The Federal Government on Monday kicked against the bill before the National Assembly seeking to control the migration of doctors for greener pastures abroad for the first five years after their graduation from medical school.
The Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, expressed government’s objection while fielding questions from State House correspondents at the end of the extraordinary Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting presided over by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo at the Council Chamber, Presidential Villa, Abuja.
Responding to a question on the threat of doctors to go on a five-day warning strike over what they perceived as the attempt to compulsory keep medical and dental graduates in the country for five years before granting them licence to practice, Ngige said the bill goes against extant labour laws.
The sponsor of the bill in the House of Representatives, Ganiyu Johnson, representing Lagos State, had explained that the move was to check the mass exodus of medical professionals from the country.
The proposed legislation is titled: “A Bill for an Act to amend the Medical and Dental Practitioners Act, Cap. M379, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 to mandate any Nigeria-trained medical or dental practitioner to practise in Nigeria for a minimum of five years before being granted a full licence by the council to make quality health services available to Nigeria; and for related matters”.
Following the introduction of the bill, the Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) had vowed that it will resist any attempt to enslave Nigerian medical doctors under any guise.
The association has announced plan to embark on a five-day warning strike with the immediate withdrawal of the bill as one of its demands.
Other demands are an immediate increment in the Consolidated Medical Salary Structure to the tune of 200 per cent of the current gross salaries of doctors, the immediate implementation of CONMESS, domestication of the Medical Residency Training Act, and review of hazard allowance by all the state governments as well as private tertiary health institutions where any form of residency training is done; among others.
But Senator Ngige said, “Nobody can say they (doctors) will not get a practising licence till after five years. It will run counter to the laws of the land that have established the progression in the practice of medicine.
“I am a medical doctor. When you graduate from the medical school, you go on one year apprenticeship called housemanship or internship as the case maybe. After your internship, you are now given a full licence because prior to that, what you have is a provisional licence of registration with the Nigerian Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN).
“So, after that intensive training, you were signed off by consultants and you became a fully qualified medical doctor to attend to human beings and to work without any supervision again. Supervision then is voluntary.
“Resident Doctors are those who have that full licence and they want to acquire post graduate speciality and speciality is known like surgeon, gynecologists, obstetrics, paediatrics and internal medicine of family medicine. So, they are doctors in training.
“The Bill in National Assembly cannot stop anybody from getting a full licence. That bill is a private members bill.
“In the National Assembly they attend to private members bills and executive bills. Executive bills emanate from the government into the National Assembly with a stamp of the executive.
“It is either sent by the Attorney General of the Federation or by the President but usually from the Attorney General of the Federation. So, it’s not an executive bill, it’s a private members bill.
“That bill is moved by the man from Lagos. So, members of his constituency can tell him this is worrying us. Can’t we check these doctors this way by you going to speak than put up a document?
“That document is as far as I am concerned not workable. Ab initio, I don’t support it and I will never support it. Like I said before, it is like killing a fly with a sledge hammer.
“They should think of other ways if they are trying to check brain drain, there should be other ways.
“If a doctor has read on scholarship, you bond him, if a doctor has read on bursary you can bond him. If a doctor is trained like we are doing now on little or nothing which is like scholarship again because N50,000 a session per medical student is nothing when their counterparts oversees pay seventy thousand pounds for a session.
“So, I don’t support that bill but you can bond them if you want.”
On warning strike threatened by NARD, the Minister said it is not necessary since government was already engaged with the NMA, their umbrella body.
Ngige explained: “On the demand for 200 per cent salary increase, the NMA is the father of all doctors in Nigeria and they have about four or five affiliates of which the resident doctors is an association affiliating there.
“You have the Medical and Dental Consultants Association (MEDCAN), they are the consultants who are training these medical doctors to become specialists. You also have general medical practitioners association and you also have doctors working in the private sector
“So, NMA is the father of all including me. So, NMA is discussing with the federal ministry of health, salaries income and wages commission and the ministry of Labour and we know that NMA has accepted a salary increase between 25 and 30 per cent across board for their members.
“So, I don’t know the logic by which people who are members of NMA are now coming up to say pay us 200 per cent increase. I don’t understand it.
“I have called the NMA President to contact them because on the issue of remuneration negotiation, it’s NMA that the government deals with. So, I have told the President of NMA to contact them and we will engage them. They should not go on any strike, it’s not necessary.”
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