Nigeria: Why We Embarked On Indefinite Strike Despite Coronavirus Crisis - Abuja Doctors

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On the day Nigeria recorded its third case of the rampaging coronavirus, doctors in Abuja, the nation's capital, downed tools in protest over unpaid salaries.

The Association of Resident Doctors (ARD), Abuja chapter, announced that they have commenced an "indefinite strike" on Tuesday morning, about an hour after another case of Covid-19 was confirmed in a woman that arrived Lagos via a British flight from London.

The doctors are protesting among others, the failure of the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) to make complete payment of their over two months' basic salaries.

The union attributed the salary irregularities and shortfalls to the migration to the Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System (IPPIS) platform by the FCTA.

President Muhammadu Buhari last October issued a directive for the implementation of the IPPIS for the payment of salaries of all federal government workers.

The president said any worker not on the platform will not receive a salary after October 31, a move strongly opposed by university lecturers.

Mustapha Ibrahim, the secretary of the resident doctors, explained how the shortfalls in the payment of salaries is affecting his life.

He said he last received his full pay in December.

"It is as terrible as not having transport to come to work and provide services in the places the person is meant to be", he said shortly after Tuesday's press briefing that announced the strike.

"I am leaving in a rented apartment and I have not paid my rent for this year. It has really been a challenge; the landlords have been on my neck... at some point, I have to park my car because I don't have money to service it when it developed faults.

"Mentally, if a health worker is not stable how do you expect him to take care of someone who is also ill."

'Why we downed tools'

"Our members were thrown into serious financial distress following the non-payment of our salaries as at when due and we waited patiently after the end of year 2019 and the new year 2020 celebrations, till the third week of February, only for us to receive a paltry sum of money as January salary", Roland Aigbovo, the ARD president explained in a statement earlier.

"The money received ranges from one-fifth to one-tenth of our salary with the exclusion of the newly employed members who have not been paid for 5-7 months."

Mr Aigbovo said after considering the emergency situation of the coronavirus, the doctors had issued a 14-day ultimatum and a seven-day extension which elapsed on Friday, March 13.

"It will interest you to know that as of that Friday, March 13th, the FCTA began payment of February salaries with no third-party deductions like pensions, tax, NHF, association's dues, cooperative contributions and others like loan repayment.

"Our new employed members were paid only one month out of 5-7 months and the house officers were paid two months without the consequential adjustment of the new minimum wage and the arrears."

The official also listed several other demands of the association as follows:

1) Payment of skipping arrears.

2) Payment of 1st 28 days "already approved by the FCT minister".

3) Improvement of security situation in hospitals.

4) Provision and maintenance of equipment and infrastructure in our various hospitals.

5) Payment of 2016, 2017, 2018 promotion arrears.

He said the doctors resolved that until their demands are met, the mass action will continue indefinitely.

He noted that other health workers who are also affected by the salary shortfalls will join the mass action within 48 hours if their demands "which are the same with ours are not met."

Coronavirus and Health workers

The spike in cases of coronavirus across the world has increased the demand for services of health workers, especially in countries severely affected.

Specialist doctors and medical equipment from China, the epicenter of the coronavirus, were recently sent to Italy to help tackle the sharp spike in people with the disease, which has overwhelmed medical facilities in Europe's worst-hit nation.

Medical schools and departments at universities across Britain are also facing pressure to release staff and students to assist health workers across the nation in coping with the developing crisis. At least, 55 people have died with hundreds of people affected in the UK.

Fortunately, the spread has been relatively slow in Africa despite its weak health systems.

Nearly 400 cases have so far been recorded across the continent, in 27 countries. Four countries - Egypt, Algeria, South Africa, and Morocco - account for more than half of the cases in Africa.

In Nigeria's capital where the doctors downed tools, no case of the dreaded disease has been recorded.

However, there have been suspected cases which turned out negative as it was in other parts of the country apart from Lagos and Ogun states where three cases have so far been confirmed.

The Abuja resident doctors said they deliberated extensively on the health threat posed by the coronavirus scare, their work conditions, and patient care before arriving at the "difficult decision."

Asides Abuja, resident doctors in Gombe and Enugu had also downed tools similarly over payment issues within the month.

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