President Muhammadu Buhari on Friday appealed to the striking members of the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) to return to their duty posts while negotiations continue to resolve the conflict.
According to a statement issued on Friday and signed by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on media and publicity, Garba Shehu, the President also pleaded with other health workers who are currently warming up for similar actions to reconsider their positions, saying the nation need them now more than ever before.
Mr Buhari made the plea on Friday while receiving the leadership of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) who paid him a visit at the state house in Abuja.
He said no matter how long negotiations may take, it is still the best way to resolve crisis.
The President was quoted as saying, “The lives of citizens that could be lost or damaged when doctors withdraw services, are precious enough to be worth opting for peaceful resolution of differences.”
The President assured that all outstanding benefits owed medical doctors will be cleared, but only after necessary verifications must have been carried out.
He noted that embarking on industrial action at a critical health period for the country and citizens was not a good option.
He said, “Protecting our citizens is not to be left to government alone, but taken as a collective responsibility, in which especially medical professionals play a critical role. Let me speak directly to the striking doctors. Embarking on industrial action at this time when Nigerians need you most is not the best action to take, no matter the grievances.
“This Administration has a good track record of paying all debts owed to government workers, pensioners and contractors and we have even revisited debts left by past administrations, once due verification is done. Debts genuinely owed health workers will be settled.
“I learnt that some of the 12 points demand in the ongoing strike were already addressed. Though the review of a new hazard allowance has not been fully negotiated because of the sharp and deep division within the ranks of the striking doctors.’’
President Buhari, who has been criticised in the past for periodically seeking medical attention abroad despite the nation’s ailing health sector, spoke on the outstanding issue of the circular issued by the Head of Service, removing house officers, and NYSC doctors from scheme of service.
He said there was a circular from National Salaries and Wages Commission to clarify that they will continue to earn the wages attached to them on their present wage structure.
“I request that the agreement reached in the meetings of 20th and 21st August captured in the MOU which I have seen be religiously implemented,’’ he added.
To further improve the health sector, the President said budgetary allocations had been increased and a Health Sector Reform Committee, under the chairmanship of the Vice President, had been commissioned to identify and address weaknesses in the health system and align with global best practices that raise public confidence.
“We are also supporting initiatives to expand health insurance coverage and bring more resources to health financing.
“We have many more challenges ahead and much more to do, for our large population.
“In this respect, it is important to remind you that, as senior medical personnel and representatives of one of the most respected professional groups in the world, your responsibility for the health and wellbeing of Nigerians are clear.
“It does not end only with the welfare of your members, but continues with a sense of responsibility for the entire country and its sociopolitical health and national stability,’’ he added.
President Buhari noted that Nigeria’s source of revenue over many years was dwindling, with a rising population.
“The global economy has been seriously affected by the pandemic, and despite recent pleasing news of more than five per cent economic growth of Nigeria in the last quarter, we are still having fiscal challenges to deal with, like most other countries.
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“The source of revenue that Nigeria has depended on for so long experienced global decline, our population is rising fast and the tension arising from both, is fuelling agitation among our youth. Organisations like the NMA could play a very useful moderating role in society,’’ the President said.
The President commended the positive role the NMA has been playing, “as the apex professional medical association in Nigeria, especially with regard to the ongoing industrial action.”
“This is a befitting role for the NMA, as a mature organisation, led by responsible members with long experience.
“I am proud also to learn of various feats that have been achieved in our hospitals, like the separation of conjoined twins and also the valiant efforts of our health personnel in handling the COVID-19 pandemic, much of which has earned us recognition at home and abroad, and the recent appointment of one of your colleagues as Assistant Director General of the World Health Organisation. We again warmly congratulate Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu for his elevation.’’
President Buhari admonished that the course of COVID-19 in Nigeria was not yet entirely clear, and response to it must be collective.
In his remarks, the Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire, said the NMA had been playing a critical role in development of the health sector, particularly in tackling pandemics, participating in policy formulation and population health.
Meanwhile, the president of the NMA, Innocent A. Ujah, thanked the President for appointing the association’s members into strategic positions in government, assent to the Medical Residency Act and immunisation coverage.
Mr Ujah said the association was concerned about the industrial action embarked upon by doctors, and had been doing its best to alleviate the suffering of patients across the country, while appealing for an urgent resolution.
The NMA president thanked President Buhari for the takeoff grant for the Federal Universities of Health Sciences in Otukpo, Benue State, Azare, Bauchi State and Ila Orangun, Osun State.
Mr Ujah suggested an appropriate funding model for the new institutions.
He assured the President of the continuous support of members of the association to improve health in the country.