Condemns privatisation of health care
Comrade Biobelemoye J. Josiah was re-elected for a second four-year term as president of the Medical and Health Workers’ Union of Nigeria, at the 10th Quadrennial National Delegates Conference of the union, which took place on 27-28 March at Abuja. 25 members were also elected as National Executive Committee (NEC) members.
In his speech to the Conference, he demanded immediate reversal of privatisation in the health sector, across the country, and redress for whistle-blowers who have been victimised at the Federal Medical Centre, Owerri.
According to Comrade Bio, as he is fondly called by members of the union, the capitalist policy of privatisation of health services, particularly in the tertiary health sector has “cast a very gloomy and dark cloud on the horizon in the Nigerian health care delivery system”.
The federal government’s sharp turn to privatisation and commercialisation of health services commenced in 2005 as part of President Obasanjo’s public service reform programme. Every government since then has equally pursued this approach, including the APC government of President Buhari over the last four years.
This clearly shows there is little difference between the PDP and APC. Trade unions in the sector have equally fought back every inch of the way over the last fourteen years, managing to slow down the process, but not to stop it.
The process started with the out-sourcing of “non-clinical” functions in teaching hospitals, national specialist hospitals and federal medical centres. These included; catering, gardening, laundry and security. Then some clinical services were included such as radiology and physiotherapy. Each step saw thousands of full-time health workers losing their jobs.
Private labour contractors provided the outsourced services at higher prices, with casual staff delivering these. In more recent times, the federal government has embraced “public private partnerships” (PPPs) in the sector. The Federal Medical Centre Owerri was supposed to be the flagship example of how PPPs can work in the health services.
However, what it has shown is how privatisation results in rampant corruption. The management of the FMC has been embroiled in a series of allegations of corruption. The federal government tried to protect the former Medical Director of the Centre, Dr Angela Uwakem, even after leaked papers revealed her culpability in fraud and contempt for the Public Service Rules, in pursuit of privatisation of the hospital in the name of PPP.
It took mass action by the Join Health Sector Unions (JOHESU) which shut down the FMC in 2016 for her to be relieved of the office. But little has been heard of her case again. Rather, workers who texposed Dr Uwakem and PPPs for the fraud they were victimised. 700 of them were sacked. So much for the APC government’s commitment to fighting corruption!
Comrade Biobelemoye called for the workers reinstatement and due acknowledgement of their role as whistle-blowers. Socialist Worker lends its voice to this call and enjoins the JOHESU to mobilise its membership across the country for an all out industrial action to demand the immediate and unconditional reinstatement of the 700 workers.
Delegates at the conference equally deliberated on the anti-democratic manner in which the ministries of health are being run. They expressed the view that all professional cadres should have a sense of belonging and be involved in the decision-making process. This will go a long way in engendering the team spirit required for quality health care delivery.
During the conference, delegates visited the building site of the 150-bed MHWUN specialist hospital. When completed, the hospital will be run as a non-profit concern aimed at challenging government to provide avoidable, accessible and affordable healthcare services with the MHWUN example.
Speaking on behalf of the newly elected NEC, the end of the NDC, Comrade Biobelemoye assured members of the union of full commitment to struggle in defence of public health care delivery and for the rights and interests of health workers over the next four years.
by Segun OGUN