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Guardian Editorial: NMASTRIKE: Blatant Betrayal of Obligation to Humanity
Date Posted: 20/Jul/2014
THE crisis facing the country following the nationwide strike embarked upon by members of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) is clearly avoidable, if only all the stakeholders do the needful regarding their responsibility to the citizenry. Without doubt, the populace, particularly the majority poor, is suffering for the sins of a few. Nevertheless, the timing of the doctors’ strike, coming in the midst of insurgency and bombing spree that have left trails of deaths with several injured persons in dire need of urgent medical attention, is most inauspicious. It would be callous and inhuman for the warring sides to ignore the threat to public order and health occasioned by the industrial action.  
  While it is imperative for governments across the country to honestly address the lingering concerns of the doctors, encapsulated in their 24-pronged demand, it is equally important for the doctors to, on humanitarian ground, call off the strike and engage the government in dialogue, to resolve their differences. It will not be proper for government to simply insist on claims that many of the doctors’ grouses have been attended to. There is, therefore, need for the parties to urgently initiate dialogue, even if to deal with the scope of the strike. Surely, it is incongruous of all doctors nationwide to stop work simultaneously, when their employers, remuneration and working environment differ. Where, in this conflict, is the element of federalism that signifies development at individual level and capacity? 
  Reports from across the country paint rather a grim and awful picture in hospitals. Patients are being thrown out in droves. Boko Haram bomb victims, accident victims as well as those who are ill have been abandoned by the doctors. This is pitiable. 
The doctor’s grouse as expressed by the Lagos State Chairman of the NMA, Dr. Babatunde Bamigboye, border on 24 issues for resolution. These include salary increment; establishment of a health trust fund to upgrade public hospitals; swift passage of the National Health Bill and a universal coverage for all Nigerians as against the 30 per cent advocated by the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS).  
An issue like the extension of the consultant title to other medical professions appear mundane. The age-long rivalry between doctors and pharmacists, among other professional medical groups, presents a herculean task; but, as administrative issues, they are not insurmountable without strike. It is notable that the doctors are predicating their action on an improvement in healthcare for the benefit of Nigerians in general. Yet, that predisposition is not reconcilable with the notion of hapless citizens being left to die, which itself is at variance with the medical personnel’s Hippocratic Oath. It is double tragedy for health victims who are contending with deaths and injuries on the one hand and absence of medical attention on the other. 
  Worrisome in the doctors’ strike, as with most other ill-digested strike actions, is the fading value attached to public convenience and human life. This is a low depth for the country; and it is particularly repugnant to the medical profession whose members swore to the sacred Hippocratic Oath to uphold the dignity of human life at all times. What happens now is a blatant betrayal of the medical profession’s obligation to humanity. Saving life is the sacred vocation of the doctors, which should not be sacrificed on the altar of pecuniary interest.
  Government deserves blame for not acting on time in dealing with sensitive workers’ problems, and preventing the kind of ugly scenario the country is going through. To have allowed the conflict to degenerate into full-blown strike, even after the doctors had gone on a three-day warning strike some weeks ago, smacks of official indifference to the welfare of the people, which is supposed to be a primary objective of government.    
  This dispensation has witnessed too many strikes by one professional group or the other. For instance, the strike by the lecturers in the polytechnics and colleges of education is nearing one year without any resolution in sight. The other day, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) engaged in a protracted six-month long strike. 
  Sadly, virtually every professional group in the country has adopted strike as the only viable way to register its grievances, particularly in the face of lack of integrity on the part of government. Government’s failure is endemic in its regular jettisoning of its part of agreements reached with these groups. A situation where government has developed thick skin to a plethora of strikes is not acceptable, as the resulting collateral damages are usually monumental. 
Ultimately, the development points to leadership failure, as governments wait for major crisis to erupt before addressing the issues. Is there no responsibility to crisis management?  
The issue of federalism remains crucial. Ordinarily, there should be nothing like nationwide strike in a true federal structure. Each state government should be autonomous and independent to manage its own affairs. A strike by doctors in one state should not spill over to the other states. It is an abnormal situation that signifies a fundamental flaw with the extant political structure.
  In the United States, for instance, federal employees are isolated from those of the states. Each state manages its own employees. Even in the same state, there might be differences in employment terms between counties. The same condition of service does not obtain across board in the country. 
  In this country, the practice of a unitary system, rather than real federalism, is creating problems. Government should create the enabling environment in the hospitals. The appalling state of healthcare in the country is causing brain-drain among the medical personnel. With merely 259,719 registered doctors in the country catering for over 160 million people, the pressure on the doctors is enormous. Government should dialogue with the feuding doctors promptly to save the lives of Nigerians.


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