President Goodluck Jonathan has finally bowed to pressure from the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) to appoint a surgeon-general of the federation. He has also succumbed to the association's demand that the call duty allowance of doctors running into billions of naira be sorted out and paid to them.
These were some of the major decisions taken at the fourth meeting convened by the president yesterday to avert a strike billed to begin on January 6.
The NMA had made these demands, threatening to embark on an industrial action on the said date should the federal government refuse to meet them.
A source at the meeting held inside the Presidential Villa, Abuja, hinted State House correspondents that the federal government bowed completely to the demand of the NMA for the appointment of a surgeon-general of the federation from among medical doctors in the country to take charge of public health.
"The government has taken a decision to appoint a surgeon-general of the federation who will be a medical doctor and will be responsible for public health. That appointment will be announced soon," the source who spoke on condition of anonymity said.
Accordingly, he said, President Jonathan has directed the Ministry of Health to work closely with the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Trade and Investment in consulting with medical practitioners with a view to supporting private investors to build state-of-the-art hospitals in the country.
The source noted that the move is aimed at promoting local potential to strengthen the sector and improve fiscal policy on medical equipment and to check the growth of medical tourism.
The president, he added, has also directed that, from now on, before any government official would be allowed to travel abroad for medicals, government must first be satisfied that no such medical services exist in Nigeria.
Jonathan, the source further revealed, has also agreed to focus more attention on the National Health Insurance Scheme with a view to making it more productive, even as he has also directed the NMA to make their representation to the Nigeria Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru, as requested by the association.
On the doctors' request for the inclusion of their representatives in the proposed national dialogue, the government was said to have observed that there was no way a conference of such magnitude would hold without the representatives of trade unions.
The government has since met another demand by the NMA by re-constituting the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria.
Those who attended the meeting included Vice President Namadi Sambo, Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan of Delta State, minister of labour Chief Emeka Wogu, minister of health Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu, director-general of the Budget Office Dr Bright Okogu, and chairman of the National Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission Chief Richard Egbule.
After the meeting, Governor Uduaghan confirmed that President Jonathan had already consented to the demands of the medical workers at a stakeholders' meeting he convened to ensure that the planned strike was averted.
The governor disclosed that he was proceeding to another meeting with leaders of the NMA billed for 5pm yesterday, even as he assured that, at the end of the meeting, the issues involved would have been resolved.
He said: "There are issues that have been raised by the Nigerian Medical Association for which they have threatened to strike. They had a warning strike for about five days, so the president called a stakeholders' meeting to look at the issues. We are going for a meeting now at 5pm with the NMA; at least, there are some things the president has consented to and I believe, by the time we finish the meeting this evening, there will be some resolutions.
"Our determination is to ensure that that strike of January 6 is averted. Of course, we cannot afford another strike in the medical sector. One minute of strike in the health sector by whatever body can be very disastrous."
The governor also stated that the incidence of oil theft in the country has reduced abysmally from between 100,000 and 80,000 barrels stolen a day to 40,000 barrels per day. He said: "Let me emphasise that the volume of crude oil theft is reducing. Again, I must explain that, at a time, oil theft was at its peak; there was a shutdown of about 300,000 barrels of oil as a result of damage to two major pipelines and, at that time, between 80,000 and 100,000 barrels were being stolen. That was the time we took some measures to ensure that the quantity that was being stolen was reduced.
"Today, I can tell you that the crude that is being stolen has reduced to about 40,000 barrels per day. Those two pipelines are now functioning. So the 300,000 that was shut down as a result of the damage to the pipelines have now been opened. Stealing 40,000 barrels per day is still on the high side, but, as we go further in putting a lot of measures in place, especially in areas of prosecution, I believe that the quantity that is being stolen will gradually reduce, if possible bring it to zero level. Apart from prosecution, we are also talking of technology and monitoring to deal with the oil theft."