THE Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, has described as “absurd” the demands by medical doctors under the aegis of the Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors (NARD).
In an ultimatum issued on Saturday, the association requested tangible steps on the “upward review” of the Consolidated Medical Salary Structure (CONMESS) and payment of all salary arrears owed its members from 2015.
The doctors, amongst other issues, also demanded the immediate payment of the 2023 Medical Residency Training Fund (MRTF) and threatened to embark on an indefinite strike within two weeks if their demands were unmet.
The association also condemned the controversial bill seeking to compel medical and dental practitioners to practise for five years before relocating abroad, noting that such would rather escalate the challenge of brain drain in the health sector.
Reacting, Ngige while speaking during “the morning show” on Arise TV on Monday, criticised the doctor over the ultimatum issued.
He said the resident doctors are suffering from “entitlement syndrome”, insisting that the federal government has gone to great lengths “to give them everything they want.”
“We have been managing their matter and have given them everything they want, including the residency training programme funds, we are paying them, even when in training, we pay them a full salary, pay them all the allowances and you decided that we have not done enough,” he said.
“As I said before, you have the option to go. It is left for the education and health ministries to fashion out what they can do.”
On the new bill, Mr Ngige said “So you asked that a bill submitted by a member be removed as a condition not to commence strike? That is absurd,” he added.
“The entitlements syndrome, the sense of entitlement is too much in this country and as I said earlier, you obey the law you look odd, you apply the law, you look odd or you are a wicked man. I don’t have any apologies for whatever I have done in the management of trade disputes,” the minister said.
Resident doctors are doctors undertaking training to become specialists/consultants. They make up the bulk of the doctors in Nigeria’s tertiary hospitals and when the NARD goes on strike, activities are crippled in such hospitals.
The association had in January issued an ultimatum to the government to resolve issues affecting its members, including the immediate implementation, and payment of the new hazard allowance and arrears.
The doctors in a communique issued at the end of their National Executive Council (NEC) meeting on Saturday and signed by their President, Emeka Innocent, said the government is yet to meet their demands.
The NARD President said many state governors “are yet to implement the appropriate CONMESS structure, domesticate the Medical Residency Training Act (MRTA) or improve on the hazard allowance paid to NARD members.”
In the nine-point resolutions, the doctors demanded an “immediate increment in the CONMESS salary structure to the tune of 200 per cent of the current gross salary of doctors in addition to the new allowances included in the letter written by NARD to the Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire, in 2022.
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Other demands include: “The immediate massive recruitment of clinical staff in the hospitals and the complete abolishment of bureaucratic limitations to the immediate replacement of doctors who leave the system.
“Immediate commencement of payment of all salary arrears owed our members by the various state governments, notorious amongst which is the Abia State government.”
Meanwhile, the president of Nigeria’s resident doctors’ association has warned that until medical professionals are paid decent salaries, it will be difficult for them to remain in the country.
The Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), though its President, President, Emeka Orji says its 200 percent pay rise demand is not outrageous, adding that the Federal Government can afford it.
According to him, the review of salaries of resident doctors should have taken place in 2014 with rising inflation and attendant economic shocks. “Things are getting worse and there is no increment in take-home pay,” he said.