Following the sustained imbroglio between it and the government, the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) embarked on an indefinite strike last week. Consequently, according to reports in the media, hospitals across the country are teeming with patients who have been left unattended to by the consultant doctors. In all the teaching hospitals nationwide, compliance with the strike declared by the leadership of the NARD has been ruthlessly enforced and thousands of patients have been groaning. As a matter of fact, many have returned home without any treatment. Matters have also been made worse by the fact that President Muhammadu Buhari is currently on medical leave in the United Kingdom. How indeed could the president be abroad, looking for what is denied the citizenry at home?
Part of the grievances of the resident doctors is the painful fact that some of their colleagues have died of Covid-19 due largely to the inability of the government to provide them with the much needed personal protective equipment. The government has also failed to pay hazard allowances to the frontline workers as a means of encouraging them to work harder. As a matter of fact, the Minister of Labour, Dr. Chris Ngige, recently expressed shock at the realisation that the doctors were being paid such a paltry hazard allowance as N5,000 only. But then, his threat to invoke the no-work-no-pay principle as a means of brow forcing the NARD into a retreat is misbegotten and bound to escalate the current dispute.
Instructively, the NARD embarked on the indefinite strike after it told Nigerians that the purpose wasn’t to hurt them but to alert the country to the failure of the administration of President Buhari and the Ministry of Health to accede to its demands. It is indeed baffling that with the sundry deprivations that the doctors have been subjected to, the government is still maintaining a hard-line posture on the ongoing strike, declaring it illegal. Paradoxically, after leaving the health sector in a deplorable state, members of the Nigerian ruling elite seek medical succour abroad where they are often attended to by the same doctors that they frustrated out of the country.
The ignoble and sad situation in which the Aso Rock clinic is plagued by the lack of drugs, as once alleged by the First Lady, Mrs Aisha Buhari, is emblematic of the state of the country’s health sector. To say the very least, the fact that the government forced the resident doctors to declare a strike amid the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic is horrendous. The health sector is in an emergency situation: urgent and desperate amelioration is needed. Nigerians cannot but rue the callousness represented by President Buhari’s current medical tourism in the UK while they groan for lack of medical care. The Federal Government and the Health Ministry must consider the troubles faced by Nigerians at this critical period and come to an understanding with the NARD without delay.