Members of the National Association of Resident Doctors have embarked on an indefinite nationwide strike following the virtual extraordinary National Executive Council meeting of the association which was held last Sunday. NARD President, Aliyu Sokomba, announced this on Monday while addressing a press conference in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory. He added that the union has decided to exempt its members working in various coronavirus isolation and treatment centres across the country. However, exemption of the members attending to COVID-19 patients was for two weeks before they join the industrial action, Sokomba noted. The decision of the union is as a result of the failed series of meetings between the doctors and the Federal Government in the last two weeks. The NARD president said the meetings have failed to resolve the lingering industrial disputes, which include the non-payment of special allowances for the resident doctors as he also decried the deplorable state of hospitals and the lack of protective equipment for members of the union treating COVID-19 patients. The industrial action is coming after the doctors warned last week that they would take what they described as “the painful decision” following the inability of the government to meet their demands. All resident doctors, medical officers below the rank of Principal Medical Officer, and House Officers across all the Federal and State Hospitals in Nigeria are expected to join the strike as the union asked the government to make alternative arrangements for the care of patients, including those at the COVID-19 isolation centres as its members there would join the industrial action in two weeks’ time. Its demands, among other things, include the provision of adequate PPE for all healthcare workers and immediate reversal of the disengagement of all 26 resident doctors at the University Teaching Hospital in Jos, the Plateau State capital.

The Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) has reversed its earlier position and now says it would not allow petroleum products, marketers, to fix the price of petrol. The PPPRA had a day earlier announced the removal of the price cap on petrol, a move which led many to call for the body to be scrapped. But speaking on 6 June in Abuja, Abudulkadir Saidu, the PPPRA’s executive secretary, said that the body’s role in the determination of the monthly price for petrol would be advisory, while its price would serve as a guide to marketers in the sale of the commodity. While Saidu confirmed that the FG had deregulated the downstream segment of the market, he insisted that in a deregulated market, the role of a regulator in monitoring and regulating activities in the sector cannot be overemphasised. In another industry development, Nigeria’s refineries recorded total revenue of ‎₦3.45 billion in 2018 but expended ‎₦160.13 billion on salary and other things, the audited financial statements of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation has shown. The corporation also made a profit of ‎₦1.02 trillion from its investment within the year. The public disclosure of the accounts is a departure from the recent past as the performance of the corporation had remained opaque. Payment of salaries, wages and allowances to workers at the ailing refineries accounted for about 33.49 percent of the total expenses. The refineries, located in Port Harcourt, Kaduna and Warri, have a combined installed capacity of 445,000 barrels per day but have continued to operate far below the installed capacity. The breakdown of the report showed that Kaduna Refinery and Petrochemical Company Limited did not generate any revenue in the year under review but it incurred a total cost of ‎₦64.68 billion, comprising ‎₦24.69 billion direct cost and ₦39.99 billion administrative expenses. The Group Managing Director, NNPC, Mallam Mele Kyari said the failure to fix the country’s refineries over the years was a strategy problem and reiterated his plan to revamp the refineries and end fuel importation by 2023.

Edo Governor, Godwin Obaseki, has announced his resignation from the All Progressives Congress (APC). Mr Obaseki announced this after meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari at the State House in Abuja, according to media reports. This came as the APC screening committee for the Edo governorship primary has disqualified him from running for the party’s ticket in a bid for a second term in office. The Jonathan Ayuba-led screening committee of the party said the governor was disqualified from participating in the party’s 22 June primary because of the discrepancies in his names and certificates and for taking the party to court in contravention of the party’s rules. Ayuba noted in the report that Obaseki claimed to have obtained a Higher School Certificate from the Institute of Continuing Education in Benin but that he did not produce the certificate and that the document he produced only attested to his attendance. The committee leader added that the governor’s National Youth Service Corps certificate reads ‘Obasek Godwin’ and that while this could be an error on the part of the NYSC, the governor never took any step “to correct the anomaly.” Obaseki and two other aspirants, Chris Ogiemwonyi and Mathew Iduoriyekenwen, were disqualified from participating in the party primary ahead of the 19 September governorship election. Those cleared to take part in the primary were Osaro Obaze, Pius Odubu and Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu. Obaseki and the APC national leader, Oshiomhole had been at loggerheads over the governor’s re-election bid. Sequel to the disqualification, the national leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party has declared the party’s doors open for the governor. It was, however, not clear if the governor would get an automatic ticket in the party if he decides to run on its platform.

