Nigerian doctors, other health workers renew rivalry over entitlements

Nigerian doctors under the umbrella of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) and other healthcare workers under the banners of the Joint Health Sector Unions (JOHESU) and the Assembly of Healthcare Professional Association (AHPA) have renewed their perennial conflicts over superiority and entitlements.

JOHESU and AHPA- which comprise healthcare workers except medical doctors and dentists, have been on the negotiation table with the Nigerian government over unpaid salaries and hazard allowances, non-adjustment of the CONHESS salary structure and non-implementation of several court judgments, among other demands.

But as negotiations are yet to reach a conclusion, the associations have repeatedly threatened to embark on strike, even as they wrote the government requesting only non-physicians as negotiators on behalf of the government.

In a letter dated December 16, 2021 and addressed to the health minister, Osagie Ehanire, JOHESU and AHPA requested that only non-physicians would be accepted by them in future negotiations with the government.

The letter reads in part; “Recent events have compelled the Joint Health Sector Unions and the Assembly of Healthcare Professional Associations to formally draw the attention of the minister to the unending cycle of misnomer, where the Federal Ministry of Health dispatches a team completely dominated by physicians to negotiations involving the welfare and accruing benefit packages of members of JOHESU/AHPA.

“The climax of these numerous aberrations usually manifests at times of trade disputes when the Minister of Health would lead teams made up of high numbers of physicians to the negotiating table on matters relating or pertaining exclusively to members of JOHESU/AHPA.”

Doctors’ response

In a statement issued on Sunday, the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) expressed its disapproval of the demands in the letter to the health ministry by JOHESU and AHPA.

“In conclusion, by making insinuation not to enter into negotiation with the Federal Government if Doctors were involved, implies that such decisions would be extended to the Honourable Ministers of Health and that of Labour and Employment because they are Physicians,” the NMA stated in the statement signed by its spokesperson, Aniekeme Uwah.

The statement added that “JOHESU should also stop meeting with the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation and permanent secretaries that are physicians, chief medical directors, chairmen of Senate and House Committees on Health, Governors and Deputy Governors etc. JOHESU has forgotten that the DHS and other Physicians involved in their negotiation were there by virtue of the critical relevance of their offices and NOT in individual capacities as Physicians.

“If we copy and travel this discriminatory road, then NMA will not negotiate with the Federal Government.”

The doctors’ association said JOHESU leadership has “increasingly become physicianphobic” which it said is a form of “dysociopath.”

The NMA also declared its opposition to some other demands made by JOHESU and AHPA from the government, describing them as unacceptable.

“There is no basis for JOHESU to ask for the same salary as for Medical Doctors as this is not the standard practice worldwide. JOHESU knows that there is a relativity agreement between the Federal Government and the NMA on CONHESS and CONMESS,” the doctors argued.

Unending rivalry

The latest development has marked the continuation of the age-long battle of who-gets-what in Nigeria’s health sector, putting the government between two touchy ends.

Medical doctors and other health workers have been on a warpath for long and the main contentions have been salary adjustments and leadership tussles.

This may seem as an over-flogged issue but the rift is always reignited whenever any of the warring groups makes a demand on the government.

Although there have been pockets of discontent, one of the most glaring rifts between both groups before now was in 2018 when medical doctors threatened to withdraw their services if the government accedes to the demands of other health workers who were on strike for over three weeks at the time.

“If anyone is to be unhappy, it should be the physicians who are being short changed by the deliberate refusal of the Federal Government to apply internationally accepted relativity in the remuneration of health workers in Nigeria,” the NMA said in its Sunday statement.

“JOHESU is free to negotiate with anybody,” it added.

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