NMA Split over Decision to Call off Doctors’ Strike

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There appears to be a crack among members of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) over whether  of not to call off the nationwide strike the association embarked on last month.

The division among NMA members was obvious yesterday, as attempts to brief journalists on the latest developments was surreptitiously called off.

The Secretary-General of the NMA, Dr. Adewunmi Alayaki, however, pleaded with journalists to “bear with us, we will call you in 48 hours time.”

At press times, an emergency meeting of the NMA leadership which  began by 3p.m. was still ongoing.
The NMA has been on strike over some irreconcilable differences with the federal government bordering on the status of medical consultants and hazard allowance among others.

But THISDAY gathered that at the meeting, which had in attendance some past presidents of the NMA, there were disagreements on whether to shelve the strike or not.

Among those at the meeting included NMA’s immediate-past president and delegate to the ongoing National Conference, Dr. Osahon Enabulele; another past president of the NMA and Kogi State Commissioner for Health, Dr. Omede Idris and Dr. Prosper Igboele.

Others high ranking personnel who were believed to be at the meeting were a member, Board of Trustees of the NMA and Emir of Songa, Dr. Haliru Yahaya; Registrar, National Post-Graduate Medical College, Prof. Wole Atoyebi; and former Chairman, Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria who is also with the Benue State Unjversity Teaching Hospital, Makurdi.

A credible source explained that: “The NMA leadership is divided on the strike. While some led by its current President, Dr. Kayode Obembe, are pushing for the suspension of the industrial action, others are saying they would not suspend the action when the federal government has not listened to them.
“If we suspend the action now, the present government and even subsequent governments won’t take us seriously any time we declare nationwide strikes again. That is the major issue and not any insinuation that somebody has been settled.”
Obemeb, had a few weeks after his election, hinged the strike on the inability of the government to address their demands, stressing that government response was only a cosmetic measure.

The NMA had earlier forwarded 24 demands to the government including discontinuation of recognition of non-medical doctors as directors and consultants by any other health worker, other than medical doctors.
The demands also include appointment of a Surgeon-General of the Federation,  clinical duty and hazard allowances and withdrawal of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) circular on medical laboratory equipment.

“The NMA is taking this painful route because our silence and gentle approach to these contending issues have been taken for granted. We have to take this action in order to save the health care delivery system from anarchy that is palpably imminent. We hereby appeal to all Nigerians for their understanding and to press on government to meet with our demands,” he stated.

Obembe had told journalists that the failure of government to address NMA’s demands had left  the association with no other option than “to call all its members to down tools in order to press home their demands.”

According to him, there was no way non – doctors could be allowed to function as consultants given that they do not oversee patients in the hospital.

According to him, “A consultant is the owner of the patient; many health workers now go about acquiring Ph.D so that they can be called doctors. The title should be restricted to only a medical doctor.”

Also, the strike had thrown several issues and controversies with accusations and counter-accusations. The President of Medical and Dental Consultants Association of Nigeria (MDCAN), Dr. Steven Oluwole, had last week accused the federal government of attempts to privatise hospitals and proscribe NMA.

The government had challenged striking doctors to a “high-powered debate” before the public on the contentious issues concerning the alleged breach of agreement which warranted the strike.

According to the Minister of Health, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu, government had met its own part of the bargain by 100 per cent and was surprised why the NMA leadership would still be flexing muscles after pledging to adhere to the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) it signed with the government.
Chukwu threw the challenge during the signing of $15 million agreement with Norwegian government which was offered to Nigeria for the upscaling of maternal and child health.

The minister had told journalists then that :“The update on the strike is that they (NMA) have signed the second MoU with us on the July 3. For two times now, they have said they would call off the strike; they have signed. I don’t know, when someone gives you a check, you are expected to go and cash your money.”

Pressed further if government had sincerely fulfilled its part of the bargain, Chukwu said: “Absolutely, 100 per cent, and that is why I said may be we should have a high-powered debate before the Nigerian public. Let each side state what their issues are, let’s take it one by one. I am assuring Nigerians that as their Minister of Health, on my honour, the federal government, led by President Goodluck Jonathan, has done what it ought to do.

“That is why they signed an MoU. Why will you sign an MoU when you are not satisfied with the negotiation? These two negotiations took place for over 24 hours; that is a whole day without sleep.”

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