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Frontline doctors in Nigerian public hospitals began an indefinite strike on Wednesday over grievances including demands for a pay rise after the removal of a subsidy on petrol, the doctors’ union said.

The doctors are the first public sector workers to strike after fuel prices more than tripled and increased transport fares following President Bola Tinubu’s decision to scrap the popular subsidy at the end of May, worsening a cost of living crisis in Africa’s biggest economy.

The National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), said the strike started early on Wednesday “having considered all the numerous ultimatums, appeals, and engagements with government”.

Resident doctors are medical school graduates training as specialists. They are pivotal to frontline healthcare in Nigeria as they dominate the emergency wards in its hospitals.

The union represents around 15,000 resident doctors out of a total of more than 40,000 doctors in the west African nation.

NARD said that the failure of government to review members’ salaries before and after the subsidy was removed, and shortages of manpower as doctors leave for better paying jobs abroad, were among the reasons for the strike.

Nigeria’s main labour unions and the government set an eight-week timeline in June to finalise an agreement to raise the minimum wage to help cushion the impact of high fuel prices in Africa’s most populous nation.

Tinubu, who has embarked on Nigeria’s boldest reforms in decades, has been under pressure from unions to offer relief to households and small businesses after he scrapped the subsidy that kept petrol prices cheap but cost the government $10 billion last year.

The president does not yet have a team of ministers after he was sworn in at the end of May following disputed elections in February. The speaker of the lower house has been negotiating with the doctor and urged them not to strike.

Nigerian doctors frequently strike over what they say are poor conditions of service. They walked out from their jobs three times in 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Credit: Reuters