Olalekan Adetayo and Eniola Akinkuotu
THE Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, on Thursday said the Federal Government had so far implemented four out of the items listed on the Memorandum of Action it signed with the leadership of the striking National Association of Resident Doctors in a fresh talk with a view to ending the ongoing strike.
Ngige described others that were still pending as work in progress.
The minister disclosed this in telephone interview with our correspondent while highlighting efforts being made to end the strike which is entering its second week.
Recall that the NARD, an association of doctors undergoing residency training, had last Thursday commenced what it called “a total and indefinite strike” despite government’s last-minute efforts to stop the action.
The minister had threatened that if the strike continued, the government would look at all labour laws and consider the options available to it, including that which empowered employers to protect their enterprise.
But in the interview on Thursday, Ngige, who said no fresh meeting had been scheduled yet with the leadership of NARD, mentioned the payment of house officers as part of efforts so far made to meet the striking resident doctors’ demands.
The minister said, “The Ministry of Health and the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria reported to me that the list they sent to the Accountant-General had been fully treated, that the house officers had received their money.
“I cross-checked with two centres in Abakaliki and one other state and they confirmed that they had been paid. They also told me that the central portal system for the recruitment of house officers is already open and is on. People make their choice and they post them there.
“We are implementing the Memorandum of Action one after the other; we have implemented at least four of them categorically. Others are work in progress.”
The minister cited the issue of hazard allowance as part of the work in progress, saying it was not possible for the government to deliver on new hazard allowance immediately.
He disclosed that the Federal Government had already paid N4bn residency allowance for last year, adding that it is impossible to pay for this year since no money had been released to any ministry from the 2021 budget.
Ngige added, “We are executing them but some are work in progress. If you say we should pay you residency training fund for 2021, nobody can pay you because the 2021 budget has not been released to ministries, not a penny has been released on it. So, how do we pay? It is not possible. We are still implementing 2020 budget up till end of May.
“But they have collected their 2020 residency allowance in December last year. It was N4bn, they have been paid; they submitted a list, and the money was paid on the list they submitted.
“They are only turning back to say that 570 of the people are not NARD members, and the Accountant-General Office told them that they were the ones that submitted the list. That is the only snag with that of 2020, otherwise, the N4bn has been paid to them.”
Doctors slam Ngige, continue strike
Meanwhile, the National Association of Resident Doctors has berated the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, for allegedly telling lies about the ongoing strike.
This is contained in a communique issued at the end of a virtual extraordinary National Executive Council meeting of NARD on Wednesday.
The association said it was ironic that Ngige, who received stupendous allowances while serving as a senator, could justify government’s refusal to increase the hazard allowances of doctors, which remained N5,000 for the last 30 years.
It said about 10 demands had not yet been met.
“The hazard allowances have remained N5,000 for over 30 years. For the Minister of Labour and Employment to feign ignorance of this on national television today leaves a lot to be desired.
“This is an all time low coming from someone who has been in the Nigerian Senate where monthly hardship allowance for senators is N1,242,122.70,” NARD said in the communique.
The association added that contrary to claims by Ngige that the doctors failed to give ample notice before embarking on strike, a two-month ultimatum was given by the doctors.
It also noted that the Memorandum of Action signed was after 12am on March 31, 2021 when the ultimatum had elapsed.