HOUSE OFFICERS‘ STRIKE: MDCN CANNOT ARROGATE TO ITSELF THE POWER IT DOES NOT HAVE

Dr Paul John ,mazipauljohn@gmail.com ,08083658038

I was shocked after reading the news recently published in the Punch newspaper titled ‘’ FG bars trainee doctors from joining strikes’’.

Let it be clear to the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN) chairman that neither his council nor the federal ministry of health has any legal right to infringe on the fundamental rights of the doctors. By virtue of provisions of section 40 of the Nigerian constitution, as amended, every person (including the medical doctors) shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons, and in particular he may form or belong to any political party, trade union or any other association for the protection of his interests.

Right to freedom of association is a fundamental right issue hence MDCN is not authorized by law to delve into Fundamental rights issues. In case the MDCN chairman  has forgotten the statutory roles of his council, I will refer him to sections one and three of the Medical and Dental Practitioners Act M8 , Laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and rule 8 of the Code Of Medical Ethics (COME) for him to see the jurisdiction of his council.

Minister of Health who controls the Council by virtue of section 4 of MDPA

The Punch newspaper reported that MDCN chairman  clearly stated that  ‘’  they ( intern medical doctors and dental surgeons  ) were not allowed to join industrial unions or associations during the 12 months period so as to enable them to concentrate on their training . I will refer the MDCN chairman  to rule 45(2) of COME which authorized the intern medical doctors and dental surgeons to join industrial actions. The rule states that before participating in withdrawal of services, doctors undergoing internship training must bear in mind the registration requirement for them to have completed specified periods of posting in the major disciplines during the internship. Periods on strikes would not count for this purpose. So, where did the MDCN chairman cite the said law that bars intern medical doctors and dental surgeons from participating in industrial actions? Is there another law he operates outside the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended; the Nigerian Labour laws; the Code of Medical Ethics; and the Medical and Dental Practitioners Act (MDPA) ,Cap 221 laws of the federal Republic of Nigeria 2004,or Cap M8 laws of the Federal Republic of  Nigeria 2004?

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The difference between man and other lower animals is justice 

I want to put it to the MDCN chairman  that there is no law enforceable in Nigeria that bars intern medical doctors from participating in industrial actions .It is clear from rule 45(2) of COME that when an intern medical doctor has spent let us say 8 months in the internship and he embarks on an industrial action, for let us say  two months ,when he comes back from the strike ,the two months he spent on strike will not be counted for him hence he will start from where he stopped before embarking on the strike.

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The only Council empowered to regulate medical practice in Nigeria

Another disheartening  statement credited to the MDCN chairman  by the Punch newspaper states that  ”By law, they ( the house officers ) are not supposed to join any association until they are fully registered as doctors. For now, they are on probation and they should not belong to any union or join in strike’. Which law was MDCN chairman referring to? It may interest the MDCN chairman  to know that intern medical doctors are members of the Association of Resident Doctors (ARD) of the respective hospitals/centers. If they are not supposed to join any association as claimed by the MDCN chairman  why are NMA and ARD dues deducted from their salaries or is NMA or ARD not an association? Hope the MDCN chairman  is aware that marriage is a union too, so is it also an illegal act for the intern medical doctors and dental surgeons to marry during the internship?

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The national headquarters of MDCN 

Another statement credited to the MDCN chairman  states that  ‘’ anybody who is caught (in the act of embarking on strikes)  will be brought before the council and if found guilty, will be sanctioned. The person may be barred from practice.” Is it not laughable to illegally bar an intern medical doctor from practice for enforcing his fundamental human right? I know that the aim of this statement was to instill fear in the young doctors so that they could remain fearful and not being expressive as seen in saner climes. With such fearful minds the young doctors will be smiling while suffering because the ‘capital punishment ‘of barring them from practice awaits them if they ever complain about the suffering they are passing through.

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Doctors protesting their ill-treatment by their employers and society at large 

The MDCN chairman during the swearing-in of 1,021 foreign trained medical and dental graduates in Abuja went ahead  to state that ‘one of the implications of the transfer of supervisory role to the MDCN was that it would instill more discipline and ensure that doctors on internship would no longer be compelled to join others in the incessant industrial action thereby deviating from the set objectives of the programme.’ I want to ask the MDCN chairman what happens when Medical and Dental Consultants Association of Nigeria (MDCAN ) embarks on strike ? Will the intern medical doctors assume the roles of the consultants and continue managing the patients or will they become the security agents so that they can watch over the patients till the MDCAN members call off their strike since they are now being compelled not to join any strike?

