Tunde Jeremiah is one of the many inspiring Nigerian Nurses who currently works with the NHS. In this interview with Fellow Nurses Africa, he recounts his experiences with the RCN which is the largest nursing union in Europe and what lessons the Nigerian Nursing Union , NANNM could learn from it, enjoy…

 

Interviewer: Can you tell us about yourself?

Interviewee: Thank you very much. My name as you might have known before is Tunde Jeremiah Aduragbemi as some people might have known me. I started my life off in Nigeria, and I did my first degree in nursing at Ladoke Akintola University of Technology. I graduated in 2011/2012 and thereafter served with National Youth Service Corp in Ondo state in 2012/2013. I went further ahead if you can say that, got employed with Ondo state government and I was with the Ondo State government for close to eight years before I left in January 2020 to continue my career in the UK, and I’ve been in the UK with the Mid and South Essex NHS Trust from 2020 till date and that’s basically the brief part of it and the other things on the side: activism, unionism and every other thing are just by the side, along the line. Thank you.

Mr Tunde Jeremiah

Interviewer: Nice meeting you once again, and quickly without much ado; at what time did Nigeria happen to you, and you decided that it’s time to leave?

Interviewee: (Chuckles) well, let me be crystal clear that Nigeria never happened to me. It has been like a goal to strive as much as possible to achieve the best I can be in every aspect; academically, professionally, personally, and just achieving, trying to achieve the best for ourselves, individually and as a community as I can say. So, right from the time when we were in school, we’ve been doing one or two things to see if we can actually achieve these, and at some point, even immediately after we left school, I tried to see if I can possibly get an admission overseas to do my Masters and everything, but well sometimes when you think “oh, will I be able to get enough money to do this or that?” Then I took the opportunity of the work visa route. I just said, “Let’s move through the route of my job and migrate” and that was it. So, basically, it is not a matter of Nigeria happening to me, but obviously I experienced some hard times if I can say that, Ondo state government not paying salary very well I think around 2014/2015 and afterwards it all summed it altogether, like when you’re working and not getting your salary paid regularly, it’s one of the things that you can say makes you feel really bad, as somebody that is giving your all, doing your best to keep the health of the population going forward, offering your expertise and you are not getting paid; I think is one of the worst that can happen to any man. So, I think that that’s one of the important aspects of it for me. Thank you.

Interviewer: There are many unions in the UK, what influenced your choice of RCN?

Interviewee: RCN, I believe that so many of our listeners will know that RCN is an organization /an association/professional body that serves the largest body of nurses all over the world. This is as a result of RCN having the largest amount of nurses on their list as registrants, unionists or members across the globe. Even the American Nurses Association cannot match up to that. As of the last count, RCN as I think just a little bit shy of 500,000 nurses, as members, and plus nursing support workers and nursing students as well, let me put that fact to it. So, that shows the amount of Nurses that you can find in RCN compared to any other nursing association across the globe. You can look to Canadian Nurses Association and American nurses Association which I believe are the three biggest in the whole world. You cannot find such amount of members anywhere. And for me, actually I think during my undergraduate days, when you read a little bit about ICN, International Council of Nurses. The next day, you read about the American Nurses Association through the definition of What Nursing is by Virginia Henderson, and if you do a little bit of research on the internet before you go further ahead, you will see the relatively large amount of research work that’s been done by some professors in institutions across the globe, sponsored by the Royal College of Nursing, and the Royal College of Nursing has made themselves visible to the whole world, to anybody that is seeking and searching for knowledge and studying to be a nurse, and I believe that several times during my studies, undergraduate studies I have come across journals, and research articles published by Royal College of Nursing, and unfortunately for me, I thought Royal College of Nursing was actually an arm of government in the United Kingdom until I did a little bit of further research to actually know that it was a nursing Association and a nursing body, and then I had to know a little bit about it. I remember quite vividly that in 2016 I wrote something on Twitter that very soon, I’ll be part and parcel of this association. I think I captioned it recently but not so many people will be able to follow with that. So, I captioned it like, “I want to be a member of the Royal College of Nursing and I want to participate actively to also show excellence, to bring to bear the effectiveness, that different kinds of people with different wealth of experience with different kind of culture and background can bring to the floor in Nursing, and Royal College of Nursing specifically, given the fact that we’ve earned this. We’ve had our studies, we’ve added to the quality of life of people around us, and we are called nurses. That’s important thing about”. Thank you.

