The looming bloody war in Nigeria’s health sector

By Hassan Zaggi

The battle line has been drawn. The stage is set. Time is fast counting for a bloody war between medical doctors- under the auspices of the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) and health workers under the umbrella of the Joint Health Sector Union (JOHESU).

It would be recalled that on Friday last week, the JOHESU ended its one week warning strike.

The JOHESU has 15-points unmet demands which were carried over from the President Goodluck Jonathan administration. They include internship, CONHESS salary review, Skipping of CONHESS 10, payment of promotion arrears, same scale promotion/redesignation, employment, enhanced entry point, appointment of CMD/MD, heads of department, specialist allowance, board appointment to institutions, Public Private Partnership (PPP), anti-corruption struggle at FMC Owerri and retirement age from 60-65.

There are however, few new ones. One of them is the payment of COVID-19 allowances.

However, the drums of war between the NMA and the JOHESU, many believed started when, on the eve of the declaration of the one week warning strike, the JOHESU chairman while responding to questions on the 8pm AIT news said: “The government refused to heed to our demands, so there is no alternative than to give them 15 days ultimatum. This is because the patient dog no more gets the fattest bone, it ends up without a bone. This is because those who went on strike (medical doctors) even on the heat of the COVID-19, they were called and their demands were met.

“Again, that was not satisfactory, the FCT embarked on strike and the government met with them and met their demands.

“But for us, we earlier gave them 15 demand and we have reduced them to 5 and out of the five they have not done anything tangible.

“We could see the clear exhibition of bias. When we attended the meeting, the first thing is to start with a threat and so we have said we are ready to take that threat to the end.”

This position by the JOHESU chairman, many believe, did not go down well with the NMA and was a trigger to the looming war Nigeria is about to witness in the health sector.

The war, according to many, is going to be bloody and deadly because the current NMA President is seen as a ‘no nonsense’ man who does not look back when he wants to embark on any fight.

Speaking on the attacks on medical doctors by health workers across the country, the NMA President, Prof. Innocent Ujah, when he paid a visit to the Governor of Nasarawa State, Abdullahi Sule, recently, clearly pointed out that any attack on medical doctors in any form will not be tolerated.

Prof Ujah said: “Nigeria Medical Association will no longer tolerate any form of attack from the amorphous group call JOHESU on doctors or the medical profession as doctors are more refined to join issues with that group.

“If they have problems, let them go and solve their problems, but they should not come close to say they are doctors, they are not.

“A medical doctor is a medical doctor, there is no any interpretation about it.”

Many observers of the recent outburst by the NMA President are of the opinion that he has made up his mind for a deadly war with the health workers.

A onetime key officials of the JOHESU during its formative years who pleaded anonymity while responding to questions on the issue, expressed concern over the outburst of the NMA President.

According to him, for the NMA president to describe JOHESU as an amorphous group is not new to him because since the early years of the formation of the group, the NMA has not given the group any recognition.

He lamented that the current leaders of JOHESU have no capability to confront the current NMA President whom he described as having a firm mind like the one time President of the NMA, Dr. Osahon Enabulele.

“I watch the news and took note of the wordings Prof Ujah used. He descended hardly on the JOHESU. One need not be told that the NMA is ready for a showdown with the health workers and it would not be long before that happens.

“I am afraid because the current JOHESU leaders are not well coordinated to fight the war I see coming. Another area I am afraid is that with this pronouncement by the NMA, the government will now join hands with them as they used to do, to frustrate all efforts of the JOHESU to get their demands met.

“You can even see that the warning strike they went for did not yield any tangible result and now that the NMA has come up with this position, it will take a long time for JOHESU to get anything from the government.

“Whether we like it or not, NMA is a very strong force. Despite the fact that the health workers are more than them in number, but they are very powerful. This is a bitter truth. The likes of Dr. Okara, myself and a few others are now resting, I am afraid what will be of the JOHESU in the months ahead if the NMA begins it ruthless war.”

On his part, an Abuja-based medical doctor who does not want his name in print said that the NMA is tired with the recurrent attacks by health workers on them.

“We don’t have any issue with them. Whenever we have grievances with the government, we face the government and get what we want. But whenever JOHESU has any issue with the government, they tend to face the doctors as if we are the government. They accuse us of everything.

A part from working together with them in the hospital, we don’t even know they exist when it comes to pressing for our demands.

“All doctors in the country are in support of our NMA President. We ready for them. When we begin to confront them, they will know their level.”

It is pertinent, therefore, to call on both parties to find amicable way of resolving all differences for the sake of the patient who depends on all of them for his/her survival and national growth.

Just like the Nasarawa State Governor, Abdullahi Sule, said: “the federal government should come into it and give JOHESU all the respect that they deserve and give the medical doctors all the respect they deserve to get.”

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