Before MDCN chairman will answer that question, let me refer him to rule 43 of COME which defines who a Responsible Medical Officer is. This rule makes it clear that each patient that is registered or admitted into a health facility is registered in the name of the Responsible Medical Officer and this officer takes full responsibility for the care of the patient. The Responsible Medical Officer is the medical consultant or the principal medical officer depending on which of the two exists in the health facility. It should be noted that it is the Responsible Medical Officer that MDCN investigation tribunal/panel holds responsible when the management of a patient goes awry.

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Doctors during an induction ceremony 

I hope when MDCAN goes on strike and intern medical doctors and dental surgeons , while avoiding joining the strike , will be automatically elevated to the statuses of Responsible Medical Officers such that each patient is registered in the name of each intern medical doctor? I also hope that the same MDCN through their investigation panel/tribunal will not come tomorrow to accuse the intern medical doctors and dental surgeons of violating rule 9(1a) of COME which states that a qualified medical doctor or dental surgeon (with provisional licence) should undertake internship under the supervision of registered consultants or specialists in a hospital approved by the council for internship training . This rule goes ahead to warn intern medical doctors and dental surgeons that their provisional registration does not entitle them to set up and run an independent practice on their own.

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The Legislative powers of the federation  to enact or repeal laws involving Fundamental Human Rights and others laws are vested in the National Assembly as contained in section 4 of the Nigerian constitution, not in  MDCN 

On the issue of describing as an illegal act , of intern medical doctors and dental surgeons , joining associations or embarking on strikes , I will refer the MDCN chairman  to Chapter 9 of the Criminal code, Laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria , section 62 of the code defines what an unlawful society/association is . The said section goes ahead to state that only the National council of ministers and  Order of the president can declare an association/society unlawful hence the code does not empower the MDCN chairman to declare as an illegal act either the ARD that intern medical doctors belong to  or the act of joining the association (ARD ) .

I also want to remind the MDCN chairman  that section 34(1b) of the Nigerian constitution clearly states that  ‘’no person shall he held in slavery or servitude’’ so the intern medical doctors have every legal rights to embark on an industrial action to ensure their demands are met and they are not treated as slaves because industrial actions  remain the only ‘language ‘ our leaders understand after many periods of moral persuasions  .

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The judiciary powers of the federation to declare when to deny or uphold the  Fundamental Human Rights of the doctors and other citizens are vested in the courts as contained in section 6 of the Nigerian constitution, not in  MDCN 

I find it somewhat confusing why MDCN does not complain when undergraduate medical training of final year medical students is interrupted with incessant ASUU strikes but will now be much interested during the one year internship training of medical doctors. I will advise the MDCN chairman  to concentrate his energy in removing those things that make not only the intern medical doctors and dental surgeons  but also their superiors to embark on strikes. I am aware that the council is under the control of the Minister of Health  as clearly stated in section 4 of the Cap M8,Laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 2004 and that the  Minister of  Health is a political appointee of  Mr President hence there is an ‘implied law’ that no worker under the employment of a government will oppose the government , but I want to humbly plead with the MDCN chairman  to work in synergy with the Minister of Health to remove all the things that make health workers embark on strikes. It is ridiculous  for health workers not to protest or embark on strikes when their members are being kidnapped, killed, molested or Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) not provided for them in this period of Covid-19 pandemic.

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National Industrial courts settle any rift between the employers and their  employees 

Finally ,I will like the MDCN chairman  to explain if it is also not unlawful  ( since we are in the era of observing illegal acts ) for registered practitioners to be paying NMA dues and annual practising fees  when rule 5(5) of COME clearly states that all medical and dental practitioners who have paid their annual practising fees become, automatically ,financial members of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA ) and for the purpose of the Medical and Medical and Dental Act are entitled to all rights and privileges appertaining to members .

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Lawyers are eagerly waiting to apply section 46 of the Nigerian constitution, as amended  in case any citizen alleges that his fundamental Human rights have been infringed on 

Finally, I want to remind the management of Punch newspapers that intern medical doctors or dental surgeons are not referred to as trainee doctors. They are qualified medical doctors as contained in rule 9(1a) of COME hence they should be addressed as qualified medical doctors undergoing internship or better still be called intern medical doctors or dental surgeons . They can also be called house officers .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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