In this interview with PREMIUM TIMES' Nike Adebowale, the Chairman of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, NAFDAC chapter of the Medical and Health Workers Union, MHWUN, Anzuka Peters, speaks on the ongoing strike by workers of the agency and how Nigerians stand to lose if not resolved. Excerpts:
The NAFDAC chapter of the Medical and Health Workers Union embarked on an indefinite strike on September 22nd, barely two days after JOHESU did same. What are the major reasons behind the union's action?
Our decision to embark on strike is as a result of issues concerning our staff; when we moved from a negotiated salary structure to a non- negotiated salary structure. The negotiated salary structure is the Consolidated Health Salary Structure which is CONHESS. We were just moved to an unknown salary structure which is Consolidated Research and Allied Salary Structure, CONRASS. This is alien to us, it is unknown to us, it is 'un-bargained', it is not negotiated and it is unacceptable. Someone like me at level 13 lost more than N80,000 and I cannot accept it. We have been on this issue for a long time and that was why in 2014, NAFDAC staff did a change of leadership. That was an operational revolution where all the former leaders who betrayed us were voted out. I came in as the secretary in 2014 and the present state chairman was the chairman then. The first issue we raised was the issue of staff allowances. But unfortunately, all agreements signed with the federal government in 2014 were not fulfilled and this led to a strike in October 2014, another strike in 2015, another strike in 2016, on the same issues.
There are other issues bordering on the laboratories. They are not functioning well because they are not properly funded. And it is not that we don't have the money. We generate the money that can be used to take care of the labs, the chemical reagents and equipment. Issues of the laboratory, which is even the strength of NAFDAC, is not being looked into rather we are (made to look like) beggars. The head of the agency will move from ministry to ministry. The former acting director general moved from agency to agency begging. How can Dangote donate eight Hilux vehicle to us? How do we regulate him? Let me confirm to you, we don't even regulate Dangote presently, because of those things (I spoke of).
We are begging NSA office and other international donors to give us cars, to give us equipment. We have more problems than the public can see. Beside this, we want a non-clinical allowance, we want teaching allowances, we want shift allowance, and we want food and drugs allowances which have all been lost in CONRASS. We can no longer fold our arms. Therefore, we need to go back because we are a parastatal under the Ministry of Health. Our resolution, with the blessing of JOHESU and with the approval of the MHWUN national headquarters is that we are going back to CONHESS and that is exactly how it is. No more no less! This is because, without CONHESS, we cannot stand because we are a parastatal under Ministry of Health. All we want is standard operating procedure within the limit of time. We will get it right.
We are calling on the government to tackle this now because without that, there will be no peace in NAFDAC. Even if we suspend the strike, it is just for a little time because if all these issues are not resolved, there will be more problems.
Right now, the minister and the management have accepted the position of the union, so we are going back to CONHESS as that is the right thing for the entire NAFDAC staff. Moving to CONHESS means that for all the agreements JOHESU had with the federal government, NAFDAC will benefit from it automatically and that is the stand of the union. My mandate is to safeguard the entire staff of NAFDAC and their interests and that is the stand of the union leadership.
I understand your union is directly under NAFDAC, can you tell us what Nigerians stand to lose as a result of the strike embarked on?
NAFDAC is strategic and we regulate the health indices of 185 million Nigerians. We regulate all the drugs being exported and imported, manufactured locally or manufactured abroad. We regulate food and chemicals, among others. As I am talking to you now, NAFDAC is at the borders, seaports (and) airports. Without NAFDAC's presence in these places, a lot of fake and adulterated drugs will be in this country and that will be killing the 185 million Nigerians. Again, we don't even analyse the drugs. Then how do we ensure the authenticity? It's all because there are no 'chemicals'.
The mandate of NAFDAC is to regulate products, foods, medicines, detergent, water and other chemicals and control substances across boards. Without the regulations of all these, we have lost focus. This means that the health of Nigerians from now till December is in jeopardy and as long as the health of Nigerians is in total jeopardy, the economy of this country will certainly be in crisis and we will not get out of the recession we are talking about. We are a law-abiding union and so we call on the federal government to come to our aid. Let us discuss collectively as individuals and as people of a united entity so that we can have a holistic approach to this problem. And after this, the health sector will be in peace once and for all.
How can you rate the federal government efforts to ensure that the strike is not extended?
The efforts have been 'kangaroo' but I want to thank God for the permanent secretary of the ministry of health and the honourable minister of health though, those who are representing him cannot really tell him the truth. But he has taken the bull by the horns and now he is doing the right thing. He asked us the salary structure that we want and instructed us to get a template with all the allowances attached. He said the National Wages, Income and Salaries Commission will approve it. The commission also gave us their word and so we have submitted it and are waiting for further implementation.
Part of your demands was that the former acting director general, Yetunde Oni, should be sacked. What changes has that made?
Mrs. Yetunde Oni's issue was a minor issue. She was only standing as a stumbling block to NAFDAC. She was the one that moved us to CONRASS from CONHESS. We are not a research institute, so why move us to CONRASS? And secondly, she is a beggar. How can an agency that is generating about N12 billion per annum be begging from NPHCDA (National Health Primary Healthcare Development Agency) that generates less than N10 million? That is why the union leadership is against her. And moreover, she has turned 60 and shouldn't be in service anymore.