Silence never won rights. They are not handed down from above; they are forced by pressure from below – Roger Baldwin
I have tried very hard to restrain myself from writing on this tragic strike embarked on by the medical and health workers union in Nigeria, but I can no longer hold myself from writing this short piece, not after what one of the health practitioners ( who prefers to be called doctors ) said in a gathering of intellectuals, that it is the prerogative of Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) members to be appointed as commissioners or ministers of health. Then I knew that he and his colleagues need to have their heads examined. My assertion was later justified when I learnt that he is a psychiatrist specialist who haven mingled with mad men for years have lost his sense of reasoning. Call it pride or being boastful, but I can humbly say that I have travelled and interacted with men of various professions including foreign health workers who are renowned surgeons, experts who at their magical touch, celebral palsy is gone, but I am yet to come across any who is as pompous as Nigerian graduates of medicine.
Let no one say I have been paid for putting up this reports or that I am one of the other health practitioners; far from it. As I matter of fact, I am married to a member of this arrogant profession. I have two female cousins who are surgeons and graduates of Harvard, not these mushroom universities that the so called medical ‘doctors’ in Nigeria attended, yet go about with shoulders highly lifted. So you see, when I write with this amount of hurting truth, I am directly talking to my families. So let it be.
I have always been an advocate that the term ‘doctor’ be reserved for the academics that go the extra mile to obtain the highest educational degree, not a bunch of opportunists who dumped the appellation of physician for a more worthy title. For all the years that I have read my bible, Christ or any of the leaders there always addressed health workers as physicians while he refers to the highly educated ones as ‘doctors of law’. What then is this craze by these general body physicians that they control the health sector? What gave the NMA president, Mr. Osahon Enabulele the impetus to tell his colleagues to stand by even as the other medical workers go striking? My visit to a hospital today in Lagos made a mess of ‘General’ Osahon order who feel that they can do the work they are not trained for. Various calls made to my colleagues in other states to confirm the state of the hospitals where they reside confirm that the entire hospital has been grounded.
I have never had a cause to be treated by any of the general body physician in my life and will never be, but I have had reasons to see a medical laboratory scientist; yes, I have lost count of reasons where nurses who do all the dirty jobs have attended to me. I have seen a family friend died when a physician who cannot carry out a test asked him to go out of the hospital gate to do a test before treatment could be carried out, but died on the way, holding the test result. I have visited a hospital where a physician was truthful enough to tell a stroke patient that they are not trained to handle such cases, telling him bluntly that his hope of walking lie with a doctor of physiotherapy (DPT). I am reliably informed by one of the NMA executive that the only medical profession that they don’t have the faintest idea of how they work is the DPT, and yet one still ask, why the discrepancy among them.
Professor Onyebuchi Chukwu, Minister of Health
That only NMA members should be appointed as CMDs leaving other medical professions out amounts to saying only graduates of banking/finance should head the Central Bank of Nigeria, when there are graduates of accountancy and economics in the profession, or succinctly put; that only graduates of political science should hold political positions when they have partners in graduates of government and public administration. The position of a CMD is equivalent to chief executive officer and should be filled by any qualified medical practitioners, ditto commissioners and ministers of health.
It is only in Nigeria that a common appointed minister is above the court of law. If it were not so, who is Mr. Onyebuchi Chukwu to disobey a court order, asking him to effect all the demands of NUMPTAM/JOHESU. Let the truth be told, their demand is just, fair and worthy. Why must other government workers skip grade level 11 and the minister gives autocratic orders that all other medical workers apart from physicians must not skip it? What manner of working practice is it that clinical specialist are not paid specialist allowance, when NMA members enjoy such? What outdated manner of man is the minister of health to give a directive that Chief Medical Directors of hospitals should be only from NMA, when DPT, Optometry and pharmacists are leading players in the field of medicine? While I do not make claims for the medical practitioners, I advocate for their rights been given to them. That only NMA members should be appointed as CMDs leaving other medical professions out amounts to saying only graduates of banking/finance should head the Central Bank of Nigeria, when there are graduates of accountancy and economics in the profession, or succinctly put; that only graduates of political science should hold political positions when they have partners in graduates of government and public administration. The position of a CMD is equivalent to chief executive officer and should be filled by any qualified medical practitioners, ditto commissioners and ministers of health.
For a minister to flagrantly disobey a court order and gets away with it is another dent of the President Goodluck Jonathan administration. It goes to show that Mr. Jonathan day as a vice president were simply wasted years, since he could not learn the “rule of law” from President Musa Yaradua, which was the bench mark of that administration. For Christ sake, what manner of ministers do we have? Let someone tell Onyebuchi that we don’t have a minister of NMA but health. Can Mr. Jonathan be bold enough to sack this man who the medical workers have recommended his sack since last year? Can this man resign his position as a minister to allow a true health expert take over? With this medical strike and ASUU strike, a serious president would have asked both ministers to submit their resignation letters, but not Nigeria president. This is the price a leader pay when he leaves experts and technocrats to appoint political thieves in office.
It is time Nigerians call the bluff off these physicians once and for all the way Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State did last year. It is time Nigerians tell them that they are like the gatemen in the various government ministries and should not use their pride to cause innocent Nigerians to die in the hospitals with no medical officer to attend to them. I feel their pains as they lie down in their various wards, praying for the strike to be called off. I have been in their shoes losing loved ones not because there are no physicians, but there was no medical lab scientist to carry out a test. I have been to the physiotherapist department in various Nigerian hospitals and see people wriggling in pains, mothers crying to have their husbands treated of strokes, children treated of ebbs palsy, facial nerve and numerous medical conditions, yet there was no hope as the DPTs are on strike. I have known an operation successfully carried out, but because of the absence of a nurse to take care of the patient; we lost him. This is the pain I feel. Pains that the medical workers don’t feel, as they forget the Hippocratic Oath the very minute they leave the medical college.
The minister of health is not fit for such a sensitive position and while his cronies in NMA who his presence is shielding will not agree to his sack, let the ears of the president listen to his medical colleagues who know his ineptitude and have called for his removal. It is not too late to bring back Mrs. Dora Akunyili who I reliably gathered was pencilled as health minister, during the Olusegun Obasanjo regime, before the NMA politics went through the back door to stop it. If this strike will claim the lives of all Nigerians before the minister of health will be removed; so be it. An African proverb says, “Until you lose a loved one before you realize that other dead bodies are not sticks”.
To you striking medical practitioners; today I say to you: remember you are fighting more than your own fight, you are fighting for the future of your profession and you must stand together. Break your chains and demand your rights, for united you bargain but divided you beg. If there is no struggle, progress is stagnated.
Fejiro Oliver, a Journalist can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org and +2348026797588 (sms only please)