Democratic Socialist Movement

For Struggle, Solidarity and Socialism in Nigeria

By - DSM

Striking Doctors Sacked

Lagos Doctors’ Strike

Striking Doctors Sacked

DSM Calls on NMA, NLC and TUC to declare a 24hour solidarity nationwide strike

For a Collective Fight Back to Defeat the Government

By H.T Soweto

On Monday 7 May 2012, doctors in Lagos State employment who have been on strike since April 16 were collectively sacked. The doctors embarked on strike to demand the implementation of the Consolidated Medical Salary Structure (CONMESS), which was signed into law in September 2009 as a salary scale for all doctors across the federation.

According to media report, about 788 doctors were sacked but the Medical Guild – the doctors’ association leading the strike – claims more than that were issued dismissal letters.

The DSM condemns this action of the Lagos State government and calls for the immediate and unconditional recall of all striking doctors. We also demand that their demands for implementation of CONMESS be met. Again this barbaric attack on striking doctors shows the disdain with which the Fashola-led administration of the State and the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) holds workers.

According to a statement issued from the Office of the Head of Service, the government claimed they were sacked because of their refusal to reply queries issued to them to explain “why they were absent from work without leave and without the due observance of the rules and regulations guiding strikes and industrial actions in the state’s public service”.

This excuse of the Lagos State government is calculated to avoid the real issues behind the strike. The real reason why doctors have been on strike since April 16 is because of the continuous refusal of the Lagos State government to implement a collectively agreed wage structure.

Instead of providing doctors and other health workers with the appropriate wage to motivate improvement in health service delivery, the Lagos State government whose elected and co-opted officials earn millions of naira in monthly wages and allowances prefers to continue to deliberately misrepresent the legitimate struggle of doctors.

Just last week, the Lagos State government sponsored a protest by a rented crowd which the pro-government print and electronic media reported as evidence that mass of Lagosians opposed to the doctors’ strike. However this is far from the truth. The government hopes to buy public sympathy with propaganda but the reality is that people are increasingly seeing through the democratic façade of the ACN government in Lagos State. While the ACN shouts democracy, it spares no effort to stifle the democratic rights of workers, students, youths and the poor to organize to defend themselves against anti-poor policies.

Indeed, the anti-worker and anti-poor character of the Lagos State government is legendary. Especially since Governor Fashola won a second term re-election in 2011, his brutal attacks on the living conditions of working class and middle class Lagosians have known no bounds.

Students of the Lagos State University (LASU) had a taste of the brutal anti-poor character of the government last year when their Students’ Union was proscribed because of a peaceful protest against outrageous fee hike. The fee was increased from N25,000 to as high as N348,000!

Equally last year, police and armed thugs were sent after community people peacefully protesting against the tolling of Lekki-Epe Expressway which was handed over by the State government to a private consortium for the purpose of profit-making. Their protests were dispersed by armed police shooting tear gas and live bullets. Their leaders were also arrested and detained for hours.

Currently, taxi drivers in the State are protesting against another anti-poor policy of the state government. According to the government, all taxi drivers must buy new cars which cost millions instead of tokunbo (used cars imported into Nigeria) which is what vast majority of private and commercial car owners in Nigeria can afford. They too have experienced brutal repression at the hands of the ACN government with some of their leaders detained for months in prison custody.

While the government pretends that all is well with the health sector, data shows that there are only about 1000 doctors in hospitals in Lagos state which has a population of about 15 million! This is one doctor to every 15, 000 Lagosians, something far above the ratio of 1: 1, 000 approved by World Health Organization (WHO) and which shows the stress and strain doctors go through every day to provide healthcare. This is aside the lack of facilities and essential medicines in many hospitals across the state.

By demanding the implementation of CONMESS, doctors are not demanding too much. The lowest paid political office holder in Nigeria earns many times more than doctors or any other category of workers. Meanwhile politicians do no work except looting the treasury.

While announcing the sack of the doctors, the Head of Service announced that “the state government has placed advertisement in some national dailies seeking applications from suitably qualified medical doctors and consultants/specialists desirous of working with the government and the response has been overwhelming”. This is nothing but reckless bravado and if unchallenged will see further deterioration in the already prostrate state of health care in Lagos.

The medical profession is a highly skilled profession whose practitioners cannot just be replaced overnight. Several of the sacked doctors have accumulated experience and skill over the years. The immediate and long-term consequence of government ill-thought action will be the destruction of public healthcare in Lagos State. But this can be averted with an organized mass struggle that is able to force the Lagos State government to pay more attention to the wage and working conditions of doctors and other health workers and of course the overhaul of facilities in public hospitals across the state.

Working class people and Lagosians should not be deceived by government’s propaganda. The reality is that the action of the Lagos State government is anti-poor and must be condemned by workers and the trade unions. The sack of striking doctors is itself a threat to all workers in the State. If allowed to go unchallenged, the Lagos State government will sooner than later extend the same brutal attacks to other categories of workers struggling against one anti-poor policy of the government or the other.

The DSM supports the strike and demands of Lagos doctors. We condemn the sack issued to them by the government and demand their immediate and unconditional recall. We also call on the doctors not to relent but step up the struggle with pickets, mass protests and demonstrations.

It is important for the doctors to come out en masse in mass demonstrations and rallies with circulation of leaflets especially to explain their case to the public. The striking doctors have to come up with a program of action that can win over a majority of working class members of the public to their cause. We also call on the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA), the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) to declare a 24-hour solidarity general strike and mass protest to reinforce the strike of Lagos doctors.