“When two elephants squabble, it is the grass that bears the brunt”. This is typical of the in-fighting going on between the Joint Health Staff Union [JOHESU] and the Federal Ministry of Health and by implication, the Federal Government on one hand and on the other hand between the said body and the Nigerian Medical Association [NMA].
JOHESU comprising of the National Association of Nigerian Nurses and Midwives [NANNM], Medical and Health Workers Union [MHWUN], Senior Staff Association of University Teaching Hospitals and National Union of Allied Health Professionals [NUAHP], Radiologists, Pharmacists, Laboratory Technicians and others have been at a logger head with the federal government for a long time over the harmonization of their salaries.
This means they have been agitating for their salaries and allowances to be at par with what is obtainable in the NMA and other affiliated medical unions.
They have been agitating for this over a long time, and over time, the federal government according to the JOHESU leadership had been giving them promises only to renege at the last moment and they return to status quo.
Joining the squabble is the NMA, whose leadership has come out to denounce the JOHESU and referred to them as an illegal body whose only interest is to create disharmony in the health sector in the country, a sector which many stakeholders see as already suffering from decades of neglect by governments of different levels, be it federal, state and local governments.
Before the recent action, JOHESU had intended to commence the strike on Saturday 7th April, 2018 but common sense prevailed and eventually, the massive nationwide action commenced 21st April after 21 days notice was issued to the federal government and the public.
Many Nigerians are complaining, the reason being that the public health sector before this round of industrial action was in tatters, and a further strike by any health union would serve to hit the nail on the fragile fabric piecing it together.
All round the country, from Lagos to Sokoto, Delta to Kaduna, Bayelsa to Jigawa and Akwa-Ibom to Yobe states, the sad story is all the same. Patients and their relatives are all complaining. In Nigeria, it is only the rich that can afford medical tourism and this is a trend the present government promised to eradicate
As its usual with most industrial actions in the country, the blame has been placed squarely at the table of the federal government and several calls have been made to well meaning Nigerians to prevail on the government to, by way of intervention bring the federal government to the negotiating table and also bring about the implementation of the promises it made to the union in September, 2017.
In an interview recently, the JOHESU National President; Mr. Josiah Biobelemoye disclosed that the union decided to embark on the ongoing indefinite strike to achieve their demand on upward adjustment of consolidated salary structure [COHESS], employment of additional health workers, implementation of court judgment, upward review of retirement age from 60 to 65 among others.
He expressed surprise that the adjustments of COHESS for the NMA [medical doctors] took the federal government just 15 days to comply with while six months after the same federal government is yet to comply with JOHESU demands.
Another issue on the front burner is that of fairness in the appointment of top level officials of the Federal Ministry of Health, medical doctors as Minister, JOHESU member as Minister of State, since they make up 95% of ministry staff and the Permanent Secretary can be a seasoned administrator but the opposite has been the case.
The Nigerian Medical Association [NMA], through its National Chairman, Dr. Mike Ogirima, emphatically stated that JOHESU was an illegal, unregistered union that is full of envy, rivalry and lies.
Ogirima also stated that the strike was aimed at the medical doctors, an accusation which was denied by JOHESU as mere lies adding that the NMA’s stock in trade was lying.
The whole reason for this fight, the union which is duly recognized by the Nigerian Labour Congress [NLC] announced, was for equity and equality in salary and other issues, saying they have no quarrel with the medical doctors and their association which was not a registered union under the NLC.
The strike for now involves only federal government owned medical institutions which comprises of teaching and specialist hospitals, federal medical centres, the National Hospital, Abuja, federal government owned medical research institutes and others and health institutions in both the state and local government levels have, by the strike action been placed on red alert to continue intense mobilization and sensitization of members for possible entry into the fray if the government foot drags when the time comes.
From news and feelers, this time around JOHESU is ready for a showdown with the government and they are going to disrupt health and medical services in all health institutions until their demands are met. In other words, the strike is indefinite!
What is the implication for Osun? This is a state that is just recovering from an industrial action which the state’s chapter of the NMA embarked on. This is a state which is trying to establish its own health insurance agency. This is a state which is recovering from months of blame trading in the health sector.
This is a state where despite the joint status of the Osun and Oyo owned Ladoke Akintola University Teaching Hospital [LTH], Osogbo and the State of Osun University Teaching Hospital, patients are still being referred to the federal government-owned Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospital Complex [OAUTHC], Ile-Ife for upward review.
With the indefinite industrial action in the foremost medical institution, where do hospitals in the state refer their patients to when such situation arises?
This situation does not mean well for the health sector which calls for all stakeholders to get involved in the negotiation process and make sure this action does not exceed this month. Afterall, “health is wealth”, they say.
The constituents unions that make up JOHESU are the bones and sinews of the health institutions. The task of taking care of patients from the outpatients, wards, surgeries, clinics, and laboratories and so on cannot be left to only doctors, laboratory scientists and hospital administration staff. This is not possible even if they decide to give them a crash course on how to go about it.
Such an action now in Osun is not welcomed since it will not be in the best interest of the common man. The rich can easily find their way but what about the poor?
Already JOHESU OAUTHC, Ile-Ife, has joined the strike, eventhough the keg of gunpowder has not yet exploded in the state, already the fuse has been lit in Ile-Ife, and if the national body of the union gives the signal to the state and local government affiliates, then the explosion would be loudest in the state.
The state is just reeling from the effects of the last NMA strike, if a JOHESU strike begins in the state, then may God have mercy.
The stakeholders in the health sector and those who have its interest at heart should prevail upon the government, JOHESU, NMA to sheath their swords and let peace reign.