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Editorial

No To Ban On Doctors’ Strike

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The House of Representatives may, on resumption from its Christmas and New Year recess, examine a bill prohibiting strike for medical professionals in the enrolment of the three tiers of government. The bill, if passed, will facilitate administrative and judicial processes for resolving trade disputes involving medical practitioners in government employment.
It is entitled: “An Act to Amend the Trade Disputes Act Cap T8, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004 to Prohibit Medical Practitioners in the Employment of Federal, State, and Local Governments (as employees in the essential service sector) from Embarking on Strike and to Accelerate Administrative and Judicial Proceedings in the Determination of Trade Disputes Involving Them and Related Matters.”
Sponsored by Rep Simon Chukwuemeka Atigwe (PDP, Enugu), the bill, which is entered on the House Journal as House Bill (HB) 1618, had earlier scaled first reading in the House and is thought to be scheduled for second reading which is the debate on the general principles of the bill before it goes for public hearing.
Reacting to the proposed law, the Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) and the Joint Health Sector Union (JOHESU) knocked members of the House of Representatives over plans to proscribe strikes in the health sector. The bodies described a bill to that effect as draconian and an onslaught on the democratic rights of employees.
Recall that doctors and other health workers frequently get involved in industrial actions, which have paralysed the health system in the country. In 2021, for example, the NARD were on strike for 63 days because the government was unable to meet its demands. The National Association of Nigerian Nurses and Midwives, Lagos State chapter, is also proposing to go on a strike by January 10 over the failure of the state government to meet its demands.
There is no doubt that this move by the legislators will amount to a gross violation of the rights of the medical workers to declare their grievances with amicable negotiation and, as a last resort, launching industrial action. The right to strike is a universal democratic right of all employees, regardless of their workplace – whether private or public.
Our legislators must recognise that industrial actions or strikes are not undertaken for nothing; some issues contribute to them. If there must be a law to ban strikes in the medical sector, then, the House of Representatives should first promulgate a law that will inhibit the government from reneging on several agreements it enters into with health employees.
Furthermore, there should be laws to prevent the government from delays in payment of salaries, pensions and gratuities, promotion and disbursement of entitlements of workers. They should pass legislation that requires us to improve the infrastructure in our hospitals and ensure that consumables are available at all times.
Anything short of that as preconditions to the law to prohibit strikes by health workers means the government wants to arm-twist, gag and turn health providers in Nigeria into captives and lame ducks. The result of this will particularly be a spike in the already colossal migration of the workers to other countries with better service conditions, where their efforts, abilities, and expertise are better recognised.
Indeed, the bill is tumultuous and runs counter to the freedom of expression of health workers. Instead of creating a system in which medical workers do not have to go on strike, the Federal Government seeks to infringe on their rights to declare their resentment. Unfortunately, these legislators fail to understand the privileges that democracy confers. Why would legislators, who are supposed to sympathise with Nigerians as representatives of the people, come forward with such a bill? Shame!
Medical and health workers’ strikes are a global phenomenon, reported in both remarkably developed and progressive countries. Strikes by health workers are of increasing concern for international and local health authorities. They are an obstacle to achieving the universal health coverage contemplated by the World Health Organisation.
However, while the right to strike is regarded a fundamental one, medical workers in Nigeria, notably doctors, must realise that they have a moral duty to adhere to the Hippocratic tenets of the medical profession and fiduciary obligation to their patients. Under Hippocrates oath, doctors are deemed to be in a social contract and obliged to treat a patient’s health and life as a preference over everything else and going on strike may be seen as a contravention of such contract.
As essential workers, Nigerian doctors and health care providers should invariably strike a balance between improved health care services for patients and the need to press for justifiable wages for themselves to fulfill their primary human needs like everyone. So, we advise health workers in this country to act in the best interests of patients and make their health and their lives a priority above all else.
Resolving persistent strikes in the health sector calls for fiscal and ethical solutions and a moral commitment to promoting the health and welfare of Nigerians. All stakeholders involved in the management of the medical profession in this country are required to come to the negotiating table. A conference between health workers’ unions and associations and the Nigerian government is long overdue. Instead of banning strikes in the sector, a work system must be established where medical staff see no reason to declare a collective action.

