President Muhammadu Buhari Friday in Abuja called on health workers to return to their duty posts, urging others contemplating strikes to opt for settlement of issues by negotiation, no matter how long it takes. “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,’’ the President noted, while receiving members of Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) at the State House.
Garba Shehu, Senior Special Assistant to the President (Media & Publicity) said in a press release that President Buhari assured that all outstanding benefits owed medical doctors will be cleared, after verifications, noting that embarking on industrial action at a critical health period for the country and citizens was not a good option.
“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.
“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. Debts genuinely owed Health workers will be settled.
“I learnt that some of the 12 points demand in the ongoing strike were already addressed. Though 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 said the outstanding issue of an Establishment circular issued by the Head of Service, removing House officers, NYSC Doctors from scheme of service had an addendum circular from National Salaries and Wages Commission to clarify that they will continue to earn the wages attached to them on their present wage structure.
“I request that the agreement reached in the meetings of 20th and 21st August captured in the MOU which I have seen be religiously implemented,’’ he added.
To further improve the health sector, the President said budgetary allocations had been increased and a Health Sector Reform Committee, under the Chairmanship of 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.
“We are 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 are clear.
“It does not end only with the welfare of your members, but continues with a sense of responsibility for the entire country and its sociopolitical health and national stability,’’ he added.
President Buhari noted that Nigeria’s source of revenue over many years was dwindling, with a rising population. “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. Organizations like the NMA could play a very useful moderating role in society,’’ the President said.
The President commended the positive role Nigeria Medical Association has been playing, as the apex professional medical association in Nigeria, especially with regard to the ongoing industrial action.
“This is a befitting role for the NMA, as a mature organization, led by responsible members with long experience.
“I am proud also to learn of various feats that have been achieved in our hospitals, like the separation of conjoined twins and also the valiant efforts of our health personnel in handling the Covid-19 pandemic, much of which has earned us recognition at home and abroad, and the recent appointment of one of your colleagues as Assistant Director General of the World Health Organization. We again warmly congratulate Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu for his elevation.’’
President Buhari admonished that the course of Covid-19 in Nigeria was not yet entirely clear, and response to it must be collective.
In his remarks, the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, said the NMA had been playing a critical role in development of the health sector, particularly in tackling pandemics, participating in policy formulation and population health.
President of the NMA, Prof. Innocent A. Ujah, thanked the President for appointment of members into strategic positions in government, assent to the Medical Residency Act and immunization coverage.
Ujah said the association was concerned with the industrial action embarked upon by doctors, and had been doing its best to alleviate the suffering of patients across the country, while appealing for an urgent resolution.
The NMA president thanked President Buhari for takeoff grant for first Federal University of Health Sciences in Otukpo, Benue State, Azare, Bauchi State and Ila Orangun, Osun State. Ujah suggested an appropriate funding module for the new institutions.
He assured the President of the continuous support of members of the association to improve health in the country.