Katsina has withdrawn from a peace deal it brokered with bandits that have been terrorising residents of the state. The state governor Aminu Masari told the BBC Hausa service that the gunmen betrayed the trust his administration put in them. The state government had entered a peace agreement with the gunmen. But despite the accord, communities in Katsina are still being attacked and residents killed. On Monday, suspected bandits killed a district head and a party chairman. Nigeria’s presidency has accused some traditional rulers in President Buhari’s home state, Katsina, of being responsible for the spike in violent attacks. President Buhari’s spokesman, Garba Shehu told the Channels Television Sunrise Daily programme that the traditional rulers had been found complicit in collaboration with the bandits to harm their own people in the state. As if to underscore the point, a deadly fortnight in the country saw Boko Haram members kill at least 69 people and razed a village to the ground in Borno on Tuesday afternoon. Reuters quotes three unnamed sources as saying that the men attacked the village of Faduma Koloram, in Gubio LGA, razing the village after stealing 1,200 cattle and camels. Military sources say the men attacked because they suspected residents of sharing information on Boko Haram’s movements with security authorities. At least 70 people were killed in Sokoto within when bandits attacked communities in Sabon Birni Local Government Area last week. In response to the country’s many security issues, Defence Minister Bashir Magashi told journalists at last week’s Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting said the military is understaffed and underfunded. The military is battling the Boko Haram insurgents in the North-east, armed bandits in the North-west and North-central, as well as militants and pirates in the South-south.

