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6 September 2017
The Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) calls on the Buhari/Osinbajo-led Federal Government to speedily meet the demands of striking resident doctors in order to prevent avoidable suffering of poor Nigerians who depend on public hospitals because they cannot afford the enormous cost of overseas treatment.
We strongly back the demands of the striking resident doctors and believe that meeting them, alongside with a genuine commitment to increase funding of public health facilities, will go a long way in revamping the nation's comatose health care system.
Particularly in a country whose President recently spent cumulatively over 150 days in London to treat an undisclosed illness using public funds, this strike deserves the active and passionate support of Nigerian working people, students, youth and poor masses.
The striking doctors who are members of the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) have embarked on this strike to fight for the following amidst others: (1) Resolution of persistent shortfalls and unpaid arrears of salaries in federal and state tertiary health institutions, (2) failure to enroll resident doctors into the Integrated Personnel Payroll Information System (IPPIS) since 2003, (3) non-implementation of adjusted House Officers' Entry grade level equivalent since 2014 and (4) resolution of issues around stagnation of their promotion and non-promotion of members with requisite criteria, despite all collective bargaining agreements and circulars.
We condemn the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN) for declaring the strike illegal and issuing veiled threat to resident doctors not to join the strike. We would like to warn the MDCN that Nigeria is not a slave camp. Given that many doctors have suffered a shortfall in the salaries due to them in 2016 and for most of this year it seems that MDCN expects them to work for free. Doctors and every other category of workers have a democratic right to embark on strike and protest to pursue their legitimate demands.
Doctors, like many other professionals in the healthcare sector, are underpaid (that is when they actually get their salaries) and placed in terrible working conditions despite the life-saving value of their job. As a result of underfunding, there is acute shortage of medical professionals, especially doctors. While the World Health Organization (WHO) ratio for any country to have enough doctors for its population is 1:600 (i.e. one doctor to 600 persons), with just about 35, 000 doctors working in the country, Nigeria cannot boast of more than one doctor to 5000 persons (1:5000).
As far as we are concerned in the SPN, if the government did not want this strike, it should have ensured an improvement in the pay, allowance, working condition of the doctors and adequate facilities in public hospitals long before now. The rot in the health care sector is not new. But because members of the capitalist ruling elite, who have corruptly enriched themselves by stealing public resources, have an alternative means of seeking treatment overseas, they have often treated the agitations of unions in the sector with disdain. Sometimes when government negotiates with any medical or health sector union on strike, it is often with a view to offer tokenistic concessions that do not address the fundamental issue of underfunding of the sector. Indeed, as in January 2017 NARD embarked on a 7-day warning strike, the government has had ample time this year to resolve the issues before it degenerated into a full-blown and indefinite strike action.
We hereby urge the striking doctors to discountenance this threat from the MDCN and from whatever quarters whatsoever. Instead they should seek to pursue this strike until all demands are met. We urge NARD not to make this strike a sit-at-home action. Public activities like press conferences, leafleting, rallies, peaceful public demonstrations and protests must be organized nationwide to sensitize the public about the issues and win their support.
Essentially, the struggle of the doctors is a struggle for improved commitment of government to public health care system. While doctors, nurses, midwives and other health professionals suffer terrible pay and working conditions, patients and members of the public are the biggest victims of government underfunding of public health. Many Nigerians, especially the poor, have died as a result of lack of facilities, basic amenities and proper health care in public hospitals and health care centres. Therefore, this is not a strike that should be seen as the concern of doctors and healthcare workers alone. The struggle to reposition the healthcare sector is a struggle that all workers and poor masses of the country must be concerned about and actively involved in.
We therefore call on other health care unions, Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), Trade Union Congress (TUC) and the United Labour Congress (ULC) to organize solidarity actions in support of the resident doctors' strike action. This should be with a view to build the widest possible movement to compel government not only to meet the striking resident doctors' demands but also to commit to improving funding to the public health care sector.
Nigeria has enough resources, which if democratically managed, can ensure that public health care is funded alongside other vital social services. But the continuation of capitalism and profit-interest is why this is not the case. Is it not a paradox that the same neo-colonial economy that enriched Aliko Dangote and four others who were recently described by Oxfam as having among themselves enough wealth to banish poverty from Nigeria has one of the worst under-five mortality rates in the world? Therefore the struggle for healthcare must equally challenge the inequitable neo-colonial capitalist system which on the one side enriches a few while tens of millions have no access to basic drugs and treatment.
Ultimately, only a workers and poor people's government anchored on firm socialist policy of public ownership of the key sectors of the economy under public democratic control and management can ensure that healthcare is not only adequately funded but also that it is provided free at all levels to ensure maximum coverage. To achieve this, the labour movement alongside other workers' organizations needs to form and build a mass workers' political party that can fight for political power.