Once Again, Nigerian Resident Doctors Issue Strike Ultimatum

Once again, the Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) has threatened to embark on a nationwide strike if the federal government fails to meet its demands before the end of January.

NARD made its intention known in a letter signed by its president, Dr. Emeka Innocent Orji, which was addressed to the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire. The association listed many issues that needed to be addressed by the federal government, and said that processes for the strike would commence if they are not addressed before its National Executive Council (NEC) meeting billed to take place from January 24 to 28.

“Our January 2023 National Executive Council meeting has been scheduled for January 24th to 28th, 2023, and we can confirm very clearly feelers that if these issues are not sorted out before that meeting, our members will likely give us a mandate to immediately kick-start processes that will lead to a nationwide industrial disharmony in the health sector,” part of the letter said.

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NARD has been going on and off with strike and threats to go on strike since 2020. The association embarked on strike in 2020, in the face of covid-19 pandemic. The doctors also went on strike in 2021, a move that was challenged by the government, which took the matter to the National Industrial Court.

Following the court’s judgment ordering NARD back to work, 2022 passed by without much strike issues by the doctors. But six months ago, the association issued an ultimatum to the federal government, reiterating its readiness to commence industrial action due to their concerns yet to be resolved by the government.

Some of the issues were listed as follows: the irregularities in the new circular on an upward review of the Medical Residency Training Fund (MRTF), outstanding payment of the arrears of the new hazard allowance, non-payment of the skipping arrears for 2014, 2015 and 2016, and non-payment of the consequential adjustment of the minimum wage to some of NARD members.

In addition, the doctors complain about delay in the upward review of the Consolidated Medical Salary Structure (CONMESS), salary arrears of its members in state tertiary health institutions running into several months, including Abia, Imo, Ondo, Ekiti and Gombe States, and non-domestication of the Medical Residency Training Act (MRTA) in most states across the federation.

Some state chapters of NARD had in the past embarked on strike to protest non-payment of their arrears and other issues by state governments. In 2020, the Ondo State government sacked doctors who had gone on strike in protest to the issues mentioned above.

In its letter, which was also sent to the Senate President, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Secretary to the Government of Federation, Ministers of Labour  and Employment and Finance respectively, as well as the Chairman of the Nigerian Governor’s Forum (NGF), among others, NARD said though some of the issues have been resolved, the government has failed to address the rest of them.

NARD said the major issues yet to be addressed are forcing it to initiate industrial action which will be detrimental to the Nigerian health sector. The doctors said the issues are as follows: “Omitted 2020 MRTF payment, irregularities in the new MRTF circular inconsistent with the Medical Residency Training Act, existing collective bargaining agreements and current economic realities and review of CONMESS salary structure.”

The association, while issuing the ultimatum, urged the government to act fast to address the issues before its Jan 2023 NEC meeting.

“We know how critical this period is and the chaos that will ensue if the government does not take steps to prevent this from happening, and so we humbly implore you to use your good office to resolve these issues before our January NEC meeting. Sir, we trust in your fatherly disposition and believe that you will come to our aid and save this nation from this imminent industrial disharmony,” it said.

The Nigerian health sector has been severely impacted by the emigration of health professionals seeking higher pay and better work conditions abroad. The resulting brain drain has left Nigeria with about 24,000 licensed physicians to care for its population of more than 206 million people, according to the Nigerian Medical Association. Against this backdrop, a fresh strike action by NARD will further harm the depleted health sector.

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