As part of steps to end the on-going strike that has paralysed many hospitals, the Federal Government has directed immediate payment of salary arrears of over 450 medical doctors.
Those affected are mostly House Officers, who are being owed for three months.
Also, government said it has started discussing with the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) and other health associations on the review of the Hazard Allowance for all workers in the sector.
It acknowledge N5,000 Hazard Allowance per head as paltry and pledged to review it.
The government appealed to doctors to abide by their Hippocratic Oath by calling off the strike in the interest of Nigerians.
Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige made the disclosures in an exclusive interview with The Nation.
He said: “Those people are not being owed, their money is there. The issue is about migration from GIFMIS to IPPIS. It was like the case of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).
“But, their list has been compiled and submitted on Saturday for Accountant-General of the Federation’s office to start payment of the backlog of three months for the two groups. If you are employed in January up to March and you have not been paid, is it not three months?
If you terminated your payment in GIFMIS in October up to December, is it not three months? We are going to pay them.
“At the conciliation, we gave everybody waiver over the payroll. So, it is in the agreement we signed, the Memorandum of Action, that they are saying they don’t want or that their is president is saying he does not want. He didn’t know because he didn’t participate in the meeting.
“So, I expect that the payment to start any moment from Monday. IPPIS office assured me that they will start paying, if they get the full list. That is the major one.”
On Hazard Allowance, he said the government had started talks with NMA and others since February.
Ngige said: “That issue about hazard allowance, we started that proactively in February. I started that with the Remuneration Committee of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) at the instance of the NMA President who solicited for me to see them.
“With my officials from Employment and Wages Department, we started some discussion We have also held some preliminary discussions with some other groups in the health sector. This is a business or work in progress.
“For anybody to say that we have not started discussing, it is a lie. But, it is not a business we can do with only doctors. We have discussed it with lab technologists, medical workers union, association of radiologists, pharmacists and all that work in the hospital environment. Everybody that works in hospital environment as at today takes hazard allowance.
“The hazard allowance they are taking today is very paltry, it is N5,000. That was why the Federal Government decided to shelve it and paid them Special COVID Hazard allowance last year for the months of April, May and June. And it cost the government N32billion.
In a statement by the Ministry of Labour and Employment through its Deputy Director (Press), Mr. Charles Akpan, explained why the salary arrears accumulated.
It accused some Chief Medical Directors of conducting recruitment of House Officers in violation of a circular which prohibited it.
It said: “The central placement of House Officers was approved by the FEC for all would be intern in federal tertiary institutions to enable these graduates not to roam the streets for up to twelve months, waiting for spaces for housemanship. This was meant to curb favoritism and corruption associated with their recruitment in different centers, hence, the last Executive Committee of the NMA was informed of the decision and they fully supported.
“This same centralised recruitment was meant for other health professionals. But, medical graduates were chosen for the pilot, which was to start in in 2020 COVID-19 pandemic.
“However, January 2021 was chosen as the commencement of recruitment from the federal teaching hospitals and medical centres. NMA was aware of this arrangement and made no effort to liaise with the Federal Ministry of Health, the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria and the Committee of Chief Medical Directors to ensure a smooth transition and migration of house officers at the tail end of their training programmes into the IPPIS platform for the uninterrupted continuation of their emoluments, salaries and allowances.
“This abdication of responsibility resulted in the present chaotic situation, which made some Chief Medical Directors to go ahead and conduct recruitment of new house officers on their own in violation of circular which prohibits same. They claimed they did this to maintain their manpower need to save lives.”
On Hazard Allowance, the government said the input of the doctors and other health workers had not been received by the government.
The statement added: “The Hon. Minister of Labour had also advised the committee to send in their proposal through the Federal Ministry of health, their employers, and up till date, no such proposal has reached the desk of the minister. The minister equally gave audience to two professional groups in the health sector and advised them same.
“The minister, as the co-chair of the Presidential Committee on Salaries and Wages, held similar meetings with two other health professional groups at their request and also advised them in the same way to send in their proposal through the Federal Ministry of Health. We are not sure the Ministry of Health received these proposals till now.
Giving more insights into what led to the crisis in the health sector.
The statement added: “National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) was also kept in the dark by the NMA leadership. At the request of the president of the NMA, the Minister of Labour and Employment had received in audience and held a technical session with the NMA Remuneration Committee led by Dr. Orhue on the issue of hazard allowance – from N5000 to a new rate based on CONMES salary structure.”
It said the Minister was of the opinion that NARD should have allowed the NMA to handle all issues instead of going on strike.
The statement said: “The Minister further said the House officers are not members of NARD since they are medical doctors with provisional license, hence members of NMA which is the professional umbrella for all doctors.
“The abdication of responsibility for protecting the baby doctors by the NMA is nothing but a grave display of lack of leadership, indeed leadership failure. Playing the ostrich and hiring militant NARD to lead the way in what should be a smooth display of administrative craftmanship.
Ngige added that the invocation of national strike by NARD over an issue that could be handled by the NMA does not help the nation.”
It also quoted the Minister as saying: “I am aware that the NMA President had complained he does not get the expected cooperation, even audience with the two Health Ministers and their officials, but that is one of the challenges faced by people in leadership, a situation that has made my ministry to play proactive roles to prevent the strike not only in health sector, but in education and others.
“But the NMA President is reminded that he cannot effectively pilot the big job of the presidency of the Nigerian Medical Association from his new seat as the Vice chancellor of the new Federal University of Medical Science, Oturkpo Benue State.”