African Nurses at the just concluded RCN Congress

Interviewer: Would you say that RCN as provided you that platform for you to shine?

Interviewee: Well, I would just caption it in a very little way. RCN usually use a caption “Have your say”. So, RCN, with the little introduction I had in the last few months, and years. They always provide platform for everyone to contribute their quota, to say whatever they have in mind, to participate and be actively involved in processes, policymaking and everything. I can point it to you and I believe you also notice that RCN rolls out the emails almost every week. Not even almost every week, at least no week goes by without you receiving a newsletter from RCN, no week goes by without you receiving something, like something recent that RCN is doing. And if RCN wants to consult, they do this via emails and through post as well. So, at every point in time, you have your phone on your hands, you can easily reach out to them and I can remember there was a survey that was released during the RCN Congress few weeks ago, two weeks ago, if I’m not mistaken about our last shift. The survey captioned “Nurses, how was it on your last shift?” That was done I think in December 2021. So it was a survey to assess what it was like in your last shift and through the survey, I think 80% of respondents said that their last shift was actually short staffed, like, people were overworking. People had more than the required number of patient they should have, people not having good skill-mix to actually carry out their nursing tasks. Those are the ways whereby RCN like get members to participate. And for me, I will I say RCN allows me to have my say. It is because, as a first time attendee in Congress and considering the previous nursing meetings or event I’ve attended. I believe it is a real privilege for you to be in a gathering where you raise up your hand that you have something to say and be granted, despite nobody knowing your name, despite nobody knowing where you’re coming from, nobody knows what you can actually say, I’ve been in gatherings where they will say, “it is chairman of this now, it is chairman of that now”. But, without credence to race, age, sex or anything, you can actually stand up, you’re numbered and if you come on the cube early, it is just like the adage says, “first come, first served” and everybody is actually allowed to air their views, no matter how insane, you may want to say it looks like or it sounds like. You can actually have your say. Owing to the fact that you need to just respect the RCN data when you speak, and respect everybody in the room that they are also human beings and if you can do that, you are definitely allowed to have your say.

Interviewer: The RCN could be likened to the Nigerian Nursing Association which is NANNM, What lesson do you think NANNM can learn from RCN?

