The National Hospital, Abuja has over the years been the foremost hospital in Nigeria and has been at the vanguard in the recent battle against the COVID-19 pandemic that has been ravaging the whole world. In the last five years, under the leadership of Dr JAF Momoh, the hospital has recorded landmark achievement such as the commissioning of the new Radiotherapy Centre which is second to none in Sub-Saharan Africa, carrying out series of Paediatrics Open heart surgeries, opening of the new executive wing of the hospital among many others.
One area which however has been topmost in the attention of the management especially since for Speaker of the House of Representatives, Patricia Etteh became the Chairman of the Board has been the prioritization of welfare of the staff of the Hospital. To their credit, issues of labour unrest, has become a thing of the past in the hospital. Some of the achievements in this regard include implementation of skipping, payment of promotion arrears, payment of rent arrears en-bloc, acquisition of land for NHA Staff housing scheme, management support for acquisition of Housing units for staff in various estates, subsidizing of medical bills to staff on treatment of critical medical cases.To the credit of the hospital management, even when they cannot handle cases involving their staff they pick the hospital bills of such staff. Recent cases that fall under this category include that of a staff that had to go for an eye operation at the National Eye Centre. Another had to go for a surgery in a private hospital and the cost was borne by the National Hospital. This is despite the fact that all the staff enjoy waiver if they come for treatment at the Hospital, while not discountenancing the fact that they are also registered for the National Health Insurance Scheme by the National Hospital. Our investigations also reveal that only a month ago the Hospital management agreed to new service guidelines for the staff. It was gathered that the issue of conditions of service has been on for some time but the grey area had been the exit package for workers, that is disengagement allowance for those who are retiring. Staff of the hospital demanded for exit package like it exists in special organisations like NNPC, FIRS, CBN etc. even when management told them that such exit packages were part of the laws of such organisations, staff insisted and eventually had their way as the Board of the hospital approved substantial amount for them.
This, we gathered is not going to be backdated as the cost of such a move could be highly detrimental to the finances of the Hospital. Despite all these laudable achievements, some former staff as well as an embittered labour leader who was suspended by the Board for taking the Hospital to court after being indicted for fraud running into millions went on air through Human Rights Radio to cast aspersion on the leadership of the hospital. According to them, an hotel that was built by the Director of Administration’s father, several years before he joined the National Hospital was claimed to have been built with money stolen from the Hospital. Curiously, they never took time to find out the ownership and age of the hotel. They also accused some management staff of belonging to a cult group, the Ambassadors’ Club. The Club, according to our findings, is a humanitarian club that has been at the vanguard of helping indigent patients who cannot pay their bills or partly offset same while also giving out drugs and other needs to patients.
The Club has been able to make contacts with people outside of the hospital who are well to do and who also help in picking these bills from time to time. It is queer therefore when a club that performs philanthropic activities is tagged as a Cult. Another issue the eight retired nurses raised with the radio station was Skipping Allowance which were allowances that should have been paid to doctors and nurses in the Hospital. It was gathered that, based on the directives of the Accountant General of the Federation, the outstanding allowances have been collated and sent down while the hospital awaits funds for the payment.
One of the issues that made the attack on the management saddening is the personal venom that was heaped on the Chairman of the Board of the Hospital and former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dr Patricia Etteh. It will be recalled that Etteh presided over one of the most turbulent tenures in the life of the House and eventually had to resign. And at the end of her tenure, her colleagues including principal officers of the House apologized for the way they treated her, acknowledged the fact that she was not found guilty by the investigative committee that was sent up by the House and indeed, she did not inflate any contract. Many national newspapers carried the story as the Dimeji Bankole-led House drew the curtains on its tenure. Ironically, a self-acclaimed journalist who is fighting for the rights of people finds such a woman culpable in his own court, condemns her and even has the temerity to call her names. Anyone who knows the workings of the National Hospital will acknowledge the fact that under Etteh’s Board, a lot of progress has been made especially as relates to the welfare of the staff. Indeed, the workers amalgamated body only a few days back decided to show appreciation to her for championing their cause on the Board, which is not a normal case given the fact that management and labour are almost always at loggerheads.
Indeed, under her Chairmanship, the workers can boldly say they have never had it so good. She was said to have sewn uniforms for some staff of a special wing of the hospital from her own pocket, picks the bills of some indigent patients, buy consumables for some others on her own. For former staff of the same organisation to now wake up and cook cock and bull stories about someone who has been recognized as being at the vanguard of their welfare is unfair.
The radio programme presenter even claimed that Consultants are doing nothing in the hospital thus exhibiting their crass illiteracy about workings of Specialist Hospitals where Consultants form the fulcrum of their operations, handle serious cases, train junior doctors. Such is the anger that those who went to the Human Rights Radio exhibited against an organisation where they served, retired and their emoluments are still being paid. One further issue that they raised was the lack of ethnic balance in appointment of management staff. Anyone who knows the workings of appointment to op management would understand that it is not the duty of members of management to appoint themselves. They are appointed by the Government.
Meanwhile contrary to the claims of those who are crying over sectionalisation of the management, the position of the Director of Finance had been declared vacant and indeed, the Board of the Hospital had actually made attempt to fill the post by advertising the vacancy while efforts to fill the post is already in motion. Indeed, to forestall the kind of scenario which the attack dogs claimed was on ground, when the last substantive Finance Director retired, management had bypassed the most senior officer and picked his junior who hailed from the North as the Acting Director of Finance until he also retired, leaving management few options hence the Acting Director who hails from Edo and who is already due for retirement in a few months.All in all nation building is not done based on sentiments.
The National Hospital has never been an institution built on parochialism but on quality and verifiable staff credentials. Those who want to cast aspersions on the credibility of the organisation should take another look in a few weeks time when a substantive Director would have emerged. To accumulate unsubstantiated grievances and take them to a radio station where one knows one would enjoy a one-sided hearing is simply unfair to the present management of the National Hospital.
Indeed, labour union leaders who have enjoyed cordial relationship with the Hospital management are at a loss over what the eight retired nurses want to achieve by spreading deliberate falsehood against their former working place.It is to the credit of the administration of Dr JAF Momoh as CMD, Dr Peter Egwakhide as the Director of Administration and Patricia Etteh as the Chairman of the Board that staff promotion has been fasttracked in the Hospital. For instance, for the first time, the number of nurses now on Assistant directors level is now more than 40 from less than 5 it was before, with at least 2 making the Deputy Director no level.Indeed, over 150 staff are promoted annually at a pass rate of 80% of eligible staff. There is no doubt that all these have bode well with the staff who are also appreciative. For a few former staff, who believe that the present labour peace enjoyed by the organisation can be thwarted by embarking on a campaign of disinformation, they really need to do a rethink.