Lagos State Medical doctors again went on a long strike. The Hospitals are malfunctioning. People are dying and the state is flooded in blood. Where is Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos state?
In nostalgia, I reflect on our late great leader, Chief Obafemi Awolowo who has been described by the late Odumegu Ojukwu as “The best President Nigeria never had.” This was the man who with little wealth from cocoa in his hand, implemented perfectly, his four cardinal points which included free education, free health services, electricity and rural development. But for him, many of us in my generation would not have found the way to the classroom.
This is what Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State has gradually and systematically eroded. Lagos State schools are not only in shambles but also the school fees are prohibitive. Unless Fashola’s governance. Closely at the heels of Awolowo is ex-Governor Jakande who clinically carried out with great success, the programmes enunciated by the great leader in Lagos state. Jakande’s term ended the reign of the good governors in Lagos state-governors who have the integrity and love for the welfare of the people. Subsequent governors concentrated in grandiose programmes and projects which provide thick cover for siphoning public money into their pockets and those of their political grandfathers and cronies. For this, Lagos has failed to assume that appellation, “The centre of Excellence” which was the case during the golden era of ex-governor Lateef Jakande. Today, the same Lagos State is submerged in blood from the poor and down-trodden citizens who could not be flown abroad for medical treatment, because Lagos State medical Doctors are on strike.
Why should medical Doctors in Lagos State be allowed to go on strike, you may want to ask? Strikes, all over the world are means of bringing employers in agreement with employees over conditions of service. Though rare, when the card of strike is used no one side can declare it illegal. According to section 628 of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) code the responsibility for declaring a strike illegal should not be with the government but with an independent body which has the confidence of the parties involved.”
What makes Fashola’s case traumatic is that he is not only a lawyer, but a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) who is expected to know and uphold not only the rule of law, but also the sanctity of the law. How on earth, can a governor in his right mind, rather than negotiating with the striking 788 medical Doctors unilaterally sacks them, and replacing them with the inexperienced riffraff Doctors who he had enticed with salary packages twice the normal salaries they should have earned. Yet these fire-on-the-mountain half-baked referral Doctors cannot provide the needed medical services and the result is that Governor Fashola is systematically sending these patients who otherwise should have survived, to their early graves. What a cruel and heartless way to resolve labour dispute? These are the citizens who the Lagos State Governor had sworn to protect, the same citizens who for two consecutive times have voted for him as governor of Lagos state. What a betrayal of trust?
All that the Doctors need is a mere pittance of N33.5 Million monthly, which is the Consolidated Medical Salary Structure (CONMESS) negotiated by the Nigeria Medical Association and the Federal Government of the Nigerian nation. Many states except Lagos state have implemented the Doctors CONMESS. In April 2011 the Lagos Medical Doctors went on strike because the Lagos state government led by Fashola reneged from implementing a collective agreement on CONMESS. This, to any right thinking person, offends the principles of collective bargaining and the rule of law.
A year after, precisely on April 11 to 13 in 2012, the Lagos state medical doctors again went on warning strike, still demanding the implementation of CONMESS. This genuine warning strike from Doctors fell on the deaf ears of the lawyer governor who knows the rule of law. It will be recalled that the CONMESS was signed into law via the Federal Government circular SWC/S/04/S.410/220 of the 29th September 2009 which is to serve as a universal salary scale and minimum reference standard of recommendation for all Doctors in Nigeria regardless of location or employer. Medical profession is a specialized profession which is not an all-comers’ game. Like every other profession, the condition of service is regulated by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) convention which demands the treatment of employers as a party in collective bargaining.
Why, then has Fashola unilaterally sacked the medical Doctors, knowing very well that sacking the Doctors because of their lawful demands will spill the blood of the poor Lagos citizens who have no other place to go, except the poorly funded Lagos State general hospitals and clinics. This is the same Fashola who in all attempt to frustrate and further anger the Doctors, demoted all the Doctors to grade steps 1 and 2 of their various levels, and demoting the entry level for specialist from grade level 15 step 4 to grade level 15 step 1. This demotion is aimed at undermining the seniority status and the income due to different categories of Doctors in the Lagos State employ. This is against the spirit and realities of CONMESS and the rules and regulations governing wage adjustment in labour issues. As if this is not enough, the Fashola led-government reneged from paying teaching allowances to grade level 10 who are House Officers and grade level 12 who are Medical Officers and Registrars. These two categories of Doctors actually teach and by law they are entitled to allowances. These unwarranted actions taken against the doctors by Fashola are provocative enough for specialized professionals charged with managing the health of Lagos citizens to swallow.
The last straw that broke the camel’s back was when the lawyer-governor abandoned the substance and embarked on chasing the shadows. He did not only unilaterally sack the Doctors as his bonafide employees but also sacked them from their official residences without recourse to the tenents of the existing landlord-tenants edit existing in Lagos State. He neither left room for negotiation with the Doctors nor employed the Industrial Court of Arbitration. This leaves room for me to wonder if Nigeria has imported Boma boys to rule Nigerians as governors
Let us take a look back once more. The Lagos State Doctors went on a 14 week strike from August to November 2010. The strike was suspended when Barrister-led government agreed to implement CONMESS fully through a letter LGS/HOS/06/VOL VI/30 dated the 19th of November 2010 and signed by Adesegun Ogunlewe as Head of Service. Fashola reneged from Implementation. In February 2011, the Doctors once more went back to the street because of government’s failure to implement Consolidated Medical Salary Structure (CONMESS) which was agreed upon on the 19th of November 2010. As said earlier the November 2011 strike by the Doctors was called off after the Lagos State government represented by the former governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Dr. Jide Idris, the Lagos State Commissioner for Health and Dr. Henry Ajomale, the Lagos State Chairman of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). Instead of respecting the agreement the State government, used the apparatus of public power to recklessly victimize, oppress, repress and suppress the Doctors in all conceivable manners, forgetting that the stakes are human lives, which belong to the citizens of Lagos State.
Now the music is over after consistent threats from the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA), well meaning Nigerians and the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas workers (NUPENG), giving the inordinate Lagos State government an ultimatum to solve its dispute with the Doctors or be prepared to throb a larger drum for war. This woke up Fashola from his wild dreams of dwelling in lawlessness and in face to face with the realities of the time. Why is he now withdrawing the sack option? He should have lingered on with his prestige fight with the Doctors while toying with the lives of the Lagos State residents who are already wallowing in great penury from the burden of over taxation in all the spheres of live from Fashola’s government to keep on letting out blood daily as a result of the Doctors’ strike.
Who is to blame? The Doctors who are asking for a pittance of only thirty-three point Five Million naira monthly for managing the health of Lagos State citizens OR Fashola whose unaccounted for, security vote alone runs into Six point Five Billion Naira monthly excluding other allowances? Fashola should settle ones and for all the Lagos Doctors’ demands, and never again will Lagos Doctors go on strike if he does just that.
Pat Asakome a Broadcaster, an Author, University lecturer and an Analyst in Public Affairs writes from Lagos Nigeria.