Why Kogi Doctors’ Strike Is Not Out Of Place

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I read today where my beloved friend, Onimisi Peter Benjamin, was ranting that Kogi doctors, under the aegis of the state chapter of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), are on strike just to fuel their greed, in a bid to enjoy good patronage in their private hospitals. In his opinion, doctors are wicked and their insensitivity is unbecoming of professionals. It’s very unfortunate that such an uncensored comment came from someone like him, a pharmacist and friend. I honestly expected he knew better. I must have overrated him. I normally do not take umbrage from, or waste my precious time to respond to such posts that smack of pettiness in various shades of sentiments, hatred and envy but I I’ll do this because he tagged me to hear what I have to say.
Let it be clear to my good friend, Benjamin and his ilk, that doctors do not go on strike just for the fun of it or for greed spree, as he would want the public to believe. Far from it! For every strike embarked upon by doctors there’s a reason, most times largely in the overall interest of patients and quality healthcare delivery. Let’s take the Kogi scenario as a case study, since it’s the trigger point of this discussion.
Earlier this year, precisely on 9th of January 2017 a memorandum of understanding between Kogi State government and NMA was signed. The key issues the memorandum sought to resolve include: reinstatement and payment of doctors employed in 2015 by the last administration, clearing and payment of doctors whose names do not appear in any list following the staff verification exercise despite meeting all requirements, full payment of salaries and arrears of those who have  been underpaid. It also included the issue of implementation of new tax regime when some doctors who have been promoted long ago do not enjoy a corresponding increase in salary.
The above agreement was the condition for the suspension of the January 2017 strike but, sadly, after two months of resumption of work by the doctors, the state government couldn’t fulfill her own side of the bargain. This led to another two weeks strike in May which ended due to plea for consideration by the stakeholders, especially the respected traditional rulers in the state. Nothing much has changed as we speak, hence the index strike which was declared by NMA last Saturday and effective from today, Monday, 5th June 2017.
Now let’s examine some of these issues and subject them to logical and commonsensical analysis as it relates to doctors and patients’ wellbeing and ultimately the overall betterment of the health sector.
The tail end of Governor Idris Wada regime witnessed massive employments into the various ministries and parastatals. Governor Yahaya Bello’s administration came on board and regarded those appointments as illegal because they were not done in accordance to due process. Now, who is to blame or punished for this? The person who offered the jobs or those who accepted the jobs? These doctors, and indeed every other professionals concerned, have been working for the past 15 months without pay. And then came the final verdict of the staff verification committee to have them deleted from the pay roll without pay for the work already done or even an offer of “Thank You”. Maybe someone should be punished for this wicked act, definitely not the doctors. By the way, the appointment was done by Kogi state government and not Wada as a person. Governance is a continuum and this is how it should be seen.
The state chapter of NMA decided to go on strike in solidarity with their affected colleagues and then you hear people quoting Hippocratic Oath as the reason doctors must continue suffering and smiling. What is difficult to understand that doctors are human beings too who need money to meet their basic needs? How do you expect to get the best of a professional who has not been paid for over a year? Does anyone ask what they eat? How they pay their rents or meet other domestic needs of their families? I have personally seen doctors in the state relegated to such hardship of inability to afford necessary food. Also, sacking these 2015 doctors will reduced the already few number of doctors in the state, leading to increased workload on the remaining ones. Overworking doctors who are already with hectic work schedules won’t let them give their best to patient care. It’s the fact of life.
True, some other workers are also affected but everyone is at liberty to demand for his/her right the best way he/she deem fit, provided it is legal. One’s resolve to be silent shouldn’t exclude the other groups’ right to protest. If any health care worker or organization doesn’t like the fact that doctors’ strike has paralyzed their own activities in the hospital (doctors don’t keep the keys to the hospitals anyway), they should go and open the hospitals and do their own work or even take the place of doctors. After all, some of them even pretend to be doctors. I do not believe in the superiority of any profession over another. If any group is feeling jobless because doctors have decided to bow to pressure to demand for their rights through strike action, they will not be helped out of their frustrations.
I have great pity and concern for the patients in Kogi state owned hospitals whose health and lives are at great risk, as well as some doctors whose wellbeing and existence are being threatened. No soul is more precious than the other. A starved and ailing doctor is as much a patient as any other sick person. I can only pray and wish that both the government and the NMA can come to a compromise very soon and resolve the underlying cause of the strike.
– Ahmed Victor Idowu

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