By Bimbola Oyesola
Nigerians woke up on Thursday April 1 to the reality that doctors had made good their threat to stage an indefinite, nationwide strike, with medical service disrupted in all public hospitals. The doctors’ action went on for another 10 days, leading to agony and sorrow for patients and their families.
While Nigerians were yet to come to terms with the resident doctors’ industrial action, the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP) and Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) launched their own strike on April 6 to compel the Federal Government to meet their demands, which include improved condition of service. The strikes further compounded the Nigerian labour sector crisis.
Another strike was averted in Kano last Thursday when the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) suspended its planned strike in Kano over salary cut.
The NLC had announced suspension of its earlier plans for a three-day warning strike over alleged plans by the Kano State government to revert to the N18,000 minimum wage.
Doctors’ suspended action
Though the doctors, under the umbrella of the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), on Saturday, suspended the strike, following a meeting with the Federal Government on Friday, millions of Nigerians who patronised public health institutions, suffered sever losses.
NARD had embarked on an indefinite strike on April 1 to press home its demands over welfare, non-review of hazard allowance and salaries, among others.
It was also seeking immediate payment of all salaries owed house officers, including March salary not paid before the end of business on March 31, 2021, and the abolishment of exorbitant bench fees being paid by members on outside postings in all training institutions across the country.
The association also demanded an upward review of the hazard allowance to 50 per cent of consolidated basic salary of all health workers and payment of outstanding COVID-19 inducement allowance, among others. At the meeting, government had signed a new memorandum of action (MoA), the second in a fortnight, with the NARD to end the strike.
The first MoA was signed on March 31, but was later rejected by the doctors, because they insisted that government failed in some areas of agreement or implementation. NARD’s president, Dr. Okhuaihesuyi Uyilawa, after the meeting, promised to present the latest agreement before members with a view to calling off the strike.
According to the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, the new MoA was signed after a conciliatory meeting between representatives of government and NARD. Ngige noted that Saturday’s meeting became necessary to amend the first MoA signed with the doctors.
He said there were irregularities in the payment of salaries of house officers, adding that, while some got double payment, a few had not been paid.
“In view of this situation, a five-man committee was set up to harmonise the list of affected officers and they have 72 hours to produce a valid list.
“The list will be submitted to the Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System, through the Federal Ministry of Health,’’ Ngige said.
He stated that the health institutions affected by the non-payment of salary shortfalls between 2014 and 2016 and arrears arising from the consequential adjustment on the national minimum wage had been directed to forward their personnel strength.
“This is to enable us to accommodate this in the 2021 supplementary budget,’’ the minister said. He also explained that the issue of hazard allowance was not peculiar to members of NARD but cuts across the entire health system.
The minister noted that the Presidential Committee on Salaries (PCS) would meet with the National Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission on April 12 to examine the hazard allowance issue.
Ngige added that the NMA, the Joint Health Sector Unions, NARD and other stakeholders would meet on April 14, 2021, with the PCS with their position papers on the issue.
The strike by ASUP commenced on Tuesday last week. So far, it has disrupted ongoing examinations, and students have expressed frustration of having to return home.
ASUP’s demands concern non-inauguration of governing council, non-release of Needs Assessment since 2014, establishment of National Polytechnics Commission, promotion arrears for 2018, 2019 and 2020, IPPIS (third-party deductions) not remitted, minimum wage for 10 months, violation of the Polytechnics Act, 2019, outstanding salaries in state polytechnics and renegotiation of the 2009 agreement.
President of ASUP, Mr. Anderson Ezeibe, who spoke with Daily Sun at the weekend, said the strike was ordered to address the sorry state of public polytechnics, monotechnics and the general decay in the sub-sector.
He listed other complaints to include non-release of the 10 months’ arrears of minimum wage owed members in federal polytechnics, non-implementation of minimum wage in several state-owned polytechnics, non-reconstitution of governing councils, leading to disruption of administrative processes in polytechnics since May 2020, and victimisation of officials of the union in some state-owned polytechnics.
Last-minute efforts by the Federal Government to prevent the industrial action hit the rocks twice, on Tuesday and Thursday.
The ASUP president confirmed the meeting with the Federal Government through the Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu, but said the union rejected pleas to suspend the strike because none of the issues in contention had been addressed by government.
Ezeibe said there had not been any meaningful negotiation with government, as government made things worse through its appointment of unqualified personnel as rectors even while the strike was on.
