Indications emerged on Sunday that the leadership of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) may have been rocked by division over the ongoing nationwide strike embarked upon by medical doctors over trade issues with the Federal Government.
A pointer to this crack in the association was the abrupt cancellation of a media briefing scheduled to hold in Abuja on Sunday.
NMA Secretary-General, who announced the cancellation to journalists who were already at the venue, could only apologise to the journalists to “bear with us,” saying ” we will call you in 48 hours time.”
An emergency meeting of the NMA leadership which followed the cancellation of the briefing was still ongoing while filing this report.
Sources close to the meeting attended by three past NMA Presidents,among others, tell THEWILL that there were disagreements on whether to shelve the ongoing nationwide strike or not. “The NMA leadership is divided on the strike; while some led by its current President, Dr. Kayode Obembe, are pushing for the suspension of the action, others said they would not suspend the action when the Federal Government has not listened to them.
“If we suspend the action now, the present government and even subsequent governments won’t take us serious any time we declare nationwide strikes again. That is the major issue and not any insinuation that somebody has been settled,” one of the sources said.
It would be recalled that the NMA President had blamed the strike on the failure of the Federal Government to address the demands of the Association, saying there was no going back on the two-month-old strike..
The NMA had also sent about 24 demands to the Federal Government, including the discontinuation of recognition of non-medical doctors as Directors and Consultant title to any other health worker, other than medical doctors.
The demands also include appointment of a Surgeon – General of the Federation, clinical duty and hazard allowances and withdrawal of the Central Bank of Nigeria circular on medical laboratory equipment.
“The NMA is taking this painful route because our silence and gentle approach to these contending issues have been taken for granted. We have to take this action in order to save the health care delivery system from anarchy that is palpably imminent.
“We hereby appeal to all Nigerians for their understanding and to press on Government to meet with our demands” Obembe had stated.
According to the NMA President, the failure of the Federal Government to address the demands of the Association has left the association with no other option than “to call all its members to down tools in order to press home their demands.”
He argued that there was no way non – doctors could be allowed to function as Consultants because they do not oversee patients in the hospital.
“A Consultant is the owner of the patient; many health workers now go about acquiring Ph.D so that they can be called doctors. The title should be restricted to only a medical doctor,” he said.
Meanwhile, reactions have continued to trail the nationwide strike.The President of Medical and Dental Consultants Association of Nigeria, Dr. Steven Oluwole, had raised the alarm over what he alleged as plans by the Federal Government to privatise Teaching Hospitals and proscribe the NMA.
The Federal Government had earlier challenged the striking doctors to a “high-powered debate” before the public on the contentious issues concerning the alleged breach of agreement which necessitated the strike.
The Federal Government also said it had fulfilled its own part of the bargain by 100 per cent and wondered why the NMA leadership would still be adamant after signing a Memorandum of Understanding.
The Minister of Health, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu, threw the challenge during the signing of $15 million agreement with Norwegian government which was offered to Nigeria for the upscaling of Maternal and Child Health.
“The update on the strike is that they (NMA) have signed the second MoU with us on the July 3. For two times now, they have said they would call off the strike; they have signed. I don’t know, when someone gives you a cheque, you are expected to go and cash your money,” he said.
The Minister maintained that the Federal Government has fulfilled its part of the agreement .
” I am assuring Nigerians that as their Minister of Health, on my honour, the Federal Government, led by President Goodluck Jonathan has done what it ought to do.
“That is why they signed an MoU. Why will you sign an MoU when you are not satisfied with the negotiation? These two negotiations took place for over 24 hours; that is whole day without sleep,” the Minister said.