In a seeming desperate bid to abort the strike action by the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) billed to commence on Monday, the Federal Government says it is proposing N20 billion as hazard allowance for the doctors in next year’s budget.
The 2021 Fiscal Approbation Bill is also expected to cover the issue of life insurance being demanded by the doctors.
The Director-General of Budget Office, Ben Akabueze, made these facts known at an intervention meeting with NARD that was initiated by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, on Tuesday.
Also in attendance at the meeting which lasted for three hours were the two ministers of health, Osagie Ehanire and Olorumibe Mamora; NARD President, Dr Sokomba Aliyu; the Secretary-General of Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) Dr Ekpe Philips, Chairman of the House Committee on Healthcare Services, Tanko Yusuf Sununu, among others.
This is not the first time Gbajabiamila will be intervening in such a matter. Last year he held several meetings with resident doctors and other health workers union, pleading with them not to embark on a planned strike at the time.
At the Tuesday fire-fighting meeting, he said the leadership of the Green Chamber of the bicameral National Assembly will not fold its arms while resident doctors embark on strike at this time of the raging COVID-19 pandemic.
NARD had issued an ultimatum to embark on strike from this coming Monday following what it said was government’s inability to fulfil certain obligations as agreed in a memorandum of understanding.
Part of the issues in contention according to Sununu, the House Committee chair on Healthcare Services, were outstanding payments on hazard allowance, and arbitrary disengagement of 23 doctors at the University of Jos Teaching Hospital.
Others include non-provision of life insurance despite the death of some doctors from COVID-19, non-provision of personal protective equipment (PPEs), reduction of doctors’ salary by the Kaduna State Government, doctors’ residency training, among others.
But Gbajabiamila is appealing to the resident doctors to tarry a while as the government was working assiduously to meet their entitlements, noting that the House could not intervene in the issue of doctors in Kaduna State as it is not under its jurisdiction.
The Speaker also pointed out that if need be, the House will come up with a legislation that will not only back the payment of hazard allowance but will also define the same for clarity.
“As a House, we’ll keep taking steps to avoid strikes. This meeting will give us the opportunity to holistically address the issues at stake. Let’s agree on one thing: that at this time, we can’t afford to allow our doctors to go on strike. Let’s agree that their welfare is a priority”, Gbajabiamila says.
He, however, notes that the issue of hazard allowance was captured in the supplementary budget before the House.
On Kaduna state, he said: “Unfortunately, we can only deal with federal matters here. We can only be persuasive because there’s a structure in government. But all the other issues you raised, we will address them. We’ll see how we can talk to members from that state in the House to talk to the governor.”
“I want to appeal to the President of NARD and the association itself. My appeal is on a humanitarian basis. You’re dealing with lives, so I appeal to you to suspend the strike. I’m making this appeal because of your professional calling. You’re dealing with lives.
“I want you to understand that government is doing its best to meet your entitlement”, he adds.
Gbajabiamila also assured that the resident doctors’ training would be captured in the 2021 budget whether or not it is included in the ministry’s budget.
Although Sokomba did not give a direct commitment on the suspension of the planned strike, he said he will get back to the national executive of the association and relate the Speaker’s intervention to them, after which he will communicate their decision to the House.
Minister of State for Health, Mamora, earlier said an agreement was reached at a meeting attended by all stakeholders including NARD leadership that payment will be made and that all other issues will be addressed.
Meanwhile, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) says with 663 new cases on Tuesday, the country has recorded its single highest daily figure since the COVID-19 pandemic broke in the country
The agency says 663 new cases were confirmed in the last 24 hours, bringing the national tally to 13,464, and four deaths recorded, resulting in a total death toll of 365.
Globally, 7,185,573 cases have been detected with 408,954 deaths and 3,352,665 patients treated and fully recovered from the virus infection, according to Johns Hopkins University.
In Africa, confirmed figures showed that South Africa has reported 52,991 cases with 1,162 deaths while Ghana has 9,910 cases with about 48 deaths.
Of the 663 new cases in 26 states of Nigeria, Lagos recorded 170 cases, Ogun – 108, Bauchi – 69, Ebonyi – 49, Edo – 33, Rivers – 30, Abuja and Jigawa 26 each, Delta – 20, Anambra – 17, Gombe and Kano – 16 each, Imo- 15, Abia – 14, Borno and Oyo 11 each, Plateau – eight, Kebbi and Kaduna – six each, Ondo – four, Niger and Katsina – two each, Osun, Ekiti, Kwara and Nasarawa -one case each.