Interviewer: Well, I think I will just bullet point it. Number one is utilization of technology. We need to improve. In RCN, you don’t need to enter any office to communicate with the headquarters. It is either you call through your phone, or you send an email. If you send an email, I can assure you that in 15-20 minutes, you will receive a response. That is one, we need to make sure that we hold on to technology and utilize it. NANNM should have a functional website, a functional email address for each state’s chapters or whatever we call it, for each unit and a functional website that will incorporate all of the email addresses. We don’t have to change password or signatures every time because someone is leaving office or you want to open another email. No, it doesn’t work that way. That’s one. Secondly, will be the fact that enrollment of members and getting members involved. I don’t want it to be the fact that we do it as if we are coercing people to be part of the Union, No. I think the world has moved on, you should allow people to come to subscribe to the union, as it is in every other part of the world I believe if you choose to be part of UNISON, RCN won’t come to you. But if you actually want to be identified as a nurse in the UK, you will be part of the RCN, and you subscribe, you go on the internet yourself to subscribe, you decide to pay these monthly dues. It is not somebody collecting money behind your back through the back door or anything. I know it is no really back door, it is the system that works, but I believe we can do this by just utilizing technology. Everybody can set up their direct debit and this can go to the bank without anybody asking anybody to say, bring your money or going to any Ministry of Education or Ministry of Health to collect any due on anybody’s behalf. They should be the ones rightly saying we want to be part of this, I want to subscribe. That is second. The third there will be, NANNM, I know they are trying as much as possible to invest in research, but more about this will also be about enrollment of members, times and times again members, especially in the academic corridor, in the independent sectors, in the oil and gas industries feel marginalised, let me use that word, they feel sidelined from the politics of NANNM. We should bring them into the boardroom of NANNM. We should have professors in the university been active participants with them, as we find in RCN you can see so many professors, sitting on every committee in RCN, because when they subscribe, they have different forums whereby their expertise, their researches can be co-opted. RCN funds these special forums. The turnouts from research depend on the area, they have an RCN as a purse to fund researches. Diabetes in the UK is, is there, they fund researches so that people that are in that area, people that are into research, can write to get grants, I know NANNM is doing it, but I don’t think it is so formalized and something that is regular. I believe those are the areas, they should be looking at. And if I want to say again, I will say, concerning policies and systems. There needs to be total overhaul of NANNM. I’m not desecrating anything but I’m just saying that with my little experience, there can be better running or better application of what we’ve learned elsewhere into the administration of NANNM. We should leave the era of paper and pen to era of technology. Era of the office being the office to era whereby the office is functional 24/7, and you don’t have to wait for the national president to get anything done. You don’t have to wait for any political appointees to get anything done I believe an era like that is possible in NANNM as well.

Interviewer: You were at the last Congress in Scotland. We’re all aware, the whole world is aware that you were there (laughs).

Interviewee: (laughs) the world is not aware. Maybe 100,000 to 200,000 people maybe.

Interviewer: Well, that also qualifies as the whole world (laughs). So, what will you say is your take home from the event?

Interviewee: Well, I think we’ve discussed this a little bit in brevity. Number one thing is the opportunity to be heard. Secondly will be that it was an avenue to actually integrate and let me say bring to life my once lived internal interest in RCN and the opportunity to be on that big stage if I may say, and I was actually opportuned to meet different set of people, people I’ve been following over the years, people I’ve tried to learn about, people I’ve been looking into their research activities, people I’ve been looking into their professional activities and professional progressions over time, and I was actually also privileged to, you know, it was like a networking, yeah, I think that’s a perfect word. Networking for professionals, Professionals of different specialty working in different areas, different regions of the country and the union at large coming together, sitting down deliberating. The RCN Congress wasn’t just a place where we go to elect new officials. No, it was a place where more than 1000 people came to, to say this is what we want our union or our college to do next, and sincerely. It was so refreshing to hear, and to see debates, after debates, even emergency debates being carried unanimously and some not unanimously but people having their say about issues that are actually paramount to them, issues that are very important issues that that are dear to them, they are able to bring it to the forum, they’re able to express their mind, they’re able to get the executives, those leading the organization to say this is what we want next, this is the way we wanted to move and to also see that they are receptive to those ideas and I can tell you, categorically that all of the debates that were carried on the floor, they were submitted by members. I mean individual member, either sponsored by a forum or sponsored by a brand, but, it is the ideas of the members that came to form the agenda, not just people that felt this is what we will discuss and this is not what we want to discuss. I believe that is the most important thing for me in the congress.

Interviewer: The plan for pay rise for nurses has been on for some time and somehow, people have been skeptical, like it doesn’t look like it’s going to be possible in the nearest future. So, for you, do you think this is achievable? Do you think this is possible in the nearest future? Like a pay rise?