“Government makes six appointees, five from universities, which means they are not qualified. It is very difficult to negotiate with this government. How can they appoint five out of the six rectors for the six new federal polytechnics from universities, whereas we have an established agreement that rectors for polytechnics must be chief lecturers from the polytechnics? Definitely, those appointed are not qualified, hence, the appointment must be reversed before we can sit at the table for any meaningful discussion with government, even if they call for a meeting,” he said.
Though one of the issues, is the constitution of governing councils for polytechnics, had already been approved and would be inaugurated soon, he, however, lamented that neglect and violation of agreements was at the centre of the crisis.
He said: “There is a judgment delivered in March; government should learn to respect agreements. For us to call off the strike, we have to see that the process of actualisation of all our demands is in motion. We need to see the process in place.
“Those that have to do with funds, we must see the funds and government must be seen to respect agreements.”
He said there has been full compliance from 92 state and federal polytechnics, noting that it was unfortunate that government could owe the lectures 10 months’ arrears of minimum wage.
Ezeibe insisted the strike would continue until the union’s demands are met but reaffirmed the union’s commitment to dialogue with the Federal Government, if it shows sincerity.
Ahead of the commencement of its action on Tuesday, April 6, JUSUN’s national leadership, in a circular on April 1, ordered the closure of courts from April 5, until government complies with the Nigerian Constitution, court judgments and other instruments that confer or re-emphasise the financial autonomy of the judiciary.
The union said at its last national executive meeting on March 13, in Abuja, that it issued a 21-day ultimatum to government to implement the financial autonomy of the judiciary with a threat that “failure of which JUSUN will have no other option, but to resume the suspended national strike.”
The circular, signed by its general secretary, Isaiah Adetola, directed all states and zonal heads of the union to comply with the strike.
President, Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN), Marwan Mustapha Adamu, further explained the reasons behind the union’s decision to declare a nationwide strike and shut down all courts across all the states of the federation and the FCT.
Marwan said government, at the federal and state levels, had failed to address their demands over the issue of financial autonomy for the judiciary, especially the states, despite repeated warning and ultimatums to that effect.
According to him, government has taken them for a ride for a long time despite the fact that what they were fighting for was simply the implementation of constitutional provisions: “Our struggle, and what we are fighting for, the implementation of financial autonomy of the judiciary, is in line with the constitution and other extant laws.”
A circular, no. JUSUN/NHQ/GEN/111/VOL.11/65, dated April 1, 2021, signed by JUSUN’s general secretary, Adetola, directed all members of JUSUN across the country to comply with the strike directive by the NEC of the union.
“I have been directed to refer to the communique issued at the end of the last National Executive Council (NEC) meeting of JUSUN on March 13, 2021, in Abuja, and particularly refer to paragraph 9 on 21-day ultimatum to government to implement the financial autonomy of the judiciary, failure of which JUSUN will have no option but to resume the suspended national strike.
“Therefore, as a result of public holiday on April 5, 2021, the strike has been postponed to Tuesday, April 6, 2021,” the circular said.
Also, the communiqué earlier issued at the end of JUSUN’s NEC meeting read: “NEC-in-session hereby issues a 21-day ultimatum to the government, effective from Monday 15th March, 2021, to implement the financial autonomy of the judiciary, failure of which the union has no option than to resume the suspended national strike.” The communiqué added: “NEC-in-session frowns at the refusal of some state governments to implement the payment of peculiar allowance due to judiciary workers and, therefore, calls for prompt implementation of same.
“NEC-in-session frowns at the anti-labour disposition of Ebonyi State government and, therefore, demands immediate payment of the withheld August 2020 salary and release of check-off dues accruing to the union.
“NEC-in-session condemns the proposed Bill No. HB:1062 for the creation of State Judicial Council to alter the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), and demand the withdrawal of same.
“NEC-in-session frowns at the current law by Kaduna State government subjecting the judiciary under the executive arm of government and hereby demands such law be repealed immediately.”
However, the Chief Justice of Nigerian (CJN), Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, last week, met with some national and local officials of JUSUN in his Supreme Court chambers to explore solutions and ways to mitigate impacts of the strike in the judiciary.
A statement by Malam Ahuraka Isah, special assistant to the CJN on media and publicity strategy, indicated that the meeting lasted some minutes.