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Editorial

Military’s Claim And Fight Against Terrorists 

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A new assertion by the Defence Headquarters (DHQ) that soldiers on counter-insurgency and other internal security operations across the country killed 1,910 terrorists, bandits and other criminals between May 20, 2021, and January 6, 2022, may have broached more questions than answers. The DHQ further affirmed that soldiers arrested over 700 terrorists, bandits and other criminals and released 729 kidnapped victims from their abductors.
The Acting Director of the Defence Media Organisation (DMO), Major-General Bernard Onyeuko, made this clear in a briefing. He maintained that 24,059 terrorists and their families comprising 5,326 males, 7,550 females and 11,183 children gave in to troops in the North-East within the period under review.
Onyeuko revealed this while providing an update on military operations over the last nine months. He said the blitz against terrorists, bandits, kidnappers and other criminal groups had led to the annihilation of several hide-outs of the criminals, retrieval of copious arms, ammunition, weapons together with gun trucks and devastation of several unlawful refineries in the South-South part of the country.
While it is not in question that the military is doing its best in the anti-insurgency war, the impact of the presumed achievements is yet to be felt by Nigerians. If the military has done so much, why do we still have all kinds of occupied territories? Why are killings and kidnappings by terrorists, bandits and other criminals on the upward turn? Why does the military consistently trumpet their ostensible triumphs against these criminals but stoutly deny reports of army fatalities in incursions?
If the Nigerian government’s rehearsed claims of military conquests over criminal elements, especially insurgents are anything to go by, why does violence persevere in the country’s North-East and North-West? Why have abductions, ambushes, and deadly suicide bombings continued unabated in large proportions? Although military operations have discomfited terrorists’ capacity to hold territories to an extent, Nigerian security forces are drawing back from securing the region’s enormous rural areas from attacks.
In the areas surrounding Lake Chad, the Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP) — which split from Boko Haram in 2016 — seems to have acquired a stronger basis. Hundreds of thousands of civilians are still forced out and living in internally displaced persons (IDP) camps and neighbouring host communities, unable to access their land or return to their villages in diverse parts of the country including Benue State.
President Muhammadu Buhari was first voted into office in 2015 primarily because of the past administration’s inability to defeat the Boko Haram insurgency and end insecurity in the land. Sadly, more than six years into his administration, Nigerians have perceived more attacks from insurgents in more states outside the North-East. Also, banditry, other forms of crime and violence remain humongous challenges in the country.
Recall that seven months into its first term in 2015, Buhari’s administration had invented the phrase that Nigerian militant group, Boko Haram had been “technically defeated” and said Borno was in a “post-conflict stabilisation phase”, in defiance of the continued attacks. This statement rang increasingly hollow for a reasonable length of time. But the group and its by-products have never gone away to date.
Similarly, the immediate past Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai, had said that the Boko Haram terrorist group had since been worsted but the Nigerian military was fighting an international criminal gang known as ISWAP. According to him, Boko Haram had been chased out of the North-East, and the band of international criminal gangs operating under the guise of ISWAP would also be pursued and hunted down. As can be seen, ISWAP and Boko Haram have metamorphosed into even more potent force.
Last year, there had been nearly 100 attacks, according to one estimate. Some military bases and towns, including Geidam and Damasak, a hub for aid workers, were overrun. Hundreds had been killed and weapons carted away, while food and medicines were looted. These and many other happenings confirm that the disparate pronouncements of successes by the military in the anti-insurgency war could be simulated, after all.
That does not, however, suggest that the nation’s military has not been recording victories in the war. Indeed, the armed forces have largely restricted the terror groups to three North-Eastern states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe. But the terrorists are still able to assail civilian and military targets, killing hundreds of people. A recent spike in lethal violence has led many to wonder what is at the root of the authorities’ failures.
An over-reliance on a military strategy to tackle insurgents is at the essence of the nation’s inability to deal with the danger. That is why, regrettably, almost 11 or 12 years into the counter-insurgency undertaking, we are not observing major attainments. With the latest declaration of bandits as terrorists, Nigerians expect to see reinvigorated actions in that line.
Recently, the Borno State Governor, Professor Babagana Zulum, alerted Nigerians that two local government councils in his state were under the full control of terrorists. This must be viewed seriously. The fact is that to crush insurgency or terrorism, our nation needs more than a military operation. Its root causes have to be recognised and addressed. Lack of good governance that leaves the population poverty-stricken, embittered and uneducated is one extensive root cause.
There are outstanding government initiatives that are meant to speed up development in the North-East, but little advancement has been made. There is also the National Counter-Terrorism Strategy which entails economic development and counter-radicalisation, in addition to the utilisation of troops. But it seems that the strategy is not being fully carried through.
Experts say the endemic hand-to-mouth existence in the country, particularly in the North-East, and the insurgents’ violent approach facilitate the continued recruitment of generation after generation of combatants. People are willingly ready for enlistment just to remain alive. Along with de-radicalisation, there should be a tremendous surge in military action similar to what was seen in Iraq and Syria when the Islamic State group’s so-called caliphate was dismantled.

