Since the past 44 days, health workers under the umbrella of the Joint Health Sector Union (JOHESU) have abandoned their work following the inability of the federal government to implement the agreement it signed.
In this interview with HASSAN ZAGGI , the President, Assembly of Healthcare Professionals, DR. GODSWIL OKARA, insisted that injustice is the cause of most of the crisis in the health sector. Excerpt.
There seems to be some level of injustice in the health sector, how did we get to this level?
It all started when the medical doctors usurp a function that they are not train and don’t have the capacity for. Over time, as it is obtained in other clime, the administrative leadership and management of the health sector is usually performed by a group of professionals call Health Service Administrators. That was what we inherited from the United Kingdom that colonized Nigeria and that is what it is even in the UK. That is what is also obtained in many parts of Europe, America, Asia, Australia and many others. You don’t have core healthcare professionals abandoning their training and function to dabble into core administration and management, it doesn’t happen. Anywhere you see that happening, it means that the person has changed profession completely.
What we are seeing now is, instead of health service administrators whose professional training and calling it is to manage and administer the healthcare industry, doctors have sidelined them and usurp the function that they have no training, no capacity and no experience for.
Having not acquire that training and experience over time to administer and manage manpower, materials and money, they go in there and begin to run administration as if it is consulting and diagnosing ailments and treating patients. That is why you see all the upheavals and injustice.
That was the genesis of the injustice in the health sector.
Since 1979 when there was the initial decree that Teaching Hospitals will be administered by the Dean of Faculty of Medicine in the affiliated universities or the Provost of the College of Medicine in the affiliate university, the health sector began to have issues.
So, ever since, injustice was elevated to a very high pedestal and until this malady is address and reversed, so long with the upheaval and crisis in the health sector continue.
Do you see us getting back to the old good days where there will be no crisis and strike in the health sector?
Certainly. Wherever there is a will, there is a way. If the political will is there by the government of the day to amend that Decree 10 of 1985 and ensure that square pegs are put in square holes in the health sector, we will get out of it.
An example is, the few times that we had people who were not physicians to be health ministers things were not that bad. When we had Mr E.C Ugwu in the time of former President Shehu Shagari, who was the health minister, there was peace in the health sector. When we had Professor A.B.B Nwosu who was health minister in the first term of President Olusogun Obasanjo, there was relative peace in the health sector. When we had Eyitayo Lambo in the second term of President Obasanjo, there was relative peace in the health sector. Prof. Lambo by training is a health economist and by experience, he worked for 10 years as Consultant to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
In the time of Eyitayo Lambo, many policies were put in place to drive the sector.
From what you are saying, do you think the health sector can be better driven by a non practitioner?
Definitely so. That is the reality. That is what it is in many countries of the world. This is because when you carry somebody who has a tendency to favour his professional leaning and constituency, there will be problem.
When Prof. Lambo was there, he did not care what professional group one belongs, all that matter to him was to ensure that the proper thing was done according to international best practices and he brought the experience he had working for WHO to bear in the health sector.
On the other hand, since Prof Isaac Adewole came in, his tenure has been marred by a lot of crisis, even from his own constituency, the medical doctors. The NMA went on strike for good 52 days even when a health minister is their colleague. Government must exercise the political will, seize the bull by the horn and address this malady in the health sector and allow people that have the training, competence and experience to administer the health sector, the hospitals in particular.
There was this issue of a court order served on your group initiated by a non party to the strike, was there any time in the past the an outsider took you to court when you went to strike?
Definitely not. This is the first time in history. As it is often said, this is the hand of Esau and the voice of Jacob. This is what we are seeing.
A Non Governmental Organisation (NGO) was hired by the Federal Ministry of Health to do the dirty job they are doing. This is the type of thing that happened in the time of President Babangida when the so called Association for Better Nigeria (ABN) was hired and instigated to cause political turmoil in the country.
First of all, he tried to adopt a disposition of denial, even when we presented series of MoU and agreements that we signed with the previous government. He said as far as we are concerned that there was no agreement. We went through the process of collective agreement afresh, signed agreement with him and other government officials, he turned around and said there was no agreement until we published it in the newspapers and people saw his signature in red.
Again, the fact that he had openly and publicly said that court judgement issued by the National Industrial Court was not implementable calls for concern. For a government official that sworn to an oath to uphold the constitution and laws of Nigeria to say publicly that a court judgement was not implementable and enforceable, is that not a prescription for anarchy in the ministry?
As we speak, professionals under JOHESU have nine court judgements in their favour and the health ministry is promoting impunity and lawlessness in the health sector.
With this court order in your hands, what does it portend to your struggle?
As we have mentioned now and again, we are a law abiding group. We have the highest respect for the laws of Nigeria, judiciary in particular.
Judiciary, to be candid, has proved itself to be above board, not minding the names and insults that the NMA and their members often haul at the judiciary, it has stood firm in discharging its responsibilities without looking at anybody’s face. To that extent, we have very high regard and esteem for the judiciary and will stand by them any day to comply with whatever court order or court judgement that emanate from there. But this particular court order, has a lot of questions. One; the court order was not even served on us, they adopted a very unconventional method, going to the social, print and electronic media and were announcing that JOHESU has been given a court order. It is not done that way.
That court order was then served at us at 5:39 pm on Friday, May 25, 2018, and we immediately put machineries in motion to consult with our members in line with the labour laws to put mechanisms in place.