The Delta State chapter of the National Association of Nigerian Nurses and Midwives says 12 of its members were arrested by the police, following the indefinite strike embarked upon by the union.

The union had, on Friday, commenced a strike to protest against what it termed “humiliation and intimidation of nurses in the state.”

In an earlier letter by the NANNM state secretary, David Ezugwu, the union said, “The move became necessary due to the unwillingness of the Delta State Ministry of Health to meet the association’s demands as contained in the 14-day ultimatum to the Delta State Government and other correspondences to the Commissioner for Health on the abuse/violation of the Civil Service Rules and Scheme of Service, as it relates to the career progression of nurses and midwives in Delta State.”

The leadership of the nursing association, in their directives to members on the observance of the strike, remarked that “skeletal services will not be provided while the strike lasts.” But it said, “The strike will not be called off until all the demands are met.”

But reacting to the union’s strike, the Delta State Ministry of Health, in a circular on Thursday, described the strike as uncalled for.

In the circular addressed to all principals of state schools of nursing and midwifery in Agbor, Sapele, Warri, Asaba and Eku, the government said it was already handling the demands of the health workers.

 “Meetings were held up till yesterday being November 2, 2020 at the instance of the Honourable Commissioner for Health in which the Chairman of the Nigeria Labour Congress and members of the State Executive Committee of NANNM were present.

“It was resolved that the proposed strike be suspended to give room for amicable resolutions of all matters in dispute.

“In line with the above, the Honourable Commissioner for Health has directed that no nurse or midwife in the service of the state government should embark on a strike as directed in the aforementioned circular.

“Any nurse or midwife that flouts this directive shall be dealt with according to the rules of engagement/extant provisions.”

The Chairman of NANNM, Mrs Alice Jegede-Ikpen, told our correspondent that 12 nurses were apprehended, while monitoring compliance with the indefinite strike.

“It is a routine thing for NANNM officials to go from one place to another whenever there is an ongoing strike. When they got to some areas and engaged some nurses on why they were not observing the strike, we learnt that they were arrested and were taken to Asaba from their Agbor and Warri axis.

“When we enquired about the offence, we were told they plotted to disrupt ongoing nursing examinations. The truth is that only a member was picked up at Warri School of Nursing, while the others were arrested at different locations. Can one person enter a whole school with a view to disrupting exams?”

She alleged foul play, stating that the examinations, which should have ended on Wednesday, were rescheduled by the ministry to hinder the proposed nurses’ strike in the state.

Jegede-Ikpen added, “As we speak, all our 12 members have been driven to Asaba Police Headquarters. From what we gathered, it was a directive from the state police commissioner.”

According to her, NANNM has done nothing wrong with the proposed strike to warrant police harassment of nurses in the state.

Jegede-Ikpen challenged the state health commissioner to produce the agreed MoU if he still insists that he had a meeting with them.

She said, “Nurses are not mad people. If he truly addresses our demands, there was no way we could have embarked on a strike. Nobody likes strikes. I know he is trying to take advantage of us because we are mostly women. Every time we meet with him, he shouts us down with a strict ‘Don’t disturb my government’ order.

“That’s why most of the time, we kept quiet and watched him. We still didn’t stop at that as we kept going round to plead with people to help talk to him. At a point, the head of service had to write him officially on the essence of seniority in civil service. Even the NLC urged him to adopt union members into his committee. He bluntly refused to heed all the counsel.”

Reacting, the Delta State Commissioner for Health, Dr Mordi Ononye, maintained that the 12 nurses in police custody were apprehended for attempting to disrupt nursing students’ examination.

“No one was arrested because of the strike. Those apprehended came into the Delta School of Nursing to disrupt the ongoing examinations. If they are indeed on strike as they claimed, they shouldn’t be seen coming into a nursing school to disrupt activities, which is not right,” he said.

However, the commissioner argued that there was an ongoing move to resolve the differences between the government and the union.

Asked when the arrested nurses would be released, the commissioner said, “I am not a security agent. The decision was taken by the institutions (schools of nursing involved). The institutions will follow up on it to see that the right thing is done.”