His Royal Majesty, the Attah of Igala, and the Kogi State House of Assembly Committee on Health, NMA stated that their minimum requirement to call off the strike was the reinstatement of the doctors employed in 2015 and payment of their salary arrears. Note worthy here is the fact that the immediate past administration that employed them never paid them for a even a single month!  Against all the odds, we acquiesced to their demands only to realise that the goal post had been shifted before the end of the match. The minimum earlier stated had been reviewed and they were now asking for the payment of salaries to the uncleared doctors.
3. A reconciliation exercise is still ongoing in an effort to fish out those omitted, overpaid or underpaid for correction and moving some uncleared staff to cleared list based on the clemency granted by the Governor. An administrative platform is to address those in uncleared list who still have evidences for clearance.
4. This is in and of itself a legitimate claim, which the State government was eventually going to fulfil, but in the interest of the masses whose health had been hanging in limbo for no fault of theirs, we speedily acceded to the new demand. Yet again, we woke up to learn that the new minimum set by NMA was the implementation of the corrected CONMESS!
5. The Consolidated Medical Salary Structure (CONMESS) was revised after the introduction of relativity and skipping for doctors. It would interest the public to know that about 31 States are yet to implement corrected CONMESS! Nassarawa and Delta States are currently the only two states that have implemented revised CONMESS with 100% skipping and relativity. Gombe and Katsina States adopted only relativity while Plateau State currently pays 80% relativity and skipping. Even Lagos State that generates more revenue that 31 states combined has not implemented corrected CONMESS, yet their doctors are not on strike over that issue.
6. We do not intend by these facts to state our refusal to implement the revised CONMESS. In fact, there is a plan to include it in the 2018 budget or prepare a supplementary budget in this regard, but to hinge resumption on something this delicate is a show of lack of consideration for the economic condition of the country as a whole and the health of the good people of Kogi State in particular.
7. As for promotion of doctors that are due, it has been earlier mentioned that all heads of institutions have been directed to implement the last promotion exercise after clearing all backlogs of salaries bearing in mind though, that the last promotion exercise in Kogi State was in 2009 for some cadre of staff and 2012 for others. To hold this administration to ransom for the sins of the past administration despite showing enough goodwill to correct the anomaly is rather unfortunate and regrettable.
8. The issue of taxation was dropped in favour of promotion of due staff. Of course, there is no way any administration will accept to wave tax in the face of the ongoing economic downturn.
9. We will let the public be the judge of our sincerity and commitment towards resolving the impasse, however what
we find worrisome is the attempt to scuttle the ongoing recruitment exercise in the Ministry of Health, which was borne out of the gap assessment of the manpower in the sector which is alarming and will be in the best interest of all. The NMA have tried to achieve this through campaigns of calumny and dissemination of fictitious reports such as the claim that doctors in Kogi State have not being paid for 17months. We wish to maintain the honour and integrity of doctors in the eyes of the public and pray that we do not get pushed to take measures such as the publishing of payment vouchers of doctors, who have been paid if it is what is needed to debunk the libelous rumours making the rounds.
11. Our doors are always open to the NMA in as much as we will no longer tolerate inconsiderate and unstable ‘minimums’. Our commitment first is towards providing quality healthcare to the people of Kogi State, and we will never rest on our oars till we, to the best of our ability, achieve this.
– Gbenga Olorunpomi is the Senior Special Assistant to the Kogi State Governor on Electronic Media