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My bill on 5 years practice for doctors will mitigate effects of brain drain — Rep. Johnson

Honourable Ganiyu Johnson is the sponsor of the bill seeking to make it mandatory for fresh medical graduates to provide services to Nigeria for five…

Honourable Ganiyu Johnson is the sponsor of the bill seeking to make it mandatory for fresh medical graduates to provide services to Nigeria for five years before getting full registration and license to practice or emigrate. He represents Oshodi/Isolo federal constituency of Lagos State in the House of Representatives. In this interview, he sheds light on what the bill seeks to achieve and other issues. Excerpts.

Your bill has generated controversy. What are the highlights of this bill, and is it trying to prevent Nigerian doctors from travelling out for greener pastures?

The bill is not to prevent anyone from travelling. I started by raising a motion on the same issue, medical brain drain.

In that motion, I prayed for three things. The first prayer was that the welfare of medical personnel should be reviewed. The second prayer is that we should look into the health facilities we have. That is, we should also improve on our health facilities, maintain and upgrade our primary healthcare centres to general hospitals, maintain and upgrade our general hospitals to specialist hospitals, then maintain and upgrade our specialist hospitals to research institutes.

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My bill on 5 years practice for doctors will mitigate effects of brain drain — Rep. Johnson

Then the last prayer was that government should collaborate with the private sector such as insurance companies. The reason  I mentioned insurance companies is that we have so many unclaimed dividends with insurance companies.

If they collaborate with them, they would be able to fund the projects, that is trying to create an enabling environment for the doctors and also improve their welfare.

After that motion, I noticed a decline of capital flight of our medical doctors abroad. So I now looked at the Act establishing licensing of medical doctors and I noticed that after their housemanship, which is one year, you go for National Youth Service Corps (NYSC); it is also one year.

The reason for housemanship before NYSC is because you will be able to practice as a medical doctor. When you go out there for NYSC, it is assumed that you are going to practice as a medical doctor.

So after housemanship, you are given a license. I now looked at that and said it would be a thing of great interest to our society because our population is over 200 million and as I speak, the number of doctors we have is about 10,000 and if care is not taken, we may have a crisis, in fact, we have a crisis already.

And how do we mitigate the crisis, it is by slowing down and carrying out a kind of stopgap that lets us increase the number of years before they will get their final license. It does not mean that one is trying to restrict them.

The five years I am talking about is inclusive of housemanship. It is inclusive of the NYSC. So technically we are talking about three years. And those three years are a way of promoting professionalism because you can as well register for your residency.

In the medical line, after your NYSC, if you are engaged in hospitals you can enroll for your residency. Your residency programme takes an average of five to six years. So it is a way of encouraging and promoting our doctors to be specialists instead of just general medical practitioners.

So if you will gain three years while you’re here doing your residency, by the time you complete that, you can as well complete your residency and leave. One, it is a win-win for the country, and a win-win for the medical doctors. Really that is the purpose and background of my motion.

 Don’t you think making it mandatory violates the human rights of the medical doctors as some of them may want to further their education immediately after their housemanship and one-year service or travel out?

No. What I am saying is that we already have a crisis in the country. How do we mitigate it? I only suggested a way out. I am not saying that this is the final solution. Fortunately, it has just passed second reading. There is still opportunity for everybody and all stakeholders to come during the public hearing and have robust debates on the issue. Nobody is saying they should not travel.

All I am saying is that we have a population of over 200 million and if care is not taken, maybe babalawo would be the one treating our people.

It is not a funny situation but the medical doctors are only looking at it from their own point of view. I am looking at it holistically. I am looking at the nation. What are the challenges we are facing? Just recently the World Health Organisation (WHO) placed a red alert on us, and the United Kingdom has recently restricted the active recruitment of health workers from Nigeria. Yes, there are other places they can go to, but if they should all abide by WHO’s resolution, what are we talking about? I said I do not want medical personnel to go out until after a certain period, because we know we have a crisis.

If WHO is telling us that we have a crisis and cannot continue to deplete our doctors, they are only helping us by supporting my position.

A parent complained that she has a son at Afe Babalola University, a medical student. She spent N6 million per session. She said you should have been nice enough to restrict your bill to students from public schools and not include those from private schools. What is your take on this?

Like I said, it has just passed second reading. There is room for robust debate during public hearing. You see, when it comes to getting a license as a professional it does not matter which school you go to. We must get that clear. If you have to obtain your license we are all one.

The institution is to train you, guide you towards that profession, but by the time you are writing your professional exam, it is a different ball game. You all come together. It is the same exam you will write. It does not matter.

In 2019, there was a motion before the house geared towards restricting public officeholders from travelling abroad for medical treatment but that motion was rejected. Now the same house is passing a bill that seems to stand in the way of young medical and dental practitioners going abroad for greener pastures?

In 2019, I don’t know the basis. First of all, I am not the speaker of the House. I am just a member of the House, one out of 360. Usually, once there is a bill like that there is always a robust debate in the House. Whatever the outcome of that bill, will be binding. So there is always robust debate.

But today, the point I am saying is that we have a crisis. It is because of this crisis that I am doing this. I am just being passionate about the situation now and that is why I am forging ahead with the bill. Two, it is not a law yet because it has to pass through so many processes. We have a third reading, public hearing, I mean there must also be concurrence from the Senate before it goes to Mr President for assent. Before it is passed into law.

It is a long process. So if people believe that they are not too comfortable with it, at the public hearing, we would request for memoranda from people.

What is your view on the bill that seeks to restrict public office holders from travelling abroad to seek treatment?

I am in support of that bill. Do you know why? By the time we upgrade our health facilities, why would people go out? We can get all these things here. One, we would save on our foreign exchange; two, we would create more jobs for our medical personnel; and three, it would encourage us to even improve further on our health facilities.

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