The House of Representatives on Monday summoned the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Anyim Pius Anyim; and the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, over the ongoing strike by public sector medical doctors in the country.
Also summoned was the Head of Service of the Federation, Alhaji Bukar Goni, and Director-General, Budget Office of the Federation, Dr. Bright Okogu.
The House Committee on Health summoned the officials to appear before it unfailingly on Thursday after they failed to honour a similar invitation to a stakeholders’ meeting on the strike on Monday (yesterday).
The committee, which is chaired by Mr. Ndudi Elumelu, had said that the presence of the key government officials was important in the efforts by the House to resolve the crisis.
Elumelu noted that some of the doctors’ demands had financial implications, which could not be addressed without hearing the position of the government, particularly from Okonjo-Iweala.
“It will be absolutely impossible for us to resolve this matter without the SGF, the Minister of Finance, Head of Service and the DG, Budget Office. Patients are dying due to lack of medical attention. We met before and there was a template we reached on how to implement it; and much has to do with the release of funds to pay the salaries and other benefits of the doctors,” he added.
According to records before the committee, government is expected to pay an estimated N6.7bn in accumulated entitlements to the striking doctors in the interim.
However, the Nigerian Medical Association made it clear to the committee that the real bone of contention was not money but the decision of the Federal Government to throw open the headship of hospitals to those it described as non-medical doctors.
The NMA couched the contentious dispute over the management of hospitals under the name of “relativity and skipping.”
Speaking on behalf of the association, the NMA President, Dr. Kayode Obembe, told the committee that until the issue of relativity and skipping was addressed, the doctors would not call off the strike.
“Relativity and skipping is not negotiable; it must be resolved or doctors will not return to work. The tradition of medicine is being challenged dangerously in this country. That is the major issue and not money,” he insisted.
According to him, there is a push to a new era where doctors will no longer take the final decision in the “clinical management of a patient.”
“The tradition everywhere in the world is that the doctor is in charge. Today, the challenge is that the doctor can no longer lead the clinical management of the patient,” Obembe stated.
The Minister of Health, Dr. Onyebuchi Chukwu, and the Minister of Labour/Productivity, Emeka Worgu, who also attended the session, appealed to the NMA to suspend the strike for some weeks while negotiations to resolve the matter continued.
But, Obembe responded that granting the request was beyond his powers because only the Emergency Delegate Meeting of the association could call for a strike or call it off.
He explained that the EDM was composed of the 36 state chapters of the NMA and the Federal Capital Territory.
In a bid to get the NMA to suspend the strike before Thursday, the House committee extracted a commitment from the health minister to review the content of a July 4 circular, which said government had rescinded its decision on the appointment of CMACs.
“If putting it that way for the sake of tautology, will address the problem, it will be done, Chukwu assured the Elumelu committee.
The NMA had said that reviewing the circular would reassure the association that government would not outsmart the doctors as they waited for the report of the Ahmed Yayale Presidential Committee on the dispute between doctors and other health sector personnel.
While rounding off Monday’s meeting, Elumelu had observed that the strike was entirely unnecessary if the main issue was the quarrel between doctors and non-doctors.
“We at the House were under the impression that it was all about your entitlements. Now, you are saying money is not the issue, but relativity and skipping. If that is the case, there should have been no strike. You should go back to work while negotiations continue with the head of service and other relevant officials of government,” he added.