Commentary

  • Nigeria has been losing doctors at an alarming rate for years now and strikes by health workers are very common due to perennial underfunding of the sector as well as other related issues around adequate placements for resident doctors’ training, proper remuneration, and hierarchy in hospitals. The strike by the NARD had been delayed due to the urgency of the COVID-19 pandemic but the failure of the government to meet their demands has brought us to this point. Despite efforts by the govt to increase funding for the sector such as the passage into law of the National Health Act that provides for a Basic Health Care Provision Fund (BHCPF), which sets aside at least 1% of the government’s consolidated revenue in addition to donor funds for funding basic healthcare, a huge gap in funding remains at the tertiary healthcare level in terms of quality of hospitals, conditions of service for health workers and enough places for specialist training for doctors. At a time when the rest of the world is reevaluating doctors’ compensation, considering how important their work is to our collective survival, Nigeria continues to treat them with exceptional disdain. These perennial problems have led to a huge brain drain of medical doctors to the UK, US, and Canada. As of September last year, the Nigerian Medical Association estimated that about 700 doctors leave Nigeria annually, worsening an already atrocious doctor to patient ratio. Curiously enough, the labour minister, Mr Chris Ngige, who is a medical doctor himself, said last year that the exodus of doctors was not negatively affecting Nigeria (despite all data to the contrary) as diasporic doctors were increasing remittances to Nigeria. Former health minister Mr Isaac Adewole, infamously said that not all doctors will have to be specialists as some could become “tailors or farmers”. Attitudes such as this cascade down into the quality, or lack of quality, of the healthcare available to Nigerians. The best-performing state in terms of the doctor-to-population ratio is Edo State at one doctor for every 1,390 people, while Katsina is the worst at one doctor per 55,000 inhabitants. It should be noted that the globally recommended standard is a doctor to 1,000 people. This, however, is not the full story. Many of the doctors are poorly paid, have to work multiple jobs to make ends meet, and try to see too many patients in order to maximise time, resulting in errors that cost lives. Most Nigerians are a health emergency away from poverty and the foundation of this rests with how doctors are treated. Perhaps the government will deal with it urgently now given the unique circumstances that COVID-19 brings. But, we fear they will not, in their characteristic manner.
  • The NNPC and PPPRA incidents should easily have been two big stories within the space of two weeks. First, on the final, but now apparently botched, removal of the petrol subsidy. Oil subsidies were enacted by previous military regimes, under the guise of sharing the dividends of Nigeria’s oil wealth. They ended up as conduits for phenomenal graft, and for years, calls for the Nigerian government to drop these subsidies and deregulate the downstream petroleum sector fell on deaf ears. In 2011, President Jonathan announced the removal of subsidies but large-scale protests, backed by the Nigeria Labour Congress and figures who are now a part of the ruling APC, forced the government to reverse its decision. The other really huge story is the publication of the NNPC’s accounts. This is a decent attempt at transparency, and we welcome it, but there is still a lot to be done and we are not holding our breath. The NNPC has, since its incorporation in 1977, been an unaccountable cash cow for the elite hence the disinterest in reform. There are accounts for its 20 subsidiaries and no consolidated group account. So, the only way to make sense of the accounts is to read each individual account and cross-reference up and down to find relationships. What this week’s disclosures prove – and its the only thing they prove – is that the NNPC needs to be disbanded and the commercial subsidiaries decoupled from the regulator. Each of the commercial subsidiaries should be run as a fully-fledged company. Why? There is no fully-fledged company in the world that can run at the kind of losses the refineries are making. The Kaduna refinery, for example, which made zero revenue and racked up ₦64 billion in losses in 2018 alone, will not be considered viable and a going concern. The subsidiaries where NNPC competes, such as the Retail Subsidiary clearly show profitability not present in the refineries and efficiency not present in the production company, the NPDC, or the investment arm, NAPIMS. The numbers now paint the rather unfortunate picture where a few subsidiaries are propping the entire lot. In the end, economics should dictate the direction of travel, and with oil prices depressed along with refined product prices, Nigeria may never get a better opportunity to get rid of this problem. But for the NNPC, and the PPPRA, it is still about a monolithic command system which incentivises business as usual, which is why the PPPRA withdrew its initial announcement when it became clear that it would lose control, and why the NNPC announced oil exploration bids in Kogi, Kwara and Niger states, despite the obvious economic inviability of these projects. This is saying something.
  • The headline in one of Nigeria’s major dailies this week read: “Obaseki Resigns, Oshiomhole Suspended, Ajimobi Hospitalised, NWC Divided”. Perhaps, what was missing was the addition of President Buhari’s body language: Unreadable. This lack of leadership is what has defined the actions of the ruling party, and not just on this issue. The disqualification of Governor Obaseki was no surprise given the rather public deterioration of his relationship with his predecessor, suspended party chairman Adams Oshiomole. In the face of a failure to reconcile both men, it was evident that Mr Oshiomole was going to do all he could by virtue of his power to ensure that Mr Obaseki would not be reelected. In this sense, Mr Obaseki’s resignation from the APC, along with the bulk of the political leadership in Edo was a logical next move. The Court of Appeal’s affirmation of a March 2020 ruling to suspend Mr Oshiomhole as national APC chairman, has added to the intrigue. But this particular case of intra-party rivalry is just one in a long list of similar incidents, which have occurred across the APC and to a smaller extent, in its major opposition, the PDP. These points to an underlying problem – the distinct lack of internal democracy within Nigerian political parties. It has become a case of might is right within the parties and laid-down procedures and rules are thrown away when squabbles, which are not about policy, but about ego and ambitions happen. It gets even worse in ruling parties as to the control of security agencies, access to public funds, and influence over the electoral body (euphemistically called the incumbency factor) increases the stakes for participants as electoral victory is more assured than when in the opposition. In the case of Edo, should Mr Obaseki join the PDP and become its candidate, the first bone of contention would be whether Mr Obaseki will be allowed to keep his current deputy governor, Mr Philip Shaibu as his running mate. In any event, we are likely to see a more intense campaign, which could be accompanied by violence and widespread election malpractices as both parties will be doing their best to outdo the other.
  • The withdrawal of Katsina from the peace deal brokered with bandits, albeit ineffective, continues to prove the point that the Nigerian state does not have a monopoly of violence within its borders and thus, the ensuing inability in enforcing law and order. It is also important to place all of this within the context of rising discontent within the security services. In Borno on Saturday, some soldiers attached to the 7 Division of the Nigerian Army attacked members of the Borno COVID-19 committee, including two commissioners of Babagana Zulum, the governor. Taken together with other attacks by various groups in the North West, and terrorism in the North East, the Nigerian state is severely stretched and cannot adequately provide security to its citizens. Other factors, including but not limited to porous borders (which allow for the flow of illegal arms), competition over resources between communities, rising unemployment, and climate change, have created the perfect environment for violent non-state actors within Nigeria’s borders. All of these are better explainers of the status quo than inadequate funding of the defence ministry. Nigeria is in a security Catch-22 where funds are not being used judiciously due to corruption while an outmoded security architecture that for decades has not strengthened the police but deliberately left them under-trained and under-staffed has incentivised the lack of political will to tackle the remote and immediate causes of violence in the country. Mr Magashi’s claim of low funding for the military belies the fact that the defence sector is healthily funded within Nigeria’s limited means. This sector has for the past five years taken a large chunk of Nigeria’s budget, often larger than education and health. In the current 2020 budget, which is about to be amended, about ₦878 billion of the ₦10.59 trillion (about 8 percent) was allocated to defence. Merely increasing the funding for the military without a holistic approach to insecurity across the country but especially in the North-West and North-East will merely leave the situation as it is, if not worse.