2014: Year of strikes and Ebola
Should historians decide to document the story of the Nigerian health sector in the year 2014, I’m sure chapters will be devoted to the nation’s battle and triumph over the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD), as well as the catalogue of strike actions that crippled the health sector for several months in the year.
It is quite sad that the year 2014 commenced on a chaotic note, as the NMA issued a threat in early January to commence an indefinite strike action if its demands were not met; and the year is equally ending with the Joint Health Sector Union (JOHESU), the umbrella union for all health professionals in the hospital, aside medical doctors, now on an indefinite strike action – a strike that has paralysed activities in public hospitals all over the country.
Indeed, the year will go down as one that witnessed more strike actions by virtually all health professionals than any other previous year.
It would be recalled that the NMA also crippled the health sector with its own strike from 25 August to 19 October, a period of about 55 days. This strike was preceded by a JOHESU three-day warning strike from Wednesday, 22 January to Friday 24 January, 2014. The JOHESU warning strike was in protest against the non-implementation of collective bargain agreement and Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) and the judgement of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria by the federal government.
It is instructive to note that the reasons given by JOHESU for the warning strike earlier in the year are still the same reasons they have given for going on the current round of indefinite industrial strike action. The fact that the government failed to address the issues raised by JOHESU after several months is an indictment against the handlers of our health sector.
One major reason for the unrest in the health sector that lasted throughout 2014 was inter-professional wrangling. The immediate past Minister of Health, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu, failed to resolve the numerous issues that prevented health workers in the country from working in harmony. And it must be stressed that until this lingering unrest caused by rivalry is tackled and team spirit is promoted among health workers, the incessant strikes in the health sector which reached its apogee in 2014 will continue unabated.
There is a lot we can achieve when we work together in this country. A clear evidence of this was the rapid success realised when Nigerians collectively battled the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD). The federal government and the Lagos state government put political differences aside for once and mobilised the Nigerian people to work together and tame a viral disease that posed a major threat to not just Nigerians but the entire world. Even though the worst may not be over concerning Ebola, the great lesson to be learnt and imbibed is that when we work together, we can transform this nation.
The major hindrance to Nigeria moving to the next level and surmounting the numerous challenges facing not just the health sector but all sectors of the economy is the inability to make all Nigerians work in unison to make the Nigerian project work.
Year 2014 is gone but we can take valuable lessons from the year and avoid the comedy of errors of consistently failing to learn from history and thus allowing repeats of such.