By Ononye VC
THE Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors has faulted the position of the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, that the continuation of its members’ strike is contemptuous.
It said if the industrial action was contemptuous, then Ngige and the government were also acting in contempt of court by withholding their salaries.
The first Vice President of NARD, Adejo Arome, disclosed this in an interview with The PUNCH.
Arome was reacting to a statement made by Ngige while speaking on a Channels Television programme, ‘Sunday Politics’.
Citing last Friday’s order by Justice Bashar Alkali of the National Industrial Court sitting in Abuja that doctors should resume work while continuing with its negotiations with the Federal Government, the minister said their insistence on continuing the strike was contemptuous.
But Arome said Ngige and the government were also liable.
He recalled that the initial pronouncement of the court was that all parties to the dispute should suspend hostilities.
He said government’s decision to withhold the salaries of the striking doctors showed that the government did not suspend hostilities, hence also acting in contempt of court.
He said, “The instruction of the court initially was that all parties should suspend hostilities. Has Ngige stopped his own hostilities? Did they pay us? No, they didn’t. This means they are also guilty of contempt of court order.
“You said we should come back to the negotiation table and we are saying ‘pay us first, pay the people you owe’ but you refused. Ngige did not invite us for any interview or negotiation until after we got the court order and it was Ngige that filed it.
“The Minister of Health did not take us to court, it was Ngige. The Ministry of Health has its own issues but it was the Ministry of Labour and Employment that took us to court.”
Shortly after the court’s ruling on Friday, NARD said it was not satisfied with the verdict and said its lawyers have been directed to appeal it.
When asked for the latest on the appeal, Arome said the association’s lawyers have filed the appeal on Friday.
“We have filed an appeal. We filed it on that Friday and we are happy our lawyers are helping us to fight the oppression of Ngige,” he said.
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Ifedayo Adedipe, told Punch that while everyone was expected to abide by court rulings, there were exceptions if the matter had been appealed.
According to him, the striking doctors would not have been said to have committed contempt of court if they had appealed and filed an application for a stay of execution.
He said, “My understanding of the state of the law and as stated in Section 287 of the 1999 Constitution as amended is that every person and authority is bound to obey the decisions of the court that are rendered in the course of adjudication.
“However, while parties are expected to obey, a situation may arise that the decision is appealed against and an application for stay is made, that will not amount to contempt.
“If the doctors had done this, they would not have committed contempt. Generally, what is happening in the health sector is a disgrace.”
Reacting to claims by a NARD official, Dr Julian Ojebo, that the NARD would not suspend the strike, Ngige had in the Sunday interview said, “That is contemptuous. That is contempt of the court decision.
“My take is to invite them back and show them the degree of implementation of the MoU they signed in my office. They refused to sign but their parent body, NMA, signed; consultants’ association signed, and others.”