YAOUNDÈ, Cameroon – Even as Nigeria reels from the COVID-19 pandemic that has already killed more than 2,200 people, the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) have continued their strike, begun August 2.

The resident doctors – some 16,800 people or about 40 percent of the country’s 42,000 registered doctors – are on strike to compel the government to honor an earlier agreement to give them backpay, hazard allowances and benefits for families of members who die battling the disease.

Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Abuja is urging the federal government to take decisive action to bring the strike to a halt and save lives that will most probably be lost if the doctors don’t go back to work.

“It has become normal for the Government to dilly dally in finding the best solutions until people have died or suffered irreversible damages,” the archbishop said during his Sunday Mass.

“Frequent industrial actions of various professional groups reflect the poor attention given to workers with very sensitive responsibilities. It is not surprising therefore that many of our doctors are happily taking job opportunities in European countries and beyond, where their services are needed and valued,” he said.

“It appears not to disturb our authorities that we are losing many health experts, not because they want to leave the country, but because they don’t experience any job satisfaction and their effort to serve patriotically is not reciprocated by a conducive working environment and appropriate remuneration and incentives,” Kaigama added.

Government Response infuriates doctors

On Sunday, NARD rejected a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) presented to it by the Federal Government.

“We rejected the MoU. we didn’t sign it because we feel we are being punished for the failures of those in government,” said NARD National President, Dr. Okhuaihesuyi Uyilawa after a closed-door meeting with government officials.

He didn’t disclose the clauses that led his association to reject the MoU, and the terms of the memorandum have not been revealed to the media.

Uyilawa said the strike will continue until all their demands are met.

But the country’s Minister of Labor and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige, said other unions present at Sunday’s negotiations did sign the MoU.

Meanwhile, a non-governmental association, Rights for All International, had earlier filed an ex parte application urging the National Industrial Court in Abuja to order the Nigerian resident doctors to suspend their nationwide strike.

The NGO’s lawyer, Nnamdi Okere, spoke of “an extreme health emergency” requiring the doctors to be urgently ordered back to work.

“The strike action amounts to an act calculated to obstruct the smooth running of essential services and therefore callous, ill-conceived, wicked, illegal, unconstitutional, null and void,” Okere wrote in his application.

But the judge, John Targema ruled that he couldn’t issue a “restraining order” on NARD without hearing their own side of the story.

He also said a similar application filed by the Federal government could not be heard because of procedural flaws.

Despite these setbacks, Kaigama has expressed optimism that the third wave of COVID-19, “which is here, and infections and fatality rates are on the increase, will convince the government to swing into positive action to see that the resident doctors resume their duties, with the needed medical measures taken to save lives.”

The archbishop said the continuing strike could worsen the already precarious situation, which includes the worsening security situation due to attacks by Boko Haram and Islamist Fulani herdsmen.

“It is disheartening that we repeatedly hear stories of killings, acts of inhumanity and barbarism such as cutting down food crops in farmlands, burning and looting houses and property and other ills. Many of our people are being ravaged by poverty,” he said.

Kaigama said the burdens of Nigerians were so heavy that many of them wished “in their hearts not to be alive to face the problems of today.”

“But God is always there in the midst of our situations to comfort us. He comes to us in the form of friends, priests, colleagues, and He comes to us above all in His word and Holy Communion to comfort us. He alone is the medicine that can calm our fears and renew our strength for the journey ahead of us. This is why the holy body and blood of Christ is also called Viaticum meaning, food for the journey,” he said.

The archbishop added that amid the trials and tribulations Nigerians feel today, hope remains the only thing that can keep them going.

“We need hope to trust again in our political leaders. We need hope to trust again in the dream of a better Nigeria, and we must rise above the clouds of hopelessness, anger and division and engage ourselves in constructive thinking and action,” he said.