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President, Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN), Olumide Akintayo, has declared that his colleague and Governor of Taraba State, Dababa Suntai, is mentally alert, physically fit and therefore still capable to perform his duties as Governor. Akintayo who is also the Chairman of Assembly of Healthcare Professional Associations (AHPA) and an executive member of Joint Health Workers Union (JOHESU) condemned plans to appoint Dr Khaliru Alhassan from Sokoto State as the new Minister of State for Health, after he scaled the screening hurdles at the Senate. Akintayo, a fellow of the PSN, West African Postgraduate College of Pharmacists, Nigerian Institute of Management and the fledging Nigeria Academy of Pharmacy, in a chat with journalists over the weekend, after he visited Suntai with members of the National Executive Committee (NEC) and past presidents of the Society on Tuesday February 11, 2014, shared his perspectives on some other contemporary issues in healthcare and national politics.

DR Khaliru Alhassan from Sokoto State just scaled the screening hurdles at the Senate and may emerge the next Minister of State for Health. What is your take on this?

I was part of Joint Health Workers Union (JOHESU)/Assembly of Healthcare Professional Associations (AHPA) team that advised government to retrace its steps if it truly wanted harmony in the health sector. With due respect it cannot be in tandem with commonsense to appoint two doctors to head the Federal Ministry of Health. It was unprecedented to have that until the Yar’Adua/Jonathan administration in 2007. Recall that out of the eight year tenure of President Obasanjo it was only Dr. Tim Menakaya who featured for six months.

For seven and half years we did not have any doctor and we made tremendous progress especially with Prof. Eyitayo Lambo, the Health Economist. If the Jonathan government brings another doctor to the Federal Ministry of Health after all the in equilibrium and injustice Prof Chukwu has perpetrated in the last two years, then Nigerians will contend with an insurrection that is unparalleled in the annals of healthcare. That is a promise

We observed the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria was not tipped to send a representative to the National Conference like professional bodies of equal status. How are you redressing this?

The PSN is redressing this alongside JOHESU/ APHA. In recent times, we have continued to catalogue glaring episodes of marginalisation and injustice to our individual and collective templates by the Federal Government.

We have observed that the Federal Government has listed only the following professional bodies as participants at the forthcoming National Conference. They include: Nigeria Bar Association (NBA); Nigeria Society of Engineers (NSE); Chartered Institute of Bankers (CIB); Nigeria Medical Association (NMA); Nigeria Institute of Architects (NIA); Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN); Association of National Accountants of Nigeria (ANAN); Nigeria Institute of Public Relations (NIPR); Nigeria Institute of Estate Surveyors and Values (NIESV); and Nigeria Environmental Society (NES.

While we do not deny any of these bodies their inalienable rights to have representatives on the National Conference, we enjoin Mr. President to critically appraise the list of professional bodies listed. In the Finance Sector, CIBN, ANAN and ICAN are represented. Infact ANAN and ICAN represent only the Accounting profession

In the Works/Building/Environment sector which has a plethora of professionals like the Health Sector NIA, NSE, NIESV, and NSE are represented.

We are worried that the Health Sector as usual has received very shabby treatment in obvious continuation of the levity and contempt with which government conventionally treats professionals in the Health Sector (This is apart from doctors who get the status of sacred cows)

The AHPN/JOHESU feels very slighted that the true representatives of the Health work force in Nigeria has been neglected, ignored and treated with disrespect for too long in the annals of national endeavours of this nature.

We have therefore collectively resolved that on this occasion we shall not leave this situation unchallenged.

It is imperative to draw the attention of President Jonathan to the fact that pharmacy as a profession is the only health profession directly modulated by the workings of the 1999 constitution because drugs and poisons are listed as item 21 of part 1 in the second schedule of the constitution.

This development stems from the importance of drug use endeavours which therefore compels many serious nations of the world to centrally regulate and control the use of drugs.

In view of the need to broaden the impact of the Pharmaceutical and Health Sector in all national discourses, the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria as a veritable and prime stakeholder in care-processes must be encouraged to contribute its quota.

We respectfully implore Mr. President as one of the condition precedent in our on-going negotiation with government on injustice pertaining to labour matters to immediately redress this matter by giving immediate approval to the nomination of at least 3 member bodies of AHPA to be represented at the National Conference.

A pool of expertise and knowledge is available within the ranks of AHPA/JOHESU, which needs to be tapped in the quest for nation building. We insist on being counted as front-runners in the quest to rebuild Nigeria.

You recently visited the Governor of Taraba State, Danbaba Suntai, who is believed to be recuperating after an ill-fated plane crash. There have been calls for him to resign because he is no longer fit enough to run the office of the Governor. How is he doing? Do you think he is still fit to do the job?

For many months now, I have tried to avoid the seeming and endless controversies associated with this development. One of the main reasons was that I did not want to posit from a viewpoint laced with ignorance. You have read various accounts and editions of the Suntai saga including the politicisation by some scrawny figures in key professional bodies who suddenly wanted to assume roles to certify Governor Suntai medically fit. For the records I make bold to tell the world that the pharmacist, Danbaba Suntai, that I saw in the company of some of my NEC members and past presidents of PSN on Tuesday February 11, 2014 is mentally alert even when he might not be 100 per cent physically fit.

