Health workers threaten industrial action as ministry crisis worsens

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AdewoleThe crisis in the Federal Ministry of Health has taken a new dimension, as four of the directorate level doctors who were alleged to be sitting tight despite reaching the mandatory retirement age, have taken government to court.

Joined in the suit are the Federal Civil Service Commission, the Minister of Health, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Health, the Attorney general of the Federation, and the Head of Service of the Federation.

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Preparing for a possible industrial action against Ministry’s alleged poor handling of the issue, the Federal Civil Service Senior Staff Union, Federal Ministry of Health branch were said to have commenced marathon meetings.

Asked if civil servants can take a government to court, the Director of Communications in the Office of the Head of Service of the Federation, Haruna Imrana, noted that, though the affected directors have the right to demand justice or seek redress, they should explore measures as enshrined in the public service rules.

He noted that such government workers must exhaust all laid down channels, including the Service Compact with Nigerians/Public (SERVICOM) or the Federal Civil Service Rules.

“The petitioners must exhaust the avenues as contained in the Act before going to the court.”
Quoting the Public Service Rules (2008 edition), he told The Guardian that; “Without prejudice to their constitutional rights, officers should as much as possible first exhaust all avenues provided in the Public Service Rules and Circulars.”

In a twist to the issue, the Director of Human Resources Management at the Ministry, Danjuma Kurau, who raised an internal memo on January 8 asking the affected directors to retire in line with government rules, have been redeployed to Head of Service of the Federation, The Guardian has learnt.

The Guardian had reported last Friday that five medical directors with critical mandates have ‘refused’ to retire despite a memo directing them to vacate office. It was learnt that five directors who are on grade level 17 were due to retire by December 31, 2015 in line with government rules.

Labour Union officials said the issue has divided the Ministry and currently endangers Nigeria’s lassa fever containment efforts.

The affected Directors are Dr. Patience Adepeju (Director, Hospital Services), Dr. Smith Oluwatoyin Abimbola (Coordinator, National Blood Transfusion Service), Dr. Okoegwale Bridget (Director, Public Health), Dr. Olowu Omobolanle Rosemary (Head of Public Private Partnership and Diaspora), and Dr. Kolajo Adediran Joshua (Chief Medical Officer, E-Medicine).

Four of the directors have dragged the Federal Government to court and secured an injunction asking the Ministry to restrain action pending the determination of the matter before it.

The order issued by President of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria, Hon. Justice B.A Adejumo was procured, by Dr. Oluwatoyin Smith, Dr. Omobolanle Olowu, Dr. Patience Osinubi, and Dr. Kolajo A. O. Joshua.

A source, who spoke with The Guardian, accused the Permanent Secretary, Dr. Amina Shamaki, of not raising a finger to enforce the tenure policy of government. A school of thought in the Ministry wants the Directors to step aside pending when their case is determined in court.

It was gathered that as Director in charge of tertiary hospitals in the Ministry, Dr. Shamaki, led the claimants to secure a similar injunction when the Ministry first raised the issue of their retirement in 2013. She stopped the agitation when she was made Permanent Secretary, sources said.

An official who did not want to be quoted said the Federal Civil Service Senior Staff Union, Federal Ministry of Health branch have officially protested to the Head of Service over the redeployment of the Director Human Resources Management, Danjuma Kurau, over the issue. The official said things would get clearer soon.

They claim that he was transferred out of the Ministry because he queried the five directors that failed to vacate office.

Karau had on January 8 issued a directive asking the directors to vacate their offices within 24 hours or be thrown out. An official said the affected Directors still sit tight three weeks later because they have the support and protection of the Permanent Secretary.

Sources said Karau relied on several memos from the Office of the Head of Service of the Federation, an agreement by NMA, federal Ministry of Health, and the precedent set by the emergence of Shamaki (a medical doctor who rose along the normal civil service structure to become Permanent Secretary).

Following a request from the Federal Ministry of Health, the Office of the Head of Civil Service of the Federation on April 23, 2012 warned that medical doctors on Grade Level 17 should retire like other Directors after 8 years as Directors. The letter asked those who wished to be exempted from such rules to transfer their services to any of the government hospitals.

The letter signed by Director (Estabs and Ind. Relations), G.C Okomadu read: “I am directed to refer to your letter No. PS/FMH/ 093/1/24 of 1st December, 2011 on the above subject and inform you that the grounds of the letter of appeal attached to your letter have been carefully reviewed in line with extant rules.

“I am to state that the tenure policy is extant and covers all officers on SGL 17, including Permanent Secretaries. The exemption granted is for Medical Directors in the hospital setting. They affected Medical Directors are not within the hospital setting, and if they so desire to be exempted, they could apply to transfer their services to any of the government hospitals.

“Accordingly, I am to advise the Ministry to enforce compliance with the provisions of the circular, as the reasons adduced to waive its application to the affected Medical Doctors are unsustainable, and capable of creating an invidious precedent in the Service.”

The Permanent Secretary, Dr. Amina Shamaki, did not respond to The Guardian’s inquiry on the issue. When The Guardian sought her view on the phone, she simply dropped the line and did not respond to further calls and messages.
The Ministry’s spokes person did not provide answers to an inquiry as at press time. One of the affected Doctors, Dr. Olowu Omobolanle Rosemary, did not also respond to The Guardian’s inquiry on the issue.

In a letter to the Head of Service, the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Federal Ministry of Health Unit, agreed that the government tenure policy should affect doctors also so that they could rise to become Permanent Secretaries like other Directors.

The letter read: “…As far as the NMA, FMOH Unit is concerned at the end of its meeting majority of the members agreed that the tenure policy should affect the Medical/Dental Officer cadre.

“The effect of the above would be to avoid stagnation in the system and it would restrict the career progression of all officers involved in policy making and implementation of health issues. The issue of Consultant Special Grade is such that members feel these are clinical specialists who would better serve the country in our hospitals.

“The essence of the tenure policy is to inject new blood into the service; hence consistency of the policy as it affects all civil servants is very critical to the success of Government business.”guardian.