In an unprecedented move, doctors in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) announced on Tuesday that they are going on indefinite strike. The Association of Resident doctors (ARD) Abuja chapter said the decision is based on the inability of the FCT administration to pay their basic salaries for more than two months now.
ARD’s president, Roland Aigbovo, said in a statement that the striking doctors have been thrown into financial crisis by the FCT’s refusal to pay their salaries. He added that before embarking on strike, the doctors had repeatedly warned and issued ultimatums to the FCT authorities who remained adamant, leaving them with no choice than to take a strike action.
Aigbovo explained that the situation has been aggravated by irregularities stemming from the newly introduced Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System (IPPIS). He added that the authorities have 48 hours to act on their demand or watch the situation escalate, given that other health workers affected by the issue will join the striking action.
Nigeria is not new to events of medical doctors going on strike; it’s a brutal norm that the Nigerian people have come to reckon with without a choice, like in so many other sectors in the country.
In January, resident doctors working at the University of Medical Sciences Teaching Hospital (UNIMEDTH) went on strike for being owed months of salaries by the state government. The Ondo State Government said the doctors were owed because their salaries were not captured in the 2019 Appropriation Bill and it will take the 2020 appropriation bill to settle it. The salaries ranged from two to six months.
At this same period, ARD at the Federal Medical Center, Jabi, Abuja embarked on a three-day warning strike over non-payment of shortfalls in their salaries. The non-payment shortfalls dated back to 2014, when the Nigeria Medical Association embarked on nation-wide strike.
These are few cases in many times Nigerian doctors have had to use strike action to force the government to pay their salaries. Almost every state in Nigeria has had to sit on the negotiating table with doctors now and then to avert or end strikes, that’s when it is not national.
However, the strike action this time came surprising because it happens at a time of global health crisis that Nigeria has been caught up in. Though ARD said they considered the pros and cons of the COVID-19 situation before they made up their mind to strike.
Although Abuja has not recorded any case of coronavirus, the strike action has created a vacuum that will jeopardize efforts to contain the outbreak. Moreover, Nigeria has a health personnel deficit that has put its medical services in a very poor condition. The World Health Organization recommends one doctor to 600 patients, but the ratio in Nigeria is one doctor to 6,000 patients. The gap is so wide that in normal circumstance; due medical attention is scarce muchless a time of health crisis that will likely multiply medical cases in overwhelming numbers.
Life being at stake has always been the consideration of government sympathizers in any case. And doctors are expected to work without pay because they are saving lives.
World over, Nigeria ranked among the countries with most poorly paid medical practitioners, a major reason why the doctors leave the country in droves. Yearly, over 2,000 doctors leave the shores of Nigeria in search of a better pay and better work conditions.
In the United States, 77% of black doctors are of Nigerian origin, most of them migrated due to unfavorable work conditions in Nigeria. In the United Kingdom, over 5,000 Nigerians made up the medical workforce, making them the fourth highest in the country. The Africa Check reported that over 12 Nigerian doctors join the UK’s medical field weekly.
While there is genuine concern about the medical welfare of people whenever Nigerian doctors go on strike, the situation has also been described as an avoidable embarrassment that stems from the government’s lackadaisical attitude toward Nigeria’s health sector, largely because those in positions of authority travel abroad for their medical needs.
In the 2020 national budget, only N44.49 billion was appropriated for basic healthcare. Considering the state of Nigeria’s health sector, the fund will make insignificant impact, if at all it will be fully released. It is therefore believed that Nigerian governments have mastered the art of making the country’s health practitioners, scapegoats of their poor decisions. And the Nigerian medical personnel reserve the right to fight for their rights at every given time.