Sometimes I’m slow and hard of hearing. You need to explain and explain before I can fully understand what you are saying. This is one of those days. I do not understand what is going on in the health sector. I have this strong urge to seize the designer ties of the Minister of Health, Professor Isaac Adewole, the jacket of the Head of Service, Mrs Oyo-Ita and the caps of the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige and that of President Buhari. I am that upset. Not that I’m accusing them of any wrong-doing yet. I just need someone to explain why JOHESU (Joint Health Sector Union) has been on strike for over a month and why the government has not done anything about it. Or is there something in civil servants letters of employment that allows them to ignore their jobs, their employers because they are unhappy with their pay?
Something must have happened while I was sleeping or busy chasing money, something like employees now being bigger than their employers. Was that effected, sneaked it into the Nigerian law books while we were not looking?
I know it is a fundamental human right of workers to associate and express their anger. They have a right to be pissed off about bad treatment by the government. They have a right to protest poor or inadequate remuneration. They indeed have a right to refuse to work for as long as they want. However, I need to understand why getting paid from tax-payers’ sweat give Nigerian civil servants so much right. Are they the only ones with rights? Are they the only ones who get to down tools anytime their pay slips make them unhappy?
And while at it, kindly tell me where the rights of those who are left holding the short end of stick, the patients, very sick people, start or if they have no right at all. Don’t forget that I already owned up to not being smart from the first line of this write-up. So you need to be patient with me. See, when the employees of First Bank think their pay slips make them sad, they go to Fidelity Bank. When those in MTN decide they have had enough poor pay, they go to Glo. When those in Vanguard Newspapers are tired of the place, they move to New Telegraph. Note that all those moving from MTN, Vanguard, Glo etc. keep paying tax to Federal or State Governments, everywhere they go. Tax that keeps government agencies running. Ask Mr Fowler and all his fellow tax-collectors in the states. So, we help to keep the families of government workers, this time JOHESU, together and happy, and what do they do when they are unhappy? They throw us under the bus. It is either they are happy or we are dead. Their money or our lives. At least that is the way my slow mind sees it.
You go to the hospital, the doctor tells you to quickly go and do liver and kidney function tests and the laboratory is empty because JOHESU is on strike. You have an infection that is rapidly worsening, the doctor gives you a prescription paper and you rush to the pharmacy with your remaining five thousand naira (it’s all you have both at home and abroad). The pharmacists are on strike and outside the government gates, that same drug is seven thousand naira. So you go home to live with your spreading infection while you look for the money for your drugs. The wards are empty. The hospitals grounded. JOHESU is unhappy with its pay slip and so we can all go take a hike? Seriously?
My point and protest is, do they have a right to hold both patients and their employers to ransom, in deathly strangle-hold, at gunpoint, while they are making their point? Put differently, do employees get to do this to clients and employers in other climes, in other sectors, for this long, without consequences?
JOHESU has us all by the balls and it is squeezing, squeezing hard too. So, am I the only one feeling the pain? How did we get here, this place where people get to take my tax and play scrabble with my balls? And don’t you dare say I have no balls. I’ll have you know that some balls aren’t just visible. They’re there all right! So, I’m hurting. I have listened to some of the leaders of JOHESU. Their points are fine for rhetorics and great labour union treatise.
Their argument lose focus, however, when and where members of this great body forget they are employees, not civil society organization members or NGO advocates. They are government workers.
Did I mention that nurses are also in on this? Yeah, nurses are members of JOHESU. Imagine a hospital without nurses. You guessed right, all the patients have been discharged to go and face their fates at home, in native doctors’ shrines, wherever. Some people have died, definitely, since this strike started. We are compiling the numbers. Some will die as you read this, just like some died as I wrote this. Is it fair? Is it just? Is it godly for JOHESU members to go to church, pray, ask for mercy, grace and increase while their anger and strike is leading to death? Is it holy and godly for, JOHESU members to expect blessings during the Holy Month of Ramadan while their strikes cause irreversible damages to families?
Don’t get me wrong, again, I know every Nigerian has a right to protest injustice. Come to think of it, that probably is why I’m also protesting. JOHESU people have a right to down tools because they are not appropriately and commensurately remunerated. But then, these are medical professionals with choices. They are in hot demand everywhere in the world. Federal government as employers cannot hold them down because it did not send them to school or fund their training as nurses, pharmacists or laboratory scientists. It is wrong for one or the other to resort to blackmail.
Guys, this (your employment) is not a catholic marriage. Divorce is allowed. Remember how this marriage came to be in the first place. You graduated and needed a job badly. You went to the government with your certificates tucked under your arm, in one little file. You applied, got interviewed and then voila, you got a letter of appointment that stated the deal in full. You celebrated the job, the perks and the 35-year-job security it offered. At that point, you didn’t ask what the doctors earned or would earn. You were focused on the great opportunity which a lot of your peers didn’t get. You thanked God and happily started your career. That was how the marriage came to be, right? No blood oath. No incision in a shrine. Indeed, your letter of employment said either parties can walk away.
So, why are JOHESU people not walking away from this mean spouse exploiting them? It’s not a catholic marriage, I insist. Punishing everybody in sight because you no longer like your spouse is, to put it mildly, not normal.
I understand and totally support JOHESU’S demands. They are overworked and underpaid. Who isn’t? Even me. But I once walked away from a job that was no longer satisfying. The only people I can work pro bono for are my parents No one else. So I walked. So, why can’t JOHESU members walk away from those jobs they no longer think is paying what it should.
Sounds inconsiderate? Well, look at it from this headline; 5000 JOHESU members resign from Federal Hospitals! Do you think the Federal Government will or can ignore that kind of move? It will jolt the nation into looking into the JOHESU grievances. Trust me. Or don’t. FG will negotiate. So far nothing’s been achieved with this strike except tears, death and gnashing of teeth, by patients only. See why it’s unholy and unfair?
You can also look at it from my slow person’s angle. If you don’t like Lagos, move to Ibadan. Don’t unleash terror on Lagosians just to make a point. If you didn’t read medicine, don’t envy doctors. I made a choice in 1984 to read English when some people chose Engineering. If I don’t end up in Chevron, I can’t take out my anger on Chemical Engineers.
If you signed on to be a nurse, do your job or move on. Don’t give up your dreams for an employer who can’t pay for your services. Change your employment. It’s allowed. But refusing to work when lives depend on you is mean, mean and mean.
As for the Federal Government, I’m totally pissed off. It’s a sign of absolute weakness when an employee squeezes the balls of an employer and all the employer does is wince. Who does that? A boss who does that is a boss who deserves to be castrated. If I employed you and you squeeze my balls, I’ll kick your butt from here to Alaska. And I’m slow. Imagine what I’d do if I was smart.