The talks between the federal government and the leaders of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) ended in the early hours of Tuesday without a concrete agreement on how to avert the industrial action scheduled to begin today.
Subsequently, the phased warning strike, which is to protest the failure of the federal government to implement a mutual agreement with the doctors for improved welfare and other emoluments, will commence today.
According to the NMA President, Dr. Osahon Enabulele, the action would be called off in the first instance after five days, but would continue after the yuletide in the second instance, if there is no appreciable development.
Speaking yesterday in a telephone interview, Enabulele said the association was making good its threat to call its members out on strike following the expiration of a 21-day ultimatum issued weeks ago.
Enabulele told THISDAY that the planned action for withdrawal of services was going on as planned and urged Nigerians to disregard any information to the contrary. "We had a meeting called by the Minister of Labour and this meeting lasted from 3.30 pm Monday (December 16) till 5.00 am Tuesday (December 17).
"The meeting had in attendance, Ministers of Labour and Health, Chairman House Committee on Health, and a delegation of the NMA. Others included the Permanent Secretary, Labour and Health, representatives of Salaries & Wages, as well as the Head of Service and Budgets Office.
"The meeting raised a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) where the government side signed a promissory note that they will attend to the demands by January 6, 2014," he said.
The decision to commence the strike was taken at a NEC meeting held in Minna, Niger State, a few weeks ago.
"It was also agreed that if government could meet the minimum demand of the issues at stake in terms of income, wages and discrepancies in our salaries and lastly funding of the health care, we would reconsider.
"If they can reach at least one of the demands, we will reconsider our stand, but they only came up with the MoU which was not part of our agreement with the doctors," he said. Enabulele stated that the NMA could not on the basis of the MoU decide whether or not to continue with the strike. "Only members can take the decision because they had once been deceived by an MoU. The same thing happened during the issue of constituting the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria. That was after seven weeks. But there was breach of confidence. "But in realisation of our commitment to Nigerians, we will reconvene our members. We will do all we can by taking back the MoU to members to reconsider and take a position," he said.
He debunked the news doing the rounds that the proposed strike had been suspended. "We wish to inform our members and the public to disregard any such information and to proceed with the planned action for the withdrawal of services from Wednesday, December 18 until the EDM empowered NEC decides otherwise.
"The directive remains, pending the outcome of our meeting with members as soon as possible. You know our meeting ended Sunday and our members only travelled back Monday to their destinations so it will be reckless of us to ask them to come back immediately.
"We are looking at Wednesday or Thursday for the meeting. We have to consider logistics. The warning strike is to begin tomorrow (today), the meeting will decide if the strike will continue, but for now, our directive stands," the NMA president said.