President Muhammadu Buhari has called on health workers, including members of the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) to return to their duty posts.
He made the call on Friday during a meeting with members of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) at the State House in Abuja.
The President urged others contemplating strikes to opt for settlement of issues by negotiation, no matter how long it takes.
“Debts genuinely owed Health workers will be settled,” he was quoted as saying in a statement by his media aide, Garba Shehu. “This administration has a good track record of paying all debts owed to government workers, pensioners, and contractors and we have even revisited debts left by past administrations, once due verification is done.
“I learned that some of the 12 points demand in the ongoing strike were already addressed, although the review of a new hazard allowance has not been fully negotiated because of the sharp and deep division within the ranks of the striking doctors.”
President Buhari gave an assurance that all outstanding benefits owed medical doctors would be cleared, after verifications, insisting that going on strike was not an option to consider.
“The lives of citizens that could be lost or damaged when doctors withdraw services, are precious enough to be worth opting for peaceful resolution of differences.
“Protecting our citizens is not to be left to government alone, but taken as a collective responsibility in which, especially medical professionals play a critical role. Let me speak directly to the striking doctors; embarking on industrial action at this time when Nigerians need you most is not the best action to take, no matter the grievances,” he said.
The President said the outstanding issue of an establishment circular issued by the Head of Service, removing house officers, NYSC doctors from the scheme of service had an addendum circular from the National Salaries and Wages Commission to clarify that they would continue to earn the wages attached to them on their present wage structure.
He requested that the agreement reached in the meetings held on August 20 and 21 and captured in the MOU which he saw be religiously implemented.
‘More Challenges Ahead’
To further improve the health sector, President Buhari said budgetary allocations had been increased and a Health Sector Reform Committee led by the Vice President had been commissioned to identify and address weaknesses in the health system and align with global best practices that raise public confidence.
According to him, the government is also supporting initiatives to expand health insurance coverage and bring more resources to health financing.
“We have many more challenges ahead and much more to do, for our large population. In this respect, it is important to remind you that, as senior medical personnel and representatives of one of the most respected professional groups in the world, your responsibility for the health and wellbeing of Nigerians is clear,” the President told the NMA leaders.
“It does not end only with the welfare of your members but continues with a sense of responsibility for the entire country and its socio-political health and national stability. The global economy has been seriously affected by the pandemic, and despite recent pleasing news of more than five per cent economic growth of Nigeria in the last quarter, we are still having fiscal challenges to deal with, like most other countries.
“The source of revenue that Nigeria has depended on for so long experienced global decline, our population is rising fast and the tension arising from both is fuelling agitation among our youth. Organisations like the NMA could play a very useful moderating role in society.”
President Buhari commended the positive role of the NMA as the apex professional medical association in Nigeria, especially with regard to the ongoing industrial action.
In his remarks, NMA President, Professor Innocent Ujah, thanked the President for the appointment of members into strategic positions in government, assent to the Medical Residency Act, and immunisation coverage.
He said the association was concerned with the strike by doctors and had been doing its best to alleviate the suffering of patients across the country while appealing for an urgent resolution.
The Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, who was also present at the meeting, said the NMA had been playing a critical role in the development of the health sector, particularly in tackling pandemics, participating in policy formulation, and population health.