Interviewee: Well, the issue of pay rise for nurses as we rightly target the fair pay for nurses in the UK, I think it is long overdue.1 I believe, though I wasn’t in the UK then but from the early year 2000, there has been a pay freeze for nurses in the UK for I think 10 years before they started having their pay increases, maybe once three years or once two years as the government deem fit. But, I think at this point, considering the inflation within the last 6 months, Then the energy crisis and the backlog of pay, it is not… In the real fact of things, the pay remained the same, but considering the standard/cost of living, it has a pay regression for the working class, and it is just right now working class people, people that have given their all, most likely all of their life to study, to take care of the populace and to entrench to keep alive the NHS, if I can say that, to keep alive the NHS because I can say nurses are the backbones of the NHS. If the nurses falter the NHS is going to crash whether we like it or not. So, it is just the right thing to do for the government to give the necessary, the inflation marching pay rise to nurses to keep them afloat, we are not asking for too much. We’re saying; “to keep us, give us what will keep us alive”. If we’re not able to heat our homes well, nurses are going to end up maybe falling sick or dying. If they’re not going to eat enough, then they will not be able to do their job well, if they’re not able to fuel their cars and get to the point of their duty, they won’t be able to do their jobs anyway. So, it is not a matter of in the nearest future, No, it is how fast we want it and I will say if we want to take government to action. 500,000 strong members, don’t need to march down to Westminster. We just need to make a statement. We can see RMT making statements now, we just need to make a statement and a strong statement at that, that government needs to do something right for us. So, I believe everyone that will watch this podcast or YouTube video, they should know that when the common college, the RCN is calling on them to act, whether to complete a survey, whether to say their mind regarding if they are actually ready to take action to get the necessary pay rise from the government, they should take the proper action, they should know what it takes them to give their whole to this profession, and to continue doing it because we’ve seen in the past few years that in the year 2020, I think close to 20,000 people left the register, in 2021 more than that left the register. So if that should continue, in the next five to six is 20,000 people leaving the register almost every year, that is going to portend a very grave, a very big consequence for the health of the population of the UK and for the NHS generally. So, people will continue to grow old, will continue to give birth to new members of the population, but if nurses are not there, to take care of the population, to make sure that we nurse the country to health, we know what is going to happen, I don’t need to say it. So that is what the government needs to tackle. Thank you.

Interviewer: And at this point I would think that we might need to take you down to No 10, Downing Street to face Boris Johnson (laughs).

Interviewee: Well, BJ is not ready to have me yet (laughs).

Interviewer: Do you think it’s possible in the nearest possible time because we can’t deny the fact that some people are skeptical that this pay rise may not be totally possible, and people have doubts, viewing it from a prism and angle of impossibility. So, for you personally, looking at all the facts and figures, do you think this is achievable in the nearest future?

Interviewee: It is very achievable. I would sum it up in the fact that when a people want a thing, they act. I know people can be skeptical, people may think it is unachievable, people may think it is not the right time, But if they, we actually want it as a people, we need to act and whenever we act, it is not going to be next year or year after, or in five years time, if we act in the next few weeks, It is going to be achieved. I can see that categorically, I wouldn’t say 20%, I wouldn’t say 15%, but whenever we act it is going to be achieved and it’s going to be something right and something that is going to match the inflation, that is currently ongoing, and it’s going to be something that is able to keep people afloat in this cost of living crisis.

Interviewer: What has been the most felt impact of RCN in your primary place of work? Not necessarily in your work area, in MSE as a whole, what has been your most felt impact of RCN?

Interviewee: Well, I would like to clarify at first that I’m not a representative of RCN at the moment, because I’ve not completed any of my learning courses or anything. I’ve not actually even enrolled. I’ve had the opportunity to say, “Can I be a RCN representative if there is a learning rep or health and safety rep?” but I’ve not taken up that opportunity as of today, so but in the next few months. That’s something to pursue. But they felt the impact of RCN as I’ve said, RCN is visible to everyone that decides to look, and we don’t need to look anywhere to find RCN because RCN is what each and every one of us, the member is. So, we have the information of what RCN is doing, we have the opportunity to get in contact with our branch executives and secretariat. We have the opportunity to request for any information that we need or any assistance that we need and I think that’s the most important thing. You can pick up a phone, call the RCN headquarters and ask for information concerning what you’re passing through, what you’ve noticed and want changed or looked into and it will be done. So I think the presence of RCN is more than just a workplace, it’s about the members, and I can say each and every member of RCN can say this is what the Union is doing at every point in time, and they can relate to these programs and policies, and they can follow through with it. And they can also have their voices heard through all those policies and I think that is the most important thing. It is not until when somebody has an issue that they need to call on RCN to come and give them a legal backing. No, it is you getting into your emails every other week, reading what is on the newsletter, making sure that when the RCN is calling you to mail your congressman or Member of Parliament, you’re doing that, to make sure that when there is any call for you to respond to a survey, you are responding to that, making sure that you go on your RCN portal as much as you can do maybe once weekly, and see information there for yourself. Join a forum, if you’re in a specialist unit, diabetes unit, you are in a surgical team, join a surgical forum, urology form urology forum. Join a forum and know what they are doing and also join to participate and be actively involved in what they are doing.

Interviewer: What’s your advice for nurses still sitting on the fence regarding joining a nursing association, you can narrow it down to RCN, but what is your advice for them?

Interviewee: Oh well. My advice for every nurse coming into the UK is that first and foremost, make sure you research about whichever workplace you’re going to, know more about the specialty area that you will be working in and try as much as possible to give yourself educated. I mean learning, I’m not saying a Masters or a Ph.D. but I mean learning, CPD courses. Learn to know a little bit more about your specialty area, don’t just go in the morning come back in the evening get tired, try to ask if there is any course that is offered in your primary place of work to see if you can be enrolled into one and concerning union that you need to be part of, I wouldn’t say you definitely have to be part of RCN. It is the largest nursing body in the whole wide world, but notwithstanding; you can choose to join any other union that is available in the UK. I believe we can see that in a trade union website portal, you can ask around but, definitely RCN stands tall among its peers so if you are happy to join RCN, that’s good. You’re welcome and you are definitely at home. And I would like to say as well for nurses coming around, we should have something at the back of our minds, you can achieve anything, if you put your mind to it, be confident in yourself. Trust in whatever you believe in, and you will achieve it. Be positive.

Interviewer: Thank you. Although, I think you have stylishly answered my last question while answering the previous question I asked and that is, “What’s your word of advice to Nigerian nurses planning to come to the UK?”

Interviewee: (Signs) Nigerian nurses planning to come to the UK. Now, the first thing is, the UK is just another country, like Nigeria. Consider the challenges we are facing in Nigeria, I’m not saying you will face the same challenges but there are challenges peculiar to different areas. Be strong. Prepare yourself and I want to also encourage them because you are coming into a country that is more culturally diverse than Nigeria, you meet everyone from across the globe. Prepare yourself to work in a culturally sensitive and diverse society. If you’ve got any biases sentiment from Nigeria, religiously or regionally related biases, please drop them and like I said, be excellent in what you do. Give yourself to learning. Know more about what you already know and be ready to learn at every point in time. I think that will give you the best opportunity to showcase who you are and communication wise, I know we are good at communicating as Nigerians, but I would just encourage everyone to make sure that they try to tune their communication to the environment they are in. It is different. The way we communicate is different from the way we communicate over here. So, just try and tune it to your environment, learn, read the room like they normally say, read the room before you talk, Read the room before you have your say, whenever you want to make a contribution please respect each and every one you can find around you before you say something and I think there’s really nothing different, like I do tell people, nursing practice, anywhere in the world is the same thing. We relate to human beings, we give our care. So, people is at the center of it, respect people and you will find it good

Interviewer: Mr. Tunde Jeremiah Aduragbemi for sparing time out of your busy schedule to have this piece with us, and I really appreciate you and from all of us from Fellow Nurses Africa, we say a very big thank you to you and we hope that next time when we will reach out to you, we will get to have you on the platform once again. Keep the flag flying always. Thank you so much and have a very nice afternoon.

Interviewee: Thank you Ayodeji Ogunleye, see you some other time