A vote against medical service extension bill

17th April 2023

Sheriffdeen Tella

By Sheriffdeen Tella

It now looks like a sin to study medicine in Nigeria. The National Assembly is said to be considering a bill to compel medical and dental graduates to compulsorily render five-year service before being granted licence to practice! What an oppressive bill? One cannot but agree with the position of the medical doctors in the diaspora that the policy will be counterproductive and will not solve the problem it is meant to solve. The National Assembly that is supposed to protect the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria with respect to freedom of movement is now the one planning to restrict movement of Nigerians to any part of the world.

It is understood that the bill is premised on the fact that many medical personnel migrate to other countries as soon as they graduate despite the heavy government subsidy they enjoyed while studying. How was the subsidy calculated to amount to three to five years compulsory service? How much subsidy is spent on those who studied in private universities, who paid fees that triple or quadruple the fees in public universities? Or, are they going to discriminate between graduates of public and private universities in the licence delay arrangement?

Talking about subsidy, what is the level of funding university education by the government? The underfunding of the public universities covers all courses and even the teachers. That has been one of the major grouses with the Academic Staff Union of Universities over the years. Even the professors in the university are less paid than chief lecturers in the polytechnics, yet they are conscious of the fact that their products will be dealing with human lives and have to be thoroughly trained. So, the lecturers are equally subsidising the training of these medical students. Unfortunately also, the equipment for teaching practical aspects of the courses in science, medicine and engineering in public universities are obsolete and inadequate for modern science. The students are taught what we refer to as ‘theories of practical.’

I had the opportunity to interview some Nigerian medical personnel who migrated to the United Kingdom recently. I asked about how they have been coping with their jobs, given noticeable deficiencies at home. It was then I learnt that they were employed on the basis that they are trainable. They have to undergo training and examinations, like another form of housemanship, for over 18 months before getting into real hospital practice. The exposure received at home may not be adequate in practical terms but do assist them to recognise the equipment and get used to them within a short period. Imagine if they had stayed at home for five years and become local champions!

Many young academics in science, social sciences and mathematics are always eager to get opportunities to travel out for post-doctoral fellowship with the hope of catching up with their colleagues around the globe. Many departments in such disciplines have been counting their losses after the last ASUU strike, as many of the young lecturers have moved on. Maybe the National Assembly members will have to legislate again when they find other professionals migrating.

There have been situations in which older academics attempted to present papers at international conferences only to find out that they are far behind in methodology. Some years ago, a friend told me how he could not present his paper in a United States conference when the presentation by another colleague, also from an African country, was torn into pieces on the basis of methodology, which he could not even understand because it looked more advanced than what he used in his research. Before he was called to present, he had removed his name tag to avoid recognition and embarrassment. Lately, TETFund has come to the aid of many public universities in this regard but it is still a far cry.

While people like the Minister of Labour, Chris Ngige see japa as an opportunity for Nigeria to benefit from the corresponding remittances and needs to be encouraged, the members of the National Assembly see the syndrome as loss of skilled labour that must be prevented. I see it as an opportunity for our youths to benefit from global technological advancement such that whenever we have a good government that provides a conducive environment for Nigerians to realise their potential, create job opportunities and promote investments, we will have a ready-made pool of experts coming home to contribute to rapid development of the country.

That brings us to the bill that the National Assembly should be sponsoring but we shall return to it later. In the first instance, it is not just the medical personnel that are leaving the country in droves. It covers all categories of youths and in some cases, some adults too. The data of non-medical graduates that have japa in the last few years is still being compiled and the result will be staggering. They are leaving because of joblessness. After graduation, some of these youths would stay with their parents, jobless for years and without a future. Those who have jobs receive salaries that cannot provide them with basic needs such as clothing, feeding and decent accommodation. Some state governments do not pay salaries regularly while some private sector businesses latch on to the unfortunate situation of massive unemployment to under pay workers as if they are helping them.

Nigerian labour is always at the receiving end. Some private sector entrepreneurs treat labour like slaves and the government that should be seen to protect its citizens is also complicit. The labour union officials, in most cases, are in those positions to serve themselves or fulfill their personal ambitions. Most banks employ graduates on contract as salesgirls who have to run around to mobilise deposits through holy, unholy or unethical means. The factories engage the graduates as clerks or factory workers on contract working almost 18 hours a day with poor salary and without receiving overtime allowance. Even when lecturers ask for excess work allowance, which is akin to overtime because of shortage of academic staff relative to growing number of students, there must be arm-twisting or strike and advertisement as if they are asking for favour from the employers.

The outcome of all these is poor work ethics such as moonlighting, stealing of workplace property, absenteeism, and poor output generally. The workers just have to hang on because labour mobility is restricted by lack of job opportunities due to the shrinking economy. Fortunately, the advanced economies are suffering from what is referred to as ‘ageing society’ that needs young people to work in their hospitals, factories and industries. Globalisaiton has eased labour mobility. In economics, we recognise the need for labour to move from job to another and some of the major considerations are the salary adequacy to meet a large part of needs; the job environment in terms of facilities available for carrying out tasks; step up or step down from the present job; benefits package and social environment.

The National Assembly should be passing bills on employment generations or job creation, conducive environment in workplaces, maintenance of professional integrity in the workplace, easy labour mobility within and outside the country, punishment for poor pay or delay in payment or owing workers’ salaries, and good governance. A bill to restrict or discriminate against labour or labour free movement is against both the Nigerian constitution and the international labour law in which Nigeria is a signatory. The National Assembly bills should address bad governance, corruption and injustice. These are what make people migrate from their countries and the reversal will also encourage return.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *