The characterization of doctors’ recent industrial action in some states as immoral by Daniel Bott (The Guardian, Monday November 15, 2010) is an unfortunate and

misplaced judgment on my colleagues who have laboured as students and professionals to discharge their sacred vocation for the welfare of mankind. I am not a spokesman for the National Association of Resident doctors (NARD), the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) or whichever medical group that had embarked on a gentlemanly display of dissatisfaction on issues bordering on the welfare of doctors and by extension those of the sick among us.

Encarta World Dictionary (North American Edition) 2009 defines morality as ‘standards of conduct that are generally accepted as right or proper’ It went on to redefine right or wrong as something ---‘ judged by accepted moral standard’. My question is what constitutes acceptable or wrong actions by the doctors to be gauged on the scale of morality? The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy 2008 defines Morality as a code of conduct prescribed by a society, group, individuals that provides ‘...Specified conditions…. put forward by all rational persons’. An evolution of the concept of Morality by behavioural scientists premised on what could be regarded as normative conduct that is regarded as rational.

However, there is discrepancy as to the selectivity of what conduct constitutes moral or immoral depending on the society, and context of such behaviours. I am not aware of any studies conducted in Nigeria to illustrate that industrial actions by any professional group including doctors are immoral within the Nigerian context.
This takes me to the Hippocratic oath referred to by Mr. Bott in his treatise. For the benefit of all, this rite of passage for newly graduated medical doctors originated from Greece in 4th or 5th century with contentious claims by Pythagorean and Hippocratic schools. Several versions exist; the original text translated from Greek to English, the classical and the modern version written in 1964.

Several countries including the USA and the UK had modified the oath to suit the modern medical and political exigency in their countries. The version I swore to some years ago at the Nigerian Medical and Dental Council Offices, quartered then at Ahmed Onibudo Street, Victoria Island, Lagos may not be relevant in some other countries.
For example, termination of pregnancy which is a choice and the right of a girl/woman in one country but not in another. Euthanasia (mercy killing) even following the consent of the patient is still not permitted in some countries but accepted in some. A moral turpitude ensures when an action goes contrary to an assumed moral of a society despite its medical merits.

Perhaps, the Nigerian medical authorities should modify the doctor’s oath to prevent strikes and indicate that doctor’s remunerations would be accorded them in heaven, al-jannah or some ancestral kingdom depending on the creed of the doctor, after all, the Greek doctors swore to Apollo, Asclepius etc in the original and classical versions of the Hippocratic oath.
Which society supports disproportionate remunerations of its workers despite the enormous wealth of its nation? We should be happy that ‘monkey de work while baboon de chop’ if I may use the local parlance. (See Reuben Abati’s ‘Nigeria’s Parliament: a congress for scandal, The Guardian newspapers on Sunday November 14, 2010).

A lot has been written in support of commensurate minimal wage and raison d’être for workers’ industrial actions. The doctors’ action should not be special since there is no report that doctors were incompetent neither was it reported that doctors in the private practice had abandoned their trade. The moral sway embodied in Mr Bott’s piece was quoted out of context as regards the industrial actions of doctors.

Morality is not limited to doctors; all endeavour of human life is hinged upon moral conducts. Perhaps, we should accept the morality of the damming reports of deaths on our roads ‘infected’ with pot holes and poor lighting despite the colossal amount spent by our government.…multi-million dollars were reported spent on the road maintenance during the tenure of Chief Tony Anenih as Minister for works yet it is faster to cycle from Lagos to Ibadan than drive. Our health indicators in 2009 as reported by UNDP were nothing to challenge our moral judgment and invoke our collective action against our perceived culprit. 186 children under five years died out of 1000 live births in Nigeria that year. 1 in every 18 women died in the process of child birth in our Country.

Our life expectancy was put at 48 years irrespective of gender. $98million was spent in 1979 and another $240million in 2003 for the elusive National ID card scheme and we are yet to see the morality of wasting our resources. 60 per cent of our country is in darkness orchestrated by failure of successive governments to generate and distribute power. The unhealthy outcome of pollution from smog generated by diesel generating plants is yet to be estimated. These and other figures illustrate how moral those in positions of authority could account and prioritize our funds to the improvement of education, health and quality of life for our people other than to the politicians. Many societies situate governance next to godliness.
I totally concur to the preceding statement since leadership confers an immense burden of responsibility on the Politicians towards the citizenry. Perhaps, our collective morals inform us to the contrary that our Leaders should ignore our welfare to which they swore in their oath of allegiance on assumption of office.

Another moral query would be if they were rightfully elected? It now becomes a debate as to whether the minimum wage should be increased or not. Elsewhere, Politicians decline positions or resign from their offices when they are unable to live up to the sacred calling of delivering their promises and duties to their constituencies. The presumptuous verdict on doctors for expressing themselves was not only uncharitable but irrelevant as compared to the urgent need to overhauling of Nigerian state.
• Dr. John was a two-term Co-President of IPPNW, the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize Recipient.