Doctors in Kogi state Wednesday have gone on indefinite strike to push the government to pay outstanding salaries and arrears.
An emergency congress of the Nigerian Medical Association held on Tuesday amidst disappointment that the government failed to meet their demands.
Doctors had previously suspended a strike for two months to allow for peaceful resolutions of issues of special consideration to all doctors employed in 2015, as documented in the memorandum of understanding signed on the 9th of January 2017 between the Kogi State government and NMA.
The strike announcement came in a communiqué issued at the end of an emergency congress in Lokoja, which was signed by the chairman and secretary of the association, Dr Tijani Godwin and Dr Zubair Kabiru, respectively.
The doctors allege that the government had failed to clear nine doctors after providing necessary documents as required by the screening committee, under-payment of salaries and arrears of doctors that have been paid, implementation of a new tax regime without commensurate promotion and stepping of doctors in the state civil service, and advertisement for employment of more doctors, despite the inability of the administration to implement adjusted Consolidation Medical Salary (CONMESS).
The NMA warned doctors who may decide to pick up employment with the state government to be cautious, noting that not all currently in its workforce have been so paid and that the government has not also implemented the adjusted CONMESS.
They demanded that state government should "retain and pay the arrears of all the doctors employed in 2015 as they have waited patiently while providing healthcare service in the state for over 15 months without salaries".
NMA also want government to clear and pay the remaining nine doctors whose names did not appear on any list and that "the issues of underpayment of salaries and arrears should be corrected forthwith”.
The association called on the government to return the new tax regime to status quo, or promote doctors accordingly before implementation, just as they called for uniform taxation for all the doctors in the Kogi State Civil Service.
Reacting to the industrial action, the Kogi State Governor Yahaya Bello has assured the people of the state that his administration would do everything within the legal ambit to avert industrial action by the NMA.
Speaking through his Director General on Media and Strategy, Kingsley Fanwo, the Governor said he will stop at nothing to protect the right of the Kogi citizens to quality healthcare.
"NMA has intimated government of its readiness to go on strike over some issues that borders on the recently concluded staff verification exercise. But before Government could call for a round table dialogue to listen to their grievances, NMA made their intention public to create an atmosphere of panic.
"The Staff Verification Exercise received the backing of labor. NMA was represented in the exercise and they signed the report, which indicated acceptance by the umbrella body for Medical Doctors in the State. The wisdom behind the inclusion of NMA representative in the screening was to give expert advice and lead the Committee to make informed decisions. For NMA to turn around to condemn the report is a betrayal of agreement and an attempt to condemn the home they joined hands with government in building.
"The decision to unnecessarily punish the Kogi people by going on strike is unfortunate and will be resisted by government. In an era of recession, it is an economic sin against the people to pay workers for doing nothing. We will explore legal and administrative avenues to stop the ill-fated strike.
"As we place an eye on the window for negotiations and diplomatic settlement; this government will place its other eye on the ongoing recruitment process going on in the health sector to bridge any gap which may tend to endanger the healthcare of our people," he said.
The Governor urged NMA not to "declare war on the state", saying their primary responsibility is to save lives and ensure the healthcare of the people of the state.
"Our doors are always open. We will always listen to the unionists. We believe in inclusiveness but we will not hesitate to take drastic decisions that will help the people of our dear state," he said.
The Governor thanked members of the Nigerian Medical Association for their patience and cooperation with his administration, urging them to seize the cordial relationship between them and the government to explore negotiation as a peaceful means of resolving industrial disputes.
He said his administration would continue to work with the doctors to achieve his goals on healthcare for the people of Kogi State.