The CJN at the end asked JUSUN to call off the strike while the process of making the state governments to obey Order 10 and various court judgments on the autonomy of the Judiciary are being implemented.
“The unintended sufferers of this strike are better imagined than seen. It has spiral effects, including our children, the federal judiciary, which is a lesser culprit.
“Ordinarily, I would say, let me talk to individual 36 state governors, which amount to asking for their favours.
“But some of them would ask me to do 10 favours in return. This is why, as a judge, I am prohibited from asking for favours,” the CJN said.
The national treasurer of JUSUN, Mr. Jimoh Musa, who led the delegation on behalf of the JUSUN president, Marwan, said, out of 19 members of the NEC, only three were present, hence the representatives had to table the CJN’s fatherly advice before the NEC meeting and, consequently, get back to the CJN.
But Adetola, in an interview with Daily Sun, insisted that all courts would remain totally shut until and unless government does the needful.
Adetola, who said the union has not seen any positive action from government, lamented that it has been a circular trend without any commitments from government, especially the state governments.
He said: “The last strike we had was about four to five years ago. Then government set up a committee where JUSUN and parliamentary workers were represented; upon that, nothing happened.
“We know the consequences of the strike, courts will not sit, lawyers will not do their work, prisoners will remain in prison, but the strike is not for our personal benefit. We’ve had series of meetings, one with government on Wednesday, it’s not dialogue that is important, but action.
“We went to court in 2014 that government should make judiciary autonomous, 70 per cent of irregularities in the judicial system would become history if the system is autonomous and doesn’t go cap in hand to the executive for funding.”
He explained that the union had met with the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) on Wednesday, while the Ministry of Labour and Employment was just sending a letter of invitation by 5pm on Friday for a meeting.
The national treasurer of the union, Jimoh Musa Alonge, also speaking on behalf of the president, noted that, till now, the union has not got what it wanted.
He said: “The issue at stake is Section 121, sub-section 3, of the 1999 Constitution, which most of the governors swore to uphold. They promised to uphold that section of the Constitution but, surprisingly, they are not, which is an impeachable offence.
“The section of that Constitution says money meant for the judiciary should be handed over to head of courts in the various states. They have refused to do that and, in that light, we went to Federal High Court to interpret that section of the Constitution. We got judgment in that matter and it has not been appealed against. Up till this moment we are talking, none of the governors has appealed against that judgment, so it is still subsisting.
“Even before then, we have been fighting this issue of the independence of the judiciary. It got to some extend that the Federal Government intervened, the Accountant-General of the Federation intervened, there was supposed to be deduction from source but some of the governors intervened and promised to do the needful in various state. We obliged them but, to our dismay, 80 to 90 per cent of the governors are not doing what we expect of them.
“We complained to the President of the country, in a letter we sent to him, we availed him with all our problems, we documented it, sent it to him and, graciously, the President listened to us and formed a committee to look into the autonomy of the judiciary in the country. The committee came up with a result so that the money meant for judiciary should be given directly from the source. The President, thereafter, came up with Order 10, to make sure it works so judiciary will keep up again in this country. But the governors came together and they are thwarting these efforts. That we cannot take anymore, if a constitutional provision is amended and an order is given by the President of this country, and a group of people comes together and think they are tin gods, that they cannot respect the Constitution, we would take the bull by the horns and fight for our rights. The last resort of a union’s patience is strike and that is what we have started and we are not going back until our demand is met.”
How government contributed to prolonging doctors’ strike and others
As far as the resident doctors were concerned, government’s inability to address the issues and, rather, passing the buck contributed to the elongation of the strike. NARD’s president, Okhuaihesuyi, had on the sixth day of the strike said the Ministry of Labour and Employment had yet to invite them for dialogue. The same feelers come from ASUP and JUSUN.
“We did not get any invitation from the Ministry of Labour, so we will continue till they call us. However, we have a scheduled meeting with Tanko Sununu, the chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Healthcare Services, on April 8,” the NARD president had said. He added that NARD was still waiting and hoping that government would respond appropriately, noting that it was desirous for the strike to end.
He said the association would not shift ground because that was why it delayed the strike and considered all options to ensure it was averted, but had to resort to strike as a last resort.
Meanwhile, on several occasions, Ngige had threatened to invoke the no-work-no-pay clause in a bid to compel the doctors and other unions to go back to work.
