Posted by News Express | 16 January 2016 | 3,636 times
Against the background of series of strikes in Osun State, including the recent one by medical doctors, someone asked: “What is it about Osun these days; one could hardly hear good news from there, except the news of poverty, unrest, strikes, protests, deaths and all manner of civil complaints?” This time around, it’s the turn of the most delicate aspect of people’s life, health.
In an ideal society, it is very unusual for health workers to go on strike; it’s like the custodian of security walking away from duty, like life-giver shutting out from life. In this same state, almost every sector had gone on strike at one time or the other. Teachers, civil servants, lawyers, radio/television shut-down, students’ protests are regular occurrences; even pensioners have marched on the street. We can authoritatively conclude the whole state has one way or the other marched against the government. State of chaos, climate of poverty, harshness and strife now prevail, as little children, secondary school pupils and tertiary institution students have all marched, including society people, civil servants and even elders and the aged (awon agba Osun) have also marched. I see it as the era of enlightenment in Osun State, because when the stakes are high, there surely must be a show-down. This is part of demo’crazy, but there is a sector that should not by any means go on strike.
For many reasons that are still in the archives, the government of Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, claimed to have approved and, probably, spent hundreds of millions on health sector. According to an interview granted by the former Commissioner for Health, Dr (Mrs) Temitope Ilori, the health sector of the state is in a very good shape, with necessary collaboration with organisations like Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) and others. However, what we are not told is that the facilities and the personnel are not only short-rationed but also short-changed of their deserved remuneration. How else would you describe a hardworking medical doctor who, for some time, earns only 30 per cent of his/her salary and still pays a tax that doubles the tax of his colleagues in other states who earn the actual amounts: you wonder why? And why we not heard anything since? Well, the Civil Service Code is the hangman that will hang the neck of any civil servant that speaks out. But when you push people to the wall, they speak out; that’s why we are privy to the real issues at stake.
Effects of the on-going strike
To start with, the ongoing strike is a pointer to the fact that the ‘Free Health Programme’ of the incumbent government of Osun State is nothing but a scam. A scam? Yeah! In the state of Osun today, poor people are dying, especially people whose mind have been programmed for freebie, the sad demise of the ‘honourable’ representing Ife-North constituency (Igwe), reveal the moribund state of the health sector in Osun. The man died in one hospital in Ekiti State. The question is: what about those hospitals in Osun? A friend told me that he was in Ondo when one patient was brought to receive treatment with Osun State Government Hospital Ambulance. I wonder again what we are celebrating in their free health policy. People had rather resort to different means to help themselves since the government could not help. Even as I was writing this script, the only State University of Osun, which boasts of training medical doctors and health workers does not have a teaching hospital! Osun government we hail thee!
What do doctors want?
When I was invited as a guest on Rave 91.7FM, the topic to be discussed was the issue of the ‘striking doctors.’ There, I saw the leadership of Osun State Association of Medical Practitioners and an immediate-past commissioner of the state. I had a serious argument with them. But after the programme, while holding a tete-a-tete on the premises of the radio station, a lot were revealed.
Being a medical doctor in our public service is like a ticket to hardship. For instance, I have it on good authority that since the advent of the Argbesola administration in Osun, there had been no confirmation of appointments no promotion nor conversion for deserving personnel. And, of course, in recent months, no salary!
What a life! Sticking your own life down so the government could receive the applause; working hard without motivation. Even the Bible says: “a labourer is worthy of his hire.” Those who got appointed even before the advent of this administration were not confirmed. So we now have a long list of unconfirmed government workers in this state whose future in the service is bleak. Some of them had just been sacked, while the rest are being threatened day-by-day with sack letters. We have doctors who themselves need medical (psychosomatic) attention. When the body is sick it can be treated by doctors; when the head is affected, it can be treated by specialised doctors. But when it affects the head, brain and mental health of doctors themselves, then the deliverer is in dire need of deliverance the question arises: who will deliver the deliverer?
The Osun State Government is still saying it does not owe salaries at all. Yet, there are backlogs of unpaid salaries, half-salary and quarter-salary payment to doctors, without promise when to pay the remaining or arrears, as they call it. The government also claimed to have discussed with the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), on behalf of the workers. But close observers and analysts know that doctors – either in NMA, OSANDO or ARD - have never been part of NLC. Of course, this couldn’t have been a punishment for not belonging. After all, to join a union is not by force, especially that which has been fraught with high-level betrayal and dishonesty to just cause. The doctors insist that these bodies (which include JNC & NLC) have never met and can never meet the government on their behalf. That medical doctors, everywhere in the country, do not belong to the NLC is a well-known fact. Therefore, for the Osun government to assume that any agreement made with the NLC is binding on a group which belongs to a different association is a sign of oppression and insincerity on the part of the state administration, especially when there has been record of independent communications and interactions with the medical doctors.
Any follower of events in the country, particularly with regards to health, will be aware that a corrected Consolidated Medical Salary Structure (CONMESS), for the payment of doctors, has been in effect since January 1, 2015 with arrears paid and steps being taken to capture same in 2016 budget, in cases where there have been issues in other parts of the country for medical practitioners who work with either the federal or state governments. For doctors in Osun to ask to be paid like their peers cannot be said to be too much. Health care services cannot be segregated! What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. It’s important to reiterate that the state runs ‘Free’ health care services, which brings so much stress on her facilities. Currently, facilities are understaffed with medical practitioners who are usually augmented by NYSC doctors having to do more than is required as the government no longer recruits doctors into its health facilities. If there is any category of doctors that should enjoy CONMESS, it should be Osun medical doctors. To continue to receive irregular and fractionated salaries in the face of increased workload is certainly not good for the health of our doctors, custodians of the health of the people! My biggest fear for now is that doctors that are not well remunerated and regularly paid cannot be said to be healthy enough to be entrusted with the health of the people.
It is on record that Osun State Government has been paying doctors 30 per cent of their salaries since June 2015; and up to September 2015 only. Thank God the NMA is supporting this struggle. I appeal to the government to rescind this decision to avert more disaster, as the strike of the doctors is legitimate.
Rather than seek ways to make peace and calm the doctors down, the state government subscribe to intimidation and spurious verbal attack, threatening to mass-sack the doctors. The Osun State Government has eventually shown the level of hypocrisy that it has delved itself to by advertising for vacant positions, when the positions are not really vacant: insinuating mass sack of all medical doctors practising in Osun State. This is very sad.
At the earlier mentioned radio programme where I shared the studio with them, I overheard the doctors saying they are ready to go back to work, provided the state government will agree on paper that the balance of their salaries will be paid. But the government refused. I was disturbed. Does this refusal now imply that the half-pay Osun government has been paying have now become the legitimate salary, that they should not expect the balance? No, this is a deliberate way of cheating on the working people of the state. I call on people of goodwill to come to the rescue of our health system in Osun. It is sad that people are now going outside the state to receive treatment, but some did not come back alive, as in the case of Igwe and others.
It’s really a state of chaos, harshness and strifes. May God heal our land!
•Charles Adeyemi is President and CEO, The Leadership Factory. He can be reached at email@example.com. File Photo shows striking doctors.
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