Two weeks into a national strike by almost 320,000 Nigerian resident doctors in the face of an escalating Covid-19 pandemic, the government has invoked a ‘no work, no pay’ rule to force them to return to work.
The doctors in federal and state public hospitals and other health institutions embarked on an indefinite strike on August 2 to protest against delays in implementing a welfare agreement with the governments.
They also say that since the pandemic began, they had not been paid their full salaries, leading some to resign. But many others still on the State payroll are demanding better working conditions in Nigeria’s mostly understaffed hospitals, consistent pay and respect for the terms of the signed agreement.
Nigeria had taken the doctors to the Industrial Court demanding that they explain why they should continue to be paid while on strike, but the medics insist they will not return to work and will instead appear in court on August 16 to make their case.
Irked by the strike, the health minister, Dr Osagie Emmanuel Ehanire, has described it as an unpatriotic act sabotaging the health system.
“We have said openly that this is not a good time for doctors to go on strike. We’re having a strike for the third time this year. That is not good. We have appealed to them. We have been having long meetings with young doctors to tell them that, ‘Look, we have a certain responsibility to our country’,” he lamented.
“Every country in a difficult situation at this time should understand that responsibility is on all of us. If you have any problem let’s talk about it. If we can’t solve it now, let’s continue talking about it until we find a solution, but don’t drop work.
“I think Nigeria is probably the only country in the world today where doctors are dropping work in the middle of a threat to the whole country. So that’s what we have advised. There has been no threat. Nobody threatened anything. We are just appealing. All of us are doctors, all of us went through the same residency.”
But even as he made the appeal, Dr Ehanire warned that the doctors would no longer be paid if they do not return to work, saying they are paid with taxpayers’ money and Nigerians were bearing the brunt of the strike.
“So, if you did not work, why should you be paid? Because if that is so, you can be encouraged to stay home for six months and your salary is running from public funds, from taxpayers’ money, when you have not given the community any service.’’
In an update, he confirmed that Nigeria had received 176,000 doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccines in the first batch of almost 40 million ordered. He noted that 2.3 per cent of eligible Nigerians have been vaccinated.
Meanwhile, the director-general of the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control, Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, has reported that the country recorded more than 700 cases of Covid-19 and four deaths on Thursday.
The new cases bring the country’s total infections since the index case in 2020 to 180,661.
The surge, he said, is driven by the highly transmissible Delta variant and low vaccination rates.