Minister of Labour and Employment Chris Ngige has formally reported the trade dispute between the federal government and the Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) to the National Industrial Court of Nigeria for adjudication.

The transmission was done on Thursday and a copy was sent to NARD and the Federal Ministry of Health.

Recall that the minister had given the NARD leadership until the end of work, Wednesday, August 11, to summon a virtual meeting of its National Executive Committee and brief its members on the efforts of the government with a view to calling off its strike.

The instrument signed and issued by Ngige on August 11 read in parts:

‘Whereas trade dispute has arisen and now exists between the Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) and the Federal Ministry of Health/Federal Government and whereas efforts to promote settlement through conciliation were on-going but had now failed.

‘And considering the facts that members of NARD who are classified as Essential Services workers/employees had embarked on strike on Monday, August 2, 2021, over the issues under conciliation, contrary to the provisions of Section 18 of the Trade Disputes Act CAP T8, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria (LFN) 2004, after attending a Conciliation and Agreement Review meeting on July 22, 2021, and further considering that the Federal Ministry of Health claim to have and produced evidence to having met most of their demands based on the various Memorandum of Action reached during past conciliations especially that of July 22, 2021.

‘Now, therefore, I, Senator Dr Chris Nwabueze Ngige OON, MD the Honourable Minister of Labour and Employment in exercise of the powers conferred on me by Section 17 of the Trades Disputes Act, CAP T8 laws of the Federation of Nigeria, hereby refer the matter for consideration, and the issues in dispute to the National Industrial Court of Nigeria for adjudication.’

Earlier, the minister had met with the Medical Elders Forum where he had painstakingly explained every item on the resident doctors’ demands, upon which they embarked on strike.

The forum is made up of practising and retired senior medical practitioners, doctors who have served or are serving in top-level political offices.

Some of those in attendance included the Chairman of Senate Committee on Health, Senator Ibrahim Oloriegbe, Chairman House Committee on Health, Hon. Tanko Sununu, all past presidents of NMA and NARD, His Highness, Dr Haliru Yahaya, Emir of Shonga, former Chairman Senate Committee on Health, Senator Lanre Tejuosho, President of NMA, Prof. Innocent Ujah, former Minister of Health, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu, Chairman and Registrar of the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN) Prof. Tajudeen Sanusi, among others.

Among other things at the meeting, the minister informed the forum that it was the 36 State Commissioners for Health and the FCT who raised a joint memo to the National Council on Establishment for the abolition of the internship period in the scheme of service for health professionals and further underlined the fact that Medical House Officers have never enjoyed the one year of internship or that of the NYSC as part of their period of service in the overall 35 years period of service.

He also explained that the CONMESS wage structure captures all doctors from CONMESS 1 for House Officers to CONMESS for the highest consultant

Ngige was said to have further stated that the circular from the Office of the Head Of Service of the Federation, emanating from the last NEC in Lagos, abolishing one year of internship and NYSC as part of the scheme of service for health professionals, does not affect medical doctors because the housemanship of medical doctors is already captured in the wage structure of CONMESS.

He further told the forum that the domestication of the Medical Residency Training Fund (MRTF) in the states is the responsibility of governors and state Houses of Assembly for resident doctors in state specialists hospitals because health is on the concurrent list of the constitution.

Furthermore, the minister said the federal government already has the Medical Residency Training Act of 2018 for federal residents.

He argued that House Officers and general medical officers by strict job description are not members of NARD which is an exclusive body for doctors on residency training.

He insisted that the House Officers should only be under the Nigerian Medical Association and should not have embarked on strike.

He maintained that the Federal Government Medical Residency Training Fund for 2021 was captured under the service-wide vote in the 2021 supplementary budget which was signed by the President on the eve of his departure to the United Kingdom and has therefore become a Financial Act. The minister noted that the Federal Ministry of Finance, Budget and Planning is already moving funds into various compartments such as COVID-19 vaccines and other medical subheads and gave assurance that requests from medical colleges will be sorted out within the next seven working days, with funds moved to the accounts of resident doctors and should not have been an item for the strike.

It was also learnt that the Registrar of the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria, notified the meeting that he was up to date in the payment of House Officers who have been enrolled through him to the Accountant General of the Federation as of July 31, 2021. On the issue of the IPPIS platform, the Registrar said that investigations were on to find out why the 114 House officers were not paid as claimed by NARD.

Ngige was also said to have blamed the President of the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA), Professor Innocent Ujah, for failing to give the right leadership to the junior doctors in NARD.

He allegedly accused him of failure of leadership, saying he abandoned standing instruction given to both the NMA and NARD leadership that NMA must lead in any conciliation meeting. Ngige who was commended by the elders for his forthrightness proved to the forum that Prof. Uja has never attended any of the conciliation meetings in his ministry even under invitation but chose to send the secretary-general.

He was said to have further reiterated his earlier position that the job of the NMA president is a full-time job that has necessitated people in the public services taking sabbatical leave to hold such an office