On the same day when the doctors were complaining, the Federal Government, through the labour ministry, was saying the NARD had lost all moral and legal ground to continue its seven-day-old strike, urging them to call off the action.
Ngige, without any dialogue as the doctors reported, said the Federal Government has not only “substantially met the seven-point demand by NARD, it has also demonstrated transparency in their implementation.”
Ngige, at the initial stage of the doctors’ strike, said Federal Government had substantially met the demands of the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) and faulted the rejection of the Memorandum of Action signed Wednesday March 31, 2021 by the President of NARD, Dr. Uyilawa Okhuaihesuyi.
The minister explained that some of the demands by NARD were made in error as some of the issues were already conciliated and implemented hundred percent, adding that the outstanding issues, which came up at the last conciliation, were timelined along a month life span of implementation and that “ they are still work in progress.”
According to him, NARD made some of the demands in ignorance.
“They didn’t have the full picture. May be they wished for a strike or their president pushed them into strike so that his name will go into the annals of NARD as one of the tough presidents that has taken them on strike. That’s wrong,” he said.
The minister faulted the unilateral repudiation of the Memorandum of Action by NARD’s president, describing it as unknown in labour negotiation.
Ngige said that the NARD’s president didn’t participate in most of the discussions because he fell ill during the meeting and had to excuse himself, while the meeting with other officers lasted seven to eight hours.
He dismissed as untrue, allegation that doctors in the public health institutions across the country were not insured, and said the Federal Government spent N13.3 billion in 2020, on group life insurance not just for doctors and health workers alone but also for all workers in the federal civil and public service.
He said: “This N13.3b was paid to 13 insurance companies and brokerage firms to administer. And this is not the first time that NARD and teaching hospitals have been told to send in names and make claims for members who have lost their lives.”
The minister hence drew the attention of unions to the fact that unionization for the welfare of workers should not be only for the purpose of strike, rather going the extra miles to exploit all opportunities provided by government for the welfare of the workforce.
Speaking on the Medical Residency Programme which is the major reason for fresh action by NARD, the
minister declared that the programme has been working hitch-free since it came up in 2019, saying that the House of Representatives had to do a supplementary appropriation to accommodate it in 2020 COVID-19 budget and the funds, fully released by the Federal Ministry of Finance.
In the same vein, the House of Representatives Committee on Healthcare Services on Friday before the meeting with the Ministry of Labour held a marathon meeting with the Federal Government and leadership of the Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors as well as other stakeholders over the nationwide strike by doctors.
After the closed-door meeting that lasted five hours, the committee and the Federal Ministry of Health pleaded with the doctors to suspend their industrial action in the interest of the poor masses who cannot afford health services in private facilities.
Chairman of the committee, Tanko Sununu, while briefing journalists after the meeting, disclosed that the Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, is to meet with the NARD on Tuesday in the efforts by the lawmakers to resolve the dispute between the government and the doctors.
Sununu said, “It is a very contentious issue and it took long because we tried to address the issues one by one and we came out with some resolutions. One of the resolutions is that as of today because there are so many infractions, we have decided to constitute three basic committees.
“One of the committees is to sort out the issue of House Officers and they are to commence work with immediate effect, and submit the authenticated list to the IPPIS (Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System) office within 24 hours so that payment of those who have been omitted would be done with immediate effect.
“The other committee is to be headed by a director in the Ministry of Labour (Employment and Productivity), with membership from Ministry of Health, NARD, IPPIS, and Committee of CMDs (Chief Medical Directors) to look at all the infractions that were noticed, involving multiple payments and other issues; to also suggest punitive measures to be meted out on those who have acted wrongly. That would also have to commence work immediately and submit the report to the Federal Ministry of Health, to be copied to the committee for necessary actions to be taken.”
Sununu also said the committee resolved that the affected House Officers must be paid within the shortest possible time.
He said: “The NARD made it clear that in the last four months, the members of the association were wrongly paid to the tune of N308m and the money has been with the NARD. They have been following the necessary organs of the government to ensure that the money is paid back into the government treasury, but the account was not given to them.
“At this meeting, we resolved and the account was forwarded to the President of NARD for onward transmission to members so that the money would be paid back to the government account.”
The Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Health, Abdulaziz Abdullahi, said: “You have seen that we have had a very robust meeting and discussion for close to five hours today and he (Sununu) has given you the highlights of the discussion. The ministry is 100 per cent in alignment with the decisions reached.”
