By Johnbosco Agbakwuru
THE Federal Government Thursday lamented the disparity in payment of foreign doctors by some states, saying that some states in Nigeria employ foreign doctors and pay them five times higher than they pay their Nigerian counterparts.
The Minister of Labour and Employment Senator Chris Ngige raised the concern when he received the Chairman of the Federal Character Commission (FCC), Dr Muheeba Dankaka and other federal commissioners who paid him a courtesy visit in his office.
He warned that such preferential treatment given to foreigners by some states ahead of their Nigerian counterparts does not encourage national unity and loyalty.
Senator Ngige, who is a medical doctor by profession charged the FCC to use its constitutional mandate to promote national unity and loyalty, rather than concentrate their efforts only on the public sector, especially in job recruitment.
He also appealed to the commission to ensure equitable distribution of amenities, infrastructure and social services in the country.
According to him, “The constitution did not say that you do only cases in the public sector. There are areas we need you to look into especially where the constitution is silent.
“We have cases where doctors are employed from Egypt, Cuba and Pakistan and they are paid five times what the Nigerian doctor will get if you convert the foreign exchange they use to pay them.
“But in this country, I was here when some of my teachers left from South East to go and teach in the North East at a time. They left because we had enough down there to export to our brothers. They were paid with our local currency and given some other incentives, which at the end of the day make the economy of those states to be alright.
“Whether you like it or not, if some people are poor in Nigeria in the poverty index rating, when the Nigerian poverty index is being taken, it will be an aggregate, including those places. If it is health, when the health parameters are being taken, it is for the whole. So, FCC can go into that area.”
Ngige urged the FCC to persuade the state governments to open up and advertise those jobs, so that Nigerians can come whether from South-East, South South or North Central to come and fill the gap.
He further advised the commission to be revolutionary and do new things, using its broad mandate, established by Section 14 (3) of the 1999 Nigerian constitution (as amended).
He said, “Our constitution is the Supreme law of the land. And any law made by anybody, whether national and state assembly that is in conflict with constitution is void. So, you people have a strong mandate from the supreme law of the land. I think you should help us build a new country.
“A country where we will not be talking about hatred because it is some of these perceptions that cannot even be separated from reality that breeds all the discontent and hate speeches we see.
“We must strive to unite our country. All these North and South, East and West, they are artificial geographical demarcations. One body that can unite our country is FCC. As you are here now, you are no longer politicians.
“We count on your chairman that wherever she goes to fly the umbrella of justice, freedom and fair play. We need it for Nigerian workers. We need it for Nigerian people. If we distribute schools well, people will go to school in the areas where there are no schools now. The almajiris will get western education. When we educate people, we have liberated them from poverty and ignorance which breeds all these security issues all over.”
The Labour and Employment Minister blamed the economic situation which has eaten into individual pockets for worsening labour dispute issues in the country, adding that labour unions are now remembering agreements they signed with the previous adminstartions, some dating back to 2009 and even 2002.
He said, “The President said we are alive to our responsibilities and we do not owe any worker salaries. The president is strong on that and that is why we have not retrenched anybody. He is also strong on the fact that government is a continuum.
“If they now remember that the previous administration owed them 2009, we will not say no. we will say yes. But we will pay you based on our capacity to pay and ability to pay.
“Those allowances can be stretched and we pay you in tranches. That is what we have been doing with ASUU, NASU, and JOHESU.
He maintained that the resident doctors who were not paid were those illegally recruited by Chief Medical Directors (CMDs) without necessary approval.
“You people know the mandate for recruitment. The Federal Ministry involved will give approval. The office of the Head of Service of the Federation will give approval. Budget Office will give approval. These three approvals come to you in Federal Character Commission for final approval and issuing of compliance letter. But in the case of these resident doctors, their letters were issued without any of these approvals.
“The CMDs who did that said they thought they could pay them through GFMIS platform, an ad hoc platform used for sundry expenses. Personnel costs have been removed from GFMIS. That is the problem.
Every payment for personnel costs is done under IPPIS. But, now a waiver has been given. It will come to you in the FCC to give compliance certificate.
“We explained to them that it is not a one bus stop thing. It cannot be done in one day. They said no, we are going on strike. You go on strike to force government to regularize an irregularity. It is not done.”
Ngige disclosed that the request for compliance letter would be sent to the FCC by the Federal Ministry of Health before the end of the week and urged the commission to give the request expeditious attention.
Earlier the Chairman of FCC, Dankaka noted that the commission was established to promote the unity of the country and ensure strong and indivisible nation, fostering sense of belonging, fairness, equality and justice.
She said they have the mandate to ensure the fair distribution of infrastructure, amenities and social service, assuring that the commission under her would discharge its mandate in a manner to eschew the feeling of marginalization from any quarters of the country.