The federal government has released N4.5 billion to 31 federal teaching and medical centres across the country, an official has said.
Labour minister Chris Ngige said the payment which covers hazard and inducement allowances for April and May is made with the expectation that it would ameliorate the plight of resident doctors across the country who downed tools since Monday over unpaid salaries and allowances.
Mr Ngige disclosed this while briefing State House correspondents along with the Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire, and the Minister of State for Labour, Festus Keyamo.
The officials spoke with journalists shortly after they briefed President Muhammadu Buhari on the strike by the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD).
The resident doctors announced the commencement of a nationwide “indefinite strike” on Monday morning in a communique issued at the end of their ‘virtual extraordinary National Executive Council Meeting’.
The NARD president, Aliyu Sokomba, said doctors downed tools over unpaid salaries, non-payment of hazard allowance, and a dearth of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in hospitals among several other reasons. He said the association explored several other options before arriving at their decision.
The government had threatened to invoke the ‘no work no pay rule’ on the striking doctors on Tuesday after a meeting it had with the doctors ended in disagreement.
Health minister Osagie Ehanire directed all medical directors in all public hospitals across the country to open a register by 7 a.m. from Wednesday and record ‘those who come to work and those who fail to come to work’.
But the doctors called the bluff of the government’s threat. The NARD president, described the threat as “empty and the biggest joke of the century”, adding that the doctors are not intimidated and will go on with the strike until their demands are met.
During Friday’s briefing with journalists, Ngige, who had claimed that the government has already started paying the doctors treating COVID-19 patients the hazard allowance, said the payment of the N4.5 billing was made “just this morning”.
“Just this morning, before we went to see Mr President, the Ministry of Finance reported that as at this morning, 3 a.m., they have paid the allowances for hazard and inducement to 31 teaching and Federal Medical Centres and specialist hospitals of the federal government service and they have expended close to N4.5 billion in the payment because, we are paying them the arrears of April and May. The payment for June will also be done immediately these ones are sorted out.
“Again, it’s important to report to you that in consonance with what he’s saying, we have arranged a meeting for them to speak to the Nigerian Governors’ Forum because you don’t mix apples and oranges. The issue of health is on the concurrent list, so the federal government will do its own and the state government will be expected to do their own. Some of their grievances border on what they feel the state governments have not done.”
Also speaking, health minister, Mr Ehanire said, “We hope that there is a solution in sight; what we have done is to brief the President of the country, who as we all know has the final responsibility for everything that goes on in government. Those of us who are Ministers administer our ministries and have to report to him periodically.
“In this particular case, it has been important to report to him how things have been because of the strike action of resident doctors. We have to report to him the implications and the possible consequences of such a strike action.
“He listened to us carefully, of course he is not happy that it has come this way and we all hope that it would be resolved after all the demands that were made have been resolved.”
The Nigerian government had promised a special COVID-19 hazard and inducement allowance of 50 per cent of Consolidated Basic Salary to all health workers in Nigerian Teaching Hospitals, Federal Medical Centres (FMCs), and designated COVID-19 centres.
The Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, said about 5,000 frontline health workers have been given life insurance by the Nigerian insurance industry, NHIS.
But Sokomba in an interview with newsmen, on Wednesday, said no ‘dime’ of hazard allowance has been paid to any doctor. “I don’t think they have intentions of paying us.”
The NARD president said no life insurance has been issued to any resident doctor, noting that no less than 10 doctors have died of COVID19. “I have lost count of those infected by the virus.”
Resident doctors are certified doctors undergoing residency to become consultants. They make up a large bulk of doctors in Nigeria’s tertiary hospitals.
Health workers, being the first respondents to patients have continued to be at risk of exposure to COVID-19 virus.
Although health workers have been advised to use full PPE before attending to patients, many do not have access to this equipment.
As of June 2, about 812 health workers had tested positive for COVID-19 in Nigeria.