In January this year, the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) threatened to commence an indefinite strike action, if the federal government failed to meet its demands, among which is the appointment of a medical doctor as Surgeon General of the Federation.
The strike action, which was scheduled to commence on 6 January, was however suspended, following the agreement between the NMA and the government to allow for the implementation of the MoU reached, after a series of meetings.
However, since the suspension of the proposed strike, following the pledge by the Federal Government to implement the MoU reached with the NMA, the planned appointment of the Surgeon General of the Federation has become more contentious and controversial.
The Assembly of Healthcare Professional Associations (AHPA)and Joint Health Sector Unions (JOHESU), whose members are health workers, other than medical doctors, have questioned the justification for the position of a Surgeon General in Nigeria.
In a recent open letter to President Goodluck Jonathan, signed by the President of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN), Pharm. OlumideAkintayo; President of the National Association of Nigeria Nurses and Midwives (NANNM), MrAbdulrafiuAdeniji; Chairman of the Joint Health Sector Unions, Comrade WabbaAyuba; Chairman ofthe Assembly of Healthcare Professional Associations (AHPA), Dr. G. C. Okara; President of the Nigeria Society of Physiotherapy (NSP), MrTaiwo-Oyewumi; President of the Association of Radiographers of Nigeria (ARN), Dr. Mark Okeji; and President ofHealth Information Managers Association of Nigeria (HIMAN), MrWoleAjayi, the health workers argued that therationale given for creating the post of the Surgeon General was not compelling enough to warrant its implementation, with the result ant wastage of scarce publicfunds.
They argued further that the office of the Surgeon General would mean an unnecessary duplication of functions which are presently being carried out by the offices of the minister of health and the minister of state for health, with several directors, deputy directors and assistant directors.
It must first be emphasised that ensuring industrial harmony in a multi-disciplinary sector like health is a sine qua non for its progress and development. The sector depends on the collective efforts of different professionals to function optimally.Therefore, the first consideration in any policy formulation and implementation in the sector must be the potential impact on its continued harmony.The health sector cannot prosper where there is no unity among the different categories of professionals.
It must also be emphasised that the nation is better off devising ways of solving the numerous problems currently confronting the health sector. Creating a new position, just for the sake of it, would only lead to further complications and aggravations.
Moreover, a glance at all the listed duties of the Surgeon General shows clearly that most of them are already within the portfolios of the minister of health and the minister of state for health. Why do we want to create an additional office and waste resources that could be put to better use through the provision of essential, comprehensive and pressing health care needs?
The Nigerian government must learn not to copy concepts just because they are operational in some advanced nations of the world, without consideration for their local relevance, adaptability and benefits.
It is our view that having a Surgeon General of the Federation is neither the most pressing nor the most important need of the Nigerian health sector right now. In fact, it poses the risk of creating more tension, crisis and conflicts in an already beleaguered sector of the nation.