But for the doctors who have called for the suspension of their strike, as far as the two other unions are concerned, the body language of government did not show seriousness of a party that is in a hurry to proffer quick solution to their various contextual issues.
Organised Private Sector (OPS)’s views
Describing industrial conflict as the discord that occurs when the goals, interest or values of different individuals or groups in an industrial setting are incompatible, the Nigeria Employers Consultative Association (NECA), an umbrella body for the private Employers in industrial relations, said this conflict is inevitable but could be curtailed and managed in a win-win manner.
NECA, who is the third party in the tripartite industrial resolution, which includes government and the union, noted that there are several causes of strikes, such as refusal of union recognition, unpopular and harsh public policies, structural-organisational causes, interpersonal and personal sources, failure of collective bargaining, failures by parties to respect the terms of their agreements, etc.
The NECA Director General, Timothy Olawale, however, said that strike and propensity in Nigeria is alarming.
“Some recent strikes are by the umbrella body of the judiciary workers- the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN), public sector doctors affiliated with the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), Lecturers in the nation’s Polytechnics and Monotechnics under the umbrella of the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP) etc,” he said.
He reasoned that incessant strikes are a reflection of the unhealthy nature and structure of industrial relations practices in the country, adding that there is, therefore, the need to revamp the structures of the nation’s industrial relations and conclude the review of Labour Laws in Nigeria.
He said: “There should be proactive and corrective mechanisms put in place. Proactive actions should be able to detect and prevent the possibility of an industrial conflict, and corrective actions should quickly resolve the conflict when it arises. One of such mechanisms is the institutionalisation of an effective National Labour Advisory Council (NLAC).
“There is the need for a legislation which will give legal backing to collective agreement. Such legislation would give statutory recognition to collective agreement, and make it enforceable within a legal framework on the parties – either the unions or employers (private and public sectors). This will go a long way in containing the propensity to default in honouring collective agreement.
“There is the need for government, as an employer, to emulate the human resource management and employee relation strategies applicable in the private sector. This is because, strike propensity is very high and predominant in the public sector and infrequent in the private sector.”
Implications for the economy
On the implications of incessant strikes to the economy, the NECA Director General opined that the common consequences of industrial disputes are loss of production, income, employment, increase in inflation and cost of living, etc.
According to him, strikes has a lot of socio-economic effects on the development of Nigeria, stating that no matter the logics behind strike actions, there are always attendant socio-economic misfortunes.
“Economically, it obliterate the desired growth and development in the economy i.e. it hinders national productivity, and also scares away the needed foreign investment,” he said.
He stated further that human productivity is an important index in calculating national productivity, noting that this is because it is the human element that transforms all other resources toward achieving an increased national productivity.
However, the NECA boss said strikes instigate work stoppages, which result in man-days lost.
He said: “Thus when labour productivity depreciates, in form of man-days lost, it automatically results to a reduction and loss in productivity which affects the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as well as the Gross National Product (GNP).
“It affects investment in the Country. Foreign investors are scared away, and are not encouraged to invest in an environment of unstable industrial peace and harmony, where their return on investment will be distorted as a result of strikes.”
Another cost of strike, he averred is that it paints a bad image and casts a social stigma on both parties involved in the industrial conflict.
Strikes, he said especially frequent and prolonged ones, make the country to have a bad or negative judgment of the parties involved.
“For instance, ASUU has numerously been adjudged as a group of greedy, egoistic folks who are only after their selfish interest, owing to their frequent and often protracted strikes. On the other hand, their employers, the government, have been labelled a bunch of insensitive lots. It becomes obvious from the above background and analysis that strikes serve as a constraint towards the social development of Nigeria.
“We recommend that all stakeholders involved in industrial relations should adopt systematic and sustainable mechanisms – including collective bargaining towards arresting the embarrassing, incessant and recurring spate of strikes.”
Issues of agreement implementation over the years has been a problem a serious problem for Nigerian government. Stakeholders are of the opinion that if governments sign and don’t keep to the letter and spirit of the agreement, it leads to distrust and scepticism. The unions with which government interface have gradually come to the conclusion that government signs these agreements simply to fulfill all righteousness, hence for the image of the country, the employers in the public sector, which is the government may need to turn a new leaf.