• Beg Ambode: ‘We’re dying in instalments’
By Job Osazuwa
Many medical workers in Lagos are angry. The aggrieved workers, who claimed they were engaged by the state government under the auspices of the Midwives Service Scheme (MSS), Lagos State chapter, recently held a peaceful demonstration at the Governor’s Office, Alausa, Ikeja, to protest the non-payment of 11-month salary arrears by the authorities.
The midwives, who marched around the Governor’s Office and the House of Assembly complex, sang songs and pleaded with the authorities to quickly come to their aid.
They expressed displeasure over the manner in which they were being treated after they had wholeheartedly rendered services to patients, especially in remote areas of the state. According to the protesters, the state government’s refusal to pay them in the past 11 months had brought them untold hardship. They lamented that it was now difficult for them to feed their families, even as meeting other pressing needs had become impossible.
Even though they had not been paid a kobo since the beginning of the year, the midwives told the reporter that not for one day were they found wanting at their duty posts. The passion to save lives, they asserted, was the sole reason they had always remained on duty, and they wanted to always play their part in seeing to the development of Lagos.
The protesters expressed the fear that, if their salaries continued to accumulate, they and their families would be unable to participate in the coming Christmas and New Year celebrations. They said many of their children were out of school, having been sent back from school for not paying tuition.
Their placards had different inscriptions, including “Akinwunmi Ambode, please help pay MSS midwives salaries;” “Midwives are dying but patients are living;” “We reduce maternal and child mortality;” “Ambode, please hear us and intervene now;” “What have we done to deserve this punishment?” “We deserve to be paid promptly,” and many others.
Spokesperson for MSS, Mrs. Beatrice Adunola Ajayi, told Daily Sun that her colleagues could no longer endure the suffering, which was why the midwives decided to picket the Governor’s Office to express their grievances. She said several appeals had been made to the state government before the protest, but that none yielded the desired fruits. She said the situation had become worrisome and embarrassing. She recalled that the last time government paid them outstanding salaries was after a similar protest in 2015.
“We have been pleading with government to pay our salaries, but our demands have not been met. So, that is the reason we came out today to let Governor Ambode know what we have been passing through since January. We are not supposed to be begging the state government to pay us the money we actually worked for, but government has turned us to beggars,” said.
Ajayi told the reporter that the midwives were employed by the Federal Government and seconded to state governments in 2010, to help in reducing maternal mortality rate in the country, especially in the rural areas.
“Lagos then posted us to the various local government areas. We are the ones taking care of pregnant women, nursing mothers and babies there because there are not enough staff at the state primary health care centres. Some of the areas are so rural that some of the state staff avoid going there. That is why people were dying in such areas before we came on board,” she said.
Also pressing home the workers’ demands, another leader of the group, Mrs. Helen Folarin, said they were tired of working without receiving payment.
She said it looked as if the state government did not appreciate the services they were rendering, in spite of the value it added to health care delivery. She stated that, before they were deployed to the rural areas, most of the women there were patronising local birth attendants, thereby putting their lives at risk.
Her words: “There was high rate of deaths then. Some of these areas have government maternity but there were no staff to man them. When we came in, things changed for the better. The records and statistics are there to compare with what was obtainable before. The government knows this but I don’t know why they have refused to pay us. It was after series of protests that they paid the 2014 salaries, leaving the 2013 salaries. We can’t forfeit the money because we worked hard for it. If government does not want us anymore, they should tell us so that we know what is going on.”
The governor was not in the office to receive the protesters, but they left a strong message that except the government quickly responded to their plight, their services would be withdrawn from the various health facilities across the state.
A top government official, who didn’t disclose his identity, directed the midwives to the Office of Civic Engagement at the State Secretariat, to also register their complaint.
A letter signed by Ajayi, on behalf of her colleagues and addressed to the governor, Speaker, Lagos State House of Assembly and Chairman, Committee on Health of the House of Assembly, read in part: “We, hereby, express our appreciation of your quick response to our letter by paying our outstanding allowances for the Year 2013, even though some are yet to be paid.
“However, we have not received any response from you on the status of the scheme. You may recall that in our letter under reference, we state as follows: “The National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) had in a letter dated October 30, 2015 informed that our services have been transferred to the state government with effect from November 2015. Since then, the state government has not communicated to us its position on the matter.
“We request that you use your good offices to resolve the payment of November and December 2015 Federal Government allowances, the true status of MSS in Lagos and the payment of our salary from January 2016 till date.”
Ajayi said in the wake of the current recession ravaging the country, and without receiving any allowance from the government, the midwives had continued to carry out their duties like patriotic citizens. But they lamented that they had been borrowing money from family members and friends to meet their obligations.