LAGOS STATE DOCTORS’ STRIKE: Fashola Must Meet Their Demands Now!
LAGOS STATE DOCTORS’ STRIKE: Fashola Must Meet Their Demands Now!
Medical doctors working in various public hospitals in Lagos State have been on strike now for the past nine weeks. The situation has paralyzed health care delivery in all the public hospitals in the State with dire consequences for Lagosians.
WHY DOCTORS ARE ON STRIKE
Doctors in Lagos State have had a long history of engagement with the Fashola government and its immediate predecessor, Bola Tinubu administration. On Monday the 5th of January 2009, doctors in the employment of Lagos State government, under the aegis of the Medical Guild, embarked on an industrial action. This was to address three key issues: the deplorable state of hospitals in the state, the poor welfare package and working condition of doctors, and the non-implementation of the CONTISS salary scale for doctors employed by the state. After a series of interventions by well-meaning Nigerians, and having considered the welfare of Lagosians to be paramount, the strike was shelved.
The government, rather than show good faith, embarked on vindictive measures which included the sack of Dr Ibrahim Olaifa, then chairman of the Medical Guild. The high-handedness of the government culminated in the resumption of the strike, during which the secretary of the Guild, Dr Agara, was assaulted by some agents of government. Dr Agara suffered major head injury as a result of which he was hospitalized. The above shows the disdainful manner Fashola government in Lagos State have been treating doctors.
The present agitation of the medical doctors concerns the non-implementation of the Consolidated Medical Salary Scale (CONMESS) in the state. The CONMESS was implemented by the federal government in January 2010, following years of agitation by doctors nationwide.
The objectives set by CONMESS are as follows: to correct the long standing injustice in the wages of doctors throughout the federation, which resulted in loss of parity and relativity; to provide a better template for subsequent appropriate remuneration of doctors throughout the federation and to reduce the level of internal brain drain in the profession of which Lagos State government has been at the losing end.
However, while several states have shown good intentions about the CONMESS, Lagos State has shown only disdain and hostility towards this demand by its doctors. The Fashola government prefers to pay lip-service to health care despite the crisis in the states’ health sector. While the number of health facilities is increasing, including some newly constructed Maternal and Child Centres (MCCs), the morale and number of the health workforce who are to manage these facilities has been dwindling. For instance in the entire Lagos State with a population of around 15million, there are just about 1000 doctors in the public service!
Despite several attempts to parley the state government, little or no progress has been made. Instead, government resorted to various tactics of intimidation. This led to the Medical Guild to declare strike on 14th August 2010, a strike which has been on since then due to the intransigence of the Lagos State government. Demands of the striking doctors include reinstatement of the immediate past chairman Dr. Olaifa, whose dismissal, considered as an injustice by the members of the association, still remains unresolved; restoration of the collection of check off dues of both the Medical Guild and LASUTH ARD; correction of tax irregularities and huge taxation of doctors among others.
The state government has been indifferent in spite of the hardship the strike has inflicted on the poor people. This is simply because the rich and the ruling elite in Lagos do not patronize public hospitals- they either patronize big private hospitals in the country or mostly travel abroad for medical attention at tax payers’ expense. The blame of the strike and its effects should be put squarely on the government that is paying little or no attention to facilities in public hospitals and welfare of workers. Instead of addressing the issue and demands, the government has threatened to sack the striking doctors. This and other instances of the government towards the strike and that of education workers in the state tertiary institutions only show that it is anti-workers and anti-people.
The state government has continued to use infrastructural development as excuse for not meeting the demands of workers for better pay and improved working conditions, even though there is nothing to show for this claim as most roads in Lagos state are in bad shape. Equally, the Babatunde Fashola government has also claimed that it was not part of the agreement reached with federal government and therefore not duty-bound to implement it, citing the well-worn but specious argument of true federalism.
It is only when the issue has to do with workers we are often fed with the story of true federalism. Lagos State government officials/political appointees are all paid jumbo allowances, far more than what workers in the state receive, just like their counterpart in other states and at the federal level. These jumbo pays are fixed by a federal government agency known as the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC). On the basis of the so-called federalism one would have expected the Lagos state government top functionaries to reject such outrageous salaries and allowances. Alas, they do not as they smile to their banks every time. Federalism is a ready-made ploy to avoid meeting the genuine demands of workers for better pay and improved working conditions.
FOR A PUBLICLY-RUN HEALTH CARE SYSTEM
The DSM call on all medical associations (NARD, NMA, Medical Guild etc.) in the state to deepen the struggle by opening up collaborative activities with unions in other sectors and pro-people civil society organizations for a day of mass action to press home their demands. Leaflets must be produced and circulated in order to explain the real reasons for the strike to the mass of people.
To gain and sustain the understanding and support of the public, striking doctors should as a matter of urgency set up skeletal services in hospitals to take care of emergency situations. This is crucial in order to ensure that the government does not use possible public frustration with the shut down of hospitals to weaken and defeat the strike. The NLC and TUC should also initiate and mobilize for a mass solidarity action in support of the striking doctors in Lagos state.
However, doctors and other health workers must link the current struggle for improvement in remunerations and working conditions with the necessity of a free and functional public health care system. For this to happen, health workers must fight for democratic control and management of hospitals, clinics and other health facilities by elected committees of medical professionals and working masses to ensure accountability and efficiency. This raises the need of a mass workers party on socialist programs and a democratic socialist Nigeria based on public ownership of the commanding heights of the economy under masses’ management and control.