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Editorial

That Wike’s Bold Move Against Soot

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Following the painfully obvious failure of the Federal Government and its security agencies to rein in those behind illegal oil bunkering and artisanal crude oil refiners in Rivers State, the Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, lately declared war against operators of the crude oil refineries in the state.
The audacious action of the governor specifically aims at tackling the environmental threat induced by soot, emanating from the illegal refining of crude oil in parts of the state. Consequently, Wike directed the chairmen of councils to go after all the illegal crude oil refining sites and shut them with immediate effect. The state Chief Executive made this declaration in his 2022 New Year address to the state.
Measures were outlined and effected to tackle the soot, which have been successful so far. The Rivers State Task Force on Illegal Street Trading has been executing hit-and-run raids on some illegal crude oil refining sites in Port Harcourt and arresting several persons. Again, many identified illegal crude oil refining spots and activities in the state have either been shut down or virtually destroyed.
Governor Wike had recently declared 19 persons wanted for operating illegal crude oil refining locations, directly responsible for soots prevalent in the state. Barely 24 hours after the declaration, the Rivers State Police Command officially announced that its operatives arrested and paraded 18 persons implicated in illegal oil refining activities in various parts of the state.
Recall that a report by a technical committee set up by the state government to investigate causes of soot in the state a few years ago disclosed that the soot was engendered by subversive activities of illegal refiners and the alleged complicity of security agents, among others. A reviewed report of Prof. Roseline Konya’s findings indicated that about 22,077 persons had suffered needlessly from respiratory-related ailments in the last five years.
Medical experts have associated the persistent soot in the state with rising cases of cancer and infertility. Their assertions were corroborated by a recent study published in the Journal of Health and Pollution titled: “Exposure to Heavy Metals in Soot Samples and Cancer Risk Assessment in Port Harcourt, Nigeria.” According to the researchers, the study was carried out to determine the presence and levels of heavy metals in soot along with a cancer risk assessment of heavy metals exposure in Port Harcourt.
A specialist and consultant surgeon at the Rivers State University Teaching Hospital (RSUTH), Port Harcourt, Dr. Ibifuro Green, said about six million residents of Rivers State faced the risk of developing cancer of the lung and other respiratory problems, following the never-ending raining of cancerous hydrocarbon elements, commonly referred to as “black soot” on their environment. This startling revelation should be of genuine concern to all.
Meanwhile, the gloomy predictions by many health professionals are that if nothing is done urgently to halt the soot, many residents might experience chronic respiratory diseases, heart problems and an increase in mortality rate. This is becoming real as some persons, who have found it very difficult breathing while in Port Harcourt, have relocated to other places.
We commend the governor for listening to the cry of Rivers people by resolving to take on all crude oil thieves and refiners precipitately. While successes recorded in the war against oil thieves are acknowledged, we urge security agents to collaborate closely with council chairmen and traditional rulers to complement the governor’s efforts towards ending the public nuisance in their locations.
Rivers people cannot be their own implacable enemies. We must collectively fight this peril. The hazard we are faced with is becoming worrisome. Everyone who lives and does business in Rivers State should be solicitous about the soot and its effects. Time has come to end the impending catastrophe. It is necessary to know that the combined effect of soot and COVID-19 poses an existential threat to all residents of the state.
Those aiding and abetting illegal bunkering activities in different parts of the state who have been identified should be named, shamed and prosecuted, regardless of their political affiliations and status. Wike has shown that he is decisive and firm in prosecuting the fight, as a success in the war cannot afford favouritism. Residents must report shrewd operators of illegal crude oil refineries and other damnable activities to task forces set up at the state and local government levels for immediate action.
Furthermore, a strong institutional capacity for the judiciary is imperative. The Rivers State Assembly should exercise effective oversight, insist on the swift prosecution of offenders, and demand accountability from all recognised groups and institutions involved in the anti-soot crusade. Civil society organisations in the state should not give up but join the fray through unrelenting public engagements. There should be no cover-ups and sacred cows.
There is a need for the Federal Government to vigorously collaborate and assist the Rivers State Government in finding a lasting solution to this crisis. It is quite amazing why the federal authorities, whose security agencies have further complicated the soot situation by their collusion, have failed to take interest in ending this challenge. This is mainly the Federal Government’s business that requires a collective and inclusive solution as quickly as possible.

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Editorial

Improving Criminal Justice Delivery

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The December 2021 jail delivery exercise by the Chief Judge of Rivers State, Justice Simeon Amadi, during
which 27 inmates of the Port Harcourt Maximum Security Correctional Centre were granted pardon and discharged, has again brought to the fore the need to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the judicial system in the state.
The freed inmates included those who were either awaiting trials and had spent more than eight years in detention, as well as those who had health challenges. According to the Chief Judge, the jail delivery was in the exercise of his “powers in Section 34 of the Rivers State Administration of Criminal Justice Laws” (ACJL) and added that the decongestion of the correctional centres should be a major concern for stakeholders in the administration of justice.
Justice Amadi attributed the congestion of the correctional centres to several factors, including non-filing of information on case files, wrong charges, lack of diligent prosecution, among others. He said, in the pursuit to achieve decongested custodial centres in the state, the management of the state judiciary had “approved that periodically, magistrates will be posted to the centres to continue the exercise”.
Undoubtedly, the judiciary, which is the third arm of government, performs a very important function of interpreting the law. It dispenses justice without fear or favour. Most importantly, the administrators of the judiciary are desirous of speedy justice dispensation because justice delayed is justice denied.
Interestingly, in both criminal and civil justice administrations, time is of the essence as delay defeats equity. However, recent happenings in the criminal justice administration in Rivers State appear not to take cognizance of the very essence of time. The Administration of Criminal Justice Law of Rivers State 2015 was no doubt enacted to facilitate justice delivery but unreasonable delays continue to be a pain in the ass as there is seeming unwillingness on the part of both the judiciary and public prosecutors to help matters.
The law is explicit, “A defendant charged with an offence punishable with imprisonment for a term exceeding three years shall, on application to court be released on bail…” except for certain reasons. The resultant effect of unreasonable delay is that the correctional centres in the state have become a dumping ground for all manner of defendants, sometimes over fathom and frivolous charges.
Unfortunately, the correctional centres in the state are filled to the brim. The Port Harcourt Correctional Centre which was initially meant for about 804 inmates now has more than 4,000 with attendant congestion and health hazards. There is obviously nothing to learn at the centre except the ugly experiences that inmates pass through. Many inmates who ought to be refined after their experiences come out hardened and society is worse for it.
Surprisingly, Amadi, during his recent jail delivery, discovered to his chagrin that certain inmates at the Port Harcourt Correctional Centre had no files. As benumbing as the fact appears, it underscores the fact that their detention at the correctional centre can only be adjudged illegal. Every detainee at the correctional centre must have been brought there upon a charge known to law. If the charge is bailable, the Magistrate’s Court must “suo moto” grant bail whether on the application of the defendant’s counsel or not.
Regrettably, that is not the case today. The supervisory role of Chief Magistrates to visit police stations in the local government areas where they have their courts is often neglected. Besides, withholding charges, a situation where matters are referred to court without the requisite jurisdiction have worsened delay in justice delivery.
For many years, defendants often await the advice of the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) but to no avail. Most defendants are remanded in correctional centres without trial for more than 10 years despite the constitutional provision that an accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty by a court of competent jurisdiction. Some defendants, in the course of awaiting trial, serve out the prison terms of the alleged offences if they were properly convicted, yet, cannot regain freedom.
Pathetically, these defendants are abandoned to their fate; no information is filled and there is no advice from the DPP. Even when bail applications are made to the High Court by counsel on their behalf, the judges stick to the old order of not easily granting bail to applicants charged with serious offences often without a diligent perusal of the defence counsel’s motion and accompanying processes.
One condition for the grant of bail to a defendant charged with murder is the defendant must have remained in detention for one year and above without arraignment, absence of information as well as trial. Another reason for granting bail to an applicant charged with murder pertains to the health status of the detainee. If the applicant is seriously ill, he or she can be granted bail.
The situations under which a defendant charged with a serious crime can be granted bail are provided for in our extant laws, especially in the ACJL, yet, the conspiracy of the judges who stick to the old order and public prosecutors who arbitrarily oppose bail applications have put paid to the efforts to ensure speedy dispensation of justice.
To ensure a speedy dispensation of justice in the state, all hands must be on deck. The State Ministry of Justice and the judiciary must live up to their billings. This is because the number of inmates at the correctional centres across the state is increasing by the day as many defendants remain without trials for a long period.
Again, judicial officers still write in long hands. They have not kept pace with developed countries of the world that make use of electronic equipment to record court proceedings. Since writing in long hands is slow and tedious, it, in turn, slows down the administration of justice. The problem here is not the shortage of manpower, but the system adopted, hence, the need for toeing the electronic path.
We strongly advise the administrators of our justice system in the state to turn a new leaf and address the nagging problem of unnecessary delays occasioned by lack of diligence on the part of public prosecution or the reliance on the old order by judges where defendants charged with grave criminal wrongs are simply allowed to rot in jail without trial.

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