JOHESU strike: FG, Nigerians at a cross road?

The current strike embarked upon by JOHESU is biting hard. Poor Nigerians who cannot afford the exorbitant bills at private hospitals are at the receiving end. Our Health Editor, HASSAN ZAGGI, x-rays the dilemma the federal government has found itself and the pains Nigerians are passing through.

The nearly one month old strike embarked upon by health workers under the umbrella of the Joint Health Sector Union (JOHESU), has dragged the federal government and indeed, all Nigerians to a cross.

In fact, to put it straight, the federal government as well most Nigerians are trapped in the middle of the sea, hence, confused and do not know what to do as the issues are becoming complicated by the day.

The complication of the issues and the accompanying confusion is not only about the demands raised by JOHESU, but the threat by medical doctors that acceding to some aspects of the demand put forward by JOHESU will stir another set of crisis.

While the JOHESU are demanding for, among other things, the implementation of agreements the federal government ‘willingly’ entered with them in September 2017, 50 per cent increase of their allowances, recruitment of more health workers and the provision of modern equipment in health facilities across the country, the medical doctors are, on the other hand, kicking against the adjustment of the CONHESS salary scale for the health workers.

In a recent statement, the NMA came out blunt to say: “We oppose vehemently, any adjustment in CONHESS SALARY SCALE with resultant pay parity between doctors and healthcare professionals allied to medicine, and hereby reaffirm that RELATIVITY IS SACROSANT.”

On the other hand, the CORE demand of the JOHESU is the upward adjustment of CONHESS Salary Structure as agreed in the Memorandum of Terms of Settlement the government signed on September 30, 2017, with JOHESU. This is where the trouble is.

This puts the federal government in a serious confuse state and it will require divine intervention for it to scale through this huddle. It would be recalled that most of the issues raised by the JOHESU date back to the President Goodluck Jonathan administration where promises and agreements were signed, but with no implementation. Court judgments were also obtained on some of the issues, but were not implemented by the Federal Ministry of Health.

Indeed, the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration is now in a dilemma on who to favour or offend between the JOHESU and the medical doctors.

This is more so because, considering that many Nigerians are suffering and others dying as a result of the strike embarked upon by the JOHESU which has since spread to the states and local governments has put the federal government under intense pressure to accede to the demands so that the health workers can go back to work.

On the other hand, the federal government is scared not to offend the medical doctors which will again stir another round of crisis.

However, the Secretary of National Association of Nigeria Nurses and Midwives (NANNM), Comrade Thomas Shetima, has accused the medical doctors of interfering on an issue that does not concerns them.

While responding to questions from The AUTHORITY, Comrade Thomas Shetima, said that the JOHESU are not asking for equal salary with the medical doctors considering that doctors have CONMESS scale while the health workers have CONHESS.

“So, what we are saying is that we want an adjustment of 50 per cent over what we have. Like the nurses, we talk about their shift duty, call duty, all these are in percentage and the ratio varies from one profession to the other.

“One cannot say that we are looking for equal pay with doctors or any other person. The doctors have their CONMESS salary structure. What we are saying is that, increase our own by 50 per cent and if you increase it by 50 per cent it will not be equal with that of the doctors.

“For example, if you have 5 per cent as your own share and I have 3 per cent, if they give you 50 per cent and give me 50 per cent it cannot be the same. What we are asking for is the increase in our percentage over the existing payment.

“Anybody who is saying that we are asking for equal salary with the medical doctors is very economical with the truth and the person should tell Nigerians the true picture of what is happening,” he reiterated.

Explaining the concept of relativity which the NMA described as a ‘no go area’, the labour leader said: “What we call relativity is the call duty allowance. Three professionals are on call. We have the doctors, nurses and laboratory scientists and before now, the doctors were having 2 per cent of this call and nurses have 1.7 per cent. Already there is difference here. If we are looking for 50 per cent increase, it cannot be the same with that of the doctors.

“But unfortunately, the doctors are saying that we should not be given what we are asking for. We don’t know whether they want to do the work of a nurse, pharmacist, laboratory scientist and also do the work of a cleaner.

“What is there concern with what we are looking for. We don’t want to join issues with anybody. The fact that they don’t want the government to give us what we want, that is where the problem lies.

“We appreciate the fact that they are everywhere in the government and they are making things difficult. Today if they want this strike to be suspended, we are ready to suspend it.”

Permanent solution

It is therefore necessary to call on the Federal Government to be bold enough to take a stand on these issues. They must be fair and just to all in doing that so as to resolve the issues once and for all for the good of the country.

Many experts have called for a new model that will put to rest the ‘rivalry and ego bruising’ between the medical and health professionals in the country.

Others argue that the recruitment of professional health administrators to be in charge of the day to day running of the hospitals will put an end to the crisis.

“It is time for the federal government to think of making administrators the head of hospitals so that doctors, nurses and all other workers can aspire to the highest level of their profession.

“Doctors are not trained administrators and yet they are made the head of hospitals that is why we are having this maladministration.

“If government wants to solve this problem once and for all, they should look for health administrators who are saddled with the responsibilities of taking charge of running of the affairs of the hospitals.

”We can quickly remember when Eyitayo Lambo was the minister of health, he was not a medical doctor, rather he was a health economist and he performed creditably well. I think that is the solution,” Comrade Shetima advised.

It is pertinent to call on President Muhammadu Buhari to act fast as whatever happens, the bulk will be placed on his table.

He should also know that 2019 is at the corner and his ability to resolve this crisis and quickly too, will determine his chances of coming back to power next year.

Nigeria’s health indices have worsened in recent times and this industrial crisis will further worsen the already bad situation.

According to the world Health Organiasation (WHO), Nigeria has gone down to 187 out of 190 countries in terms of health indices. What it means is that Nigeria is only better than those countries that are fighting war like South Sudan, Somalia and the rest. It is a big shame, hence, the need for a bold and radical step to resolve the issues once and for all so that the health workers to resume work.

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