What the constitution says in Section 189 (1-5) is hinged on the fact that the Governor shall cease to hold office if he suffers from permanent incapacitation which makes it impossible to perform the duties of a Governor.

We shared reminisces of his days as an old boy of Federal Governor College (FGC), Kano which must have been some 35 to 40 years ago with him and he was vibrating with smiles. His in-depth analysis of the evolution trends of the PSN after my introductory remarks were probably more thought provoking and impactful more than the four previous visits i was privileged to have made to his office since he assumed the governorship in 2007.

It is important to say the federal constitution does not envisage that you will have a sitting Governor and an Acting Governor in the same state. To that extent what is going on in Taraba State is an aberration. An absurdity that has reached an apogee because of an unfortunate luciferian disposition of insubordination by persons in high places in both the executive, legislative and even the judiciary in Taraba State.

Luciferianism is a belief system that includes both theistic and secular denominations, and is therefore heavily influenced by personal perspectives and experiences.

So what do you think is the way to go now on the issue of Suntai’s office as the Governor of Taraba State?

I am not a politician, but I have read accounts where the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) describes itself as the biggest political party in Africa. The size and or quality should be made proportional to the quality by the big-wigs in PDP since they have a way of sorting their hooplas the “family” way. I met the incumbent Chairman of PDP, Alhaji Muazu when he was Bauchi State Governor in 2004. He strikes me as a fine and decent gentleman, so i appeal to him to investigate and intervene in the tragic events in Taraba State. Beyond this President Jonathan and his people often mouth a rule of law mantra, so i appeal to His Excellency to wade into the Taraba affair because it does not project a good image for national politics and our nation.

You have been one of arrow-heads in recent negotiations for improving welfare of pharmacists and other health workers in the public service. What is the latest and can we avoid a strike in the foreseeable future?

The meeting and consultations reviewed the various agreements between JOHESU and the Federal Ministry of Health from 2009 to 2014. After a critical appraisal of all the agreements, stakeholders resolved as follows:

The meeting evaluated the composition of the boards of Federal Health Institutions and concluded that the composition was still skewed in favour of medical practitioners where there are eight to nine medical practitioners on the 13-member board whereas only one health professional/worker represents other health professionals/workers who constitute over 95 per cent of the workforce. It was also observed that the boards of the Federal Teaching Hospitals have more than the 13 members provided for by the enabling statute. Consequently, we demand that the boards of the Federal Health Institutions be reconstituted in line with the enabling statute and the agreements and in such a way that the lopsidedness in favour of the medical practitioners is corrected.

We critically reviewed matters pertaining to increase in the retirement age of health workers from 60 to 65 years and agreed that the way forward was an immediate circularisation of the review of retirement age from 60 to 65 years in line with the May 10, 2012 agreement with JOHESU.

Stakeholders under the aegis of JOHESU/AHPA canvassed the application of sanctions on Chief Executive Officers of Federal Health Institutions who refuse to promote deserving healthcare professionals before the end of the 1st quarter of 2014 in line with existing circular duly approved by government.

A call was made to admonish government to check the impunity of Chief Medical Directors and Medical Directors who have continually refused to implement circulars with respect to skipping of CONHESS 10 and payment of the accrued arrears.

We requested the Federal Government to provide fund to energise the Presidential Committee of experts on harmony in the health sector to complete its assignment without further delay.

JOHESU/AHPA critically appraised the politics of consultancy status in the health sector and demanded that circular Ref. No. SMH/491/S.2/VOL.11/221 of 29th March 1976 remains the legitimate instrument to appoint healthcare professionals as consultants in the health sector. Let me put on record that the intransigence and rigidity of the Health Minister is the basis of a needless crisis on this.

In furtherance of above, we advocated an enabling circular to enforce the payment of specialist allowances to hospital based practitioners who possess postgraduate qualification such as fellowship obtained from postgraduate colleges or possession of PhDs, MSCs, PGDs from recognised universities with effect from January 2010 when the collective bargaining agreement took effect.

Stakeholders under JOHESU/AHPA rejected the unlawful creation of the position of Deputy CMAC in teaching hospitals because it was a violation of Section 5 (subsection 5 and 6) of the Teaching Hospital Act. JOHESU/AHPA observed that it was a misnomer to continue to empower part-time staff of the teaching hospitals that should render teaching/medical services to dabble into routine administrative duties of the hospitals.

JOHESU/AHPA strongly demanded for the immediate approval and circularisation of the salary proposal submitted to the government with effect from 1st January 2014. We note the propensity of government to prevaricate and oscillate on matters like this with intent to frustrate similar negotiations. For instance the inaugural meeting of the collective bargaining committee of February 11, 2014 was postponed without notice. JOHESU/AHPA however warns that we shall do the needful as soon as we observe government is playing games.

We strongly reiterated the rejection of the appointment of a Surgeon-General for the Federation on grounds that it is a military appointment and an unnecessary duplication in bureaucratic structure in healthcare especially at a time government was seriously exploiting ways of reducing the cost of governance.

JOHESU/AHPA advised medical practitioners who were threatening to break into facilities of health professionals who are on legitimate strike for whatever reason to tread on the path of caution as such development will leave members of JOHESU/AHPA with no other option than upholding their chartered liberties albeit with unprecedented emphasis to prove we are freeborn citizens of this nation.

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