Stephen Ukandu, Umuahia
Doctors in Abia State, Thursday, besieged the Government House Umuahia, to protest 24-month salary arrears owed their colleagues at the Abia State University Teaching Hospital Aba, ABSUTH; and Health Management Board.
This is coming about three months after the Nigerian Medical Association, NMA in the state had threatened to cripple the entire health sector if Government failed to clear the backlog of salary arrears owed their affected members.
According to the protesting doctors while doctors and other staff of ABSUTH are owed for two years, workers including doctors at the Health Management Board, are owed for 13 months.
They regretted that despite repeated appeals to Government to defray the backlog of salary arrears, the affected doctors had been abandoned to their fate.
Peeved by the plight of the affected doctors, Abia doctors converged at the parking lot of the Federal Medical Centre Umuahia from where they marched to the entrance gate to the Government House.
Chanting solidarity songs as they marched, the visibly aggrieved doctors told the State Government to stop punishing doctors in the state.
The aggrieved doctors who were decked in their Ward Coats carried placards with different inscriptions such as: “Our salary is our entitlement;” “2 years without salary ‘no be jokes’;” “Man’s inhumanity to man;” “Doctors lives matter;” among others.
They renounced the current administration in the state, saying it has no sympathy for workers.
Addressing newsmen and the protesters, NMA Chairman, Abia State chapter, Dr Isaiah Abali, described the condition of doctors in the state as hellish.
He said that the affected doctors could no longer cope with their family responsibilities, a situation, he said was an insult to the medical profession.
The NMA boss wondered whether it was a curse to work for Abia State Government.
Dr Abali said the union was tired of unending stories and excuses from Government on why salaries were not paid, hence the protest.
He said that the protest had no political undertones, while praying God to judge anybody trying to play politics with the welfare of Abia doctors.
The NMA boss said that the role of doctors in society was so critical that no responsible Government should toy with them.
He pleaded with the State Government to clear the backlog of salary arrears owed doctors in the State and put machinery in motion to guarantee regular payment of workers’ salaries.
Speaking earlier, NMA Secretary, Dr Daniel Ekeleme, recounted the ordeals of doctors in the hands of their landlords following their inability to renew their house rents.
He regretted that medical doctors who previously commanded respect had become objects of mockery in Abia State.
“Land lords no longer accept Abia doctors because we can’t pay house rent any more. Some of us can no longer pay our children ‘s school fees. Feeding has become a big challenge now, all because Abia State Government has refused to pay us.
“Abia doctors are the least paid in the country. Out of the 36 states, Abia is the only state where doctors are owed for years.
“We have begged, we have made appeals but they fell on deaf ears; now we are here so the world can hear us. Doctors are dying in Abia. Next time we will come with the bodies of some of our members who have died as a result of hardship. Is it a curse to be a doctor in Abia?”
The NMA scribe called on Government to stop making mockery of the noble medical profession.
Speaking also, a Consultant Hematologist at ABSUTH, Dr Chika Uche, said it was wickedness for Government which “receives allocation every month” to pay political office holders with jumbo allowances but owe workers who earn peanuts.
She regretted that some of the staff members of the affected institutions include cleaners and other non-medical staff with meagre pay.
Dr Uche described the attitude of Government to the plight of doctors as cruel.
Although the doctors were at the Government House entrance gate for a while, no Government official showed up to receive or talk to them.
After waiting without anyone coming to hear them, the doctors returned to the FMC where they had earlier converged before taking off.
Two Hilux vans of heavily armed police personnel were seen escorting the protesting doctors.