By YOUNG MEDICAL LABORATORY SCIENTISTS FORUM (YMLSF) NIGERIA
For the enlightenment of the general public, it is on record that prior to the strike action on Wednesday the 18th of April, 2018, JOHESU gave the Federal Government a 21 calendar and 30 working days forecast of the impending mayhem on the 5th of February and 5th of March respectively to enable her redeem the promises she agreed to voluntarily implement on the 30th of September, 2017. The facts are there!
JOHESU as a responsible union that puts the welfare and health needs of the general masses as her most sacred responsibility which they have sworn by oath to uphold, did the needful by sounding an alarm of strike to alert the government of her agreed commitment to meet to their demands, but instead the government seem to have chosen to play politics to the detriment of the life and health needs of its citizenry by not fulfilling her own part of the bargain.
The question now remains, who should be blamed for this strike action, JOHESU or FG? Your choice and discretion to decide.
In setting out to express deep thoughts on the issues mapped out for consideration as suggested by the title of this article, it is pertinent to have a recourse to and as well put down the facts forming the fulcrum and spoke upon which our sober reflection hinges for effective analysis and seamless appreciation of our larger subject matter of discourse.
THE FACTUAL ISSUES IN CONTEXT:
i: Upward adjustment of CONHESS salary scale as also reviewed and implemented for doctors in 2014 and 2017 respectively in the same health sector,
ii: Arrears of skipping of CONHESS 10, as agreed by FG in the previous negotiation with JOHESU leadership,
iii: Employment of additional health professionals, to increase manpower for effective and efficient healthcare delivery in Nigeria,
iv: Implementation of all court judgements, which the Minister of Health Prof Isaac Adewole has blatantly refused to implement,
v: Upward review of retirement age from 60-65 e.t.c.
Drawing inspiration from the peculiar factual trajectory of the isolated issues in contention between the combatants as already outlined above, the objective of this reflection is to examine the legal consequences of the strike action of JOHESU, the attitude of the Federal Government towards the striking workers, the grave consequences of the Federal Government crass defiance to the plight of the hapless masses who are in desperate need of healthcare services.
Ably guided by the jurisprudential beacons offered by many superior judicial authorities, we will demonstrate how the Federal Government’s actions and inactions in this matter [cumulatively] have amounted to a corrosive subversion of the Nigerian Constitution and brazen contempt of the people.
We will emphasize on the need for the Federal Government to avoid falling victim of the law of unintended consequences occasioned by its seemingly pronounced penchant for breaching sacred contracts between it and its workers.
For the avoidance of doubts, we shall sound the alarm of justice, equity and fairness as we echo the truth to the consciences of the various authorities in government including the Federal Ministry of Health, Federal Ministry of Labour, Employment and Productivity, National Assembly and the Presidency to listen to the voice of reason as they rub minds together to further prevent the health sector from nosediving into a complete comatose as they accede to some pertinent demands by JOHESU.
Of some of these issues of pertinent concern being agitated for by JOHESU which have not being judiciously attended to by the Federal Government, Item iv (Implementation of court judgements) shall be the main focus of discourse as we holistically and assiduously unearth the legal sovereignty and supremacy of court pronouncements on matters of legitimate concern especially as they affect JOHESU.
THE REFUSAL OF FEDERAL GOVERNMENT UNDER THE TYRANNICAL LEADERSHIP OF PROF. ISAAC ADEWOLE TO IMPLEMENT COURTS ORDERS/JUDGEMENTS:
Learned scholars are largely in agreement that industrial action has wide-ranging legal implications both on individual and collective nature.
Employees take strike action to gain an alteration, and not termination of the contract. As neither side in the strike expects to be broken off at the end of the strike, the true intention of the parties is to suspend the contract for the period of the strike.
The corollary of the foregoing extrapolations strengthens the established postulation that it is within the legal rights of employees to resort to strike action in deserving cases in order to force a fair deal out of their employer’s hand as it is now the case with JOHESU.
One of the thorny issues being agitated for by JOHESU is the rather unfortunate refusal of the Federal Government of Nigeria and the Federal Ministry of Health under the aegis of Prof. Isaac Adewole to implement subsisting court judgements delivered in its favour after they were handed down despite repeated agreements between the feuding parties to effect same. This again opens the pandora box of the deleterious consequences of disobedience to the orders of courts.
In the decided case of Onwualu v. Mokwe (1991) 1 NWLR (pt. 585) 146 @ 154-155, the Nigerian court of appeal counselled us thus;
“It is a well settled law that an order of the court must be obeyed right or wrong, valid or invalid. It does not lie in the mouth of a litigant to say ‘I will not obey such an order because it is wrong or invalid’.
Such a stance by the courts is necessary in order to protect the integrity of the courts. There is a line of decision which supports the above proposition, In the case of Balonwu V. Obi (2007-2010) 4 LLRN 1789, the same court of appeal expanded the frontiers of this principle thus;
“An order of court whether valid or not must be obeyed until it is set aside. An order of court must be obeyed as long as it is subsisting by all no matter how lowly or highly placed in the society. This is what the rule of law is all about hence the courts have always stressed the need for obedience to court orders.”
It is however, regrettably saddening, that Prof. Isaac Adewole and Dr. Chris Ngige who are both representatives of the Federal Government, have blatantly refused to obey subsisting court orders/judgements, implications of which are very dangerous as admirably captured by the Nigerian court of appeal in this lucid literature;
“Obeying court orders is both a legal and moral obligation but you find that court orders are toyed with both by lawyers and litigating public.
Indeed for the politicians, the rule of law is non existent until it suits their purpose, and it is only then that it is observed to the letter. Without a strict adherence to the rule of law our nascent democracy and indeed our constitution will only be worth the paper on which it is written.
What makes a great country is adherence to the rule of law. They should implement and obey court orders/judgements or risk being seen as enemies of democracy, equity and fairness.
The persistent refusal of the Federal Government to comply with subsisting court orders/judgments of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN), has sent the JOHESU workers home thereby effectively putting our numerous health institutions under firm lock and key.
Part of the ‘wide-ranging’ consequences of JOHESU industrial action include but not limited to that the Federal Government;
i: Is depriving the JOHESU workers of their legitimate earning,
ii: Is showing contempt to the workers who voted her into office by shutting down their source of livelihood rendering them impoverished thereby,
iii: Is rubbishing the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which the state officials have sworn an oath to protect and defend to the best of their ability,
iii: Is encouraging the rise of anarchy, anomy and lawlessness precipitating disaster thereby.
While the JOHESU conflagration rages on, the hapless masses [particularly the unfortunate patients lying critically ill and unattended to in different hospitals] are the ones holding the shorter end of the stick like the proverbial grass that suffers in the course of the fight between two elephants.
After all said and done, it behoves our government, Federal Ministry of Health, National Assembly, Federal Ministry of Labor, Employment and Productivity, both States and Local Governments e.t.c to do all within their powers [which many believe are yet to do] to engage JOHESU in a constructive dialogue, build consensus and sincerely commit itself to a result-oriented decision that would effectively and comprehensively address the grievances of the aggrieved JOHESU workers and return them back to our health institutions without any further delay.
This is one instance where further delay on the part of the Federal Government ought not to be brooked. At the end, the Government primarily still shoulders the grave constitutional responsibility of securing the “welfare” of the citizenry. This bounded responsibility cannot be said to have been fulfilled in the absence of functional health institutions.
All said, the time to end this impasse is now or the Minister of Health Prof. Isaac Adewole be sacked for his ineptitude and incompetence to resolve the pending strike action, disobedience to court orders/judgements and gross negligence of his statutory duties to the Nigerian people.
SCT. CHUWKWUDI, OBINNA
YMLSF National Publicity Secretary