NHIS: Presidency silent as suspended ES defies Governing Council, remains in office

• Aso Rock may overrule Council

• We stand by our decision, Council insists

ABUJA – Suspended Executive Secretary, National Health Insurance Scheme, Prof Usman Yusuf, has defied directive by the Governing Council of the scheme that he proceed on ‘indefinite’ suspension over.

Yusuf was suspended by the council on Thursday on alleged fraud, insubordination, criminal breach of Procurement Act, self-aggrandizement, arbitrariness among other offences.

He was however driven into his office at the Jabi headquarters of the NHIS at about 10am on Friday. As at the time of filing this report in the evening, Friday, sources said he was still working in office.

This newspaper gathered on Friday that the matter was reported to the Federal Ministry of Health. Specifically, the Permanent Secretary, Abdullahi Mashi, who was allegedly contacted by the ES over the suspension.

Mashi allegedly told him to interpret the NHIS law if the Governing Council has power to suspend him.

“He was told to interpret the NHIS law, if the Governing Council has power to suspend him,” a source stated.

The source furthered: “Professor Yusuf has a lot of petitions against him from the public as noted by the Governing Council on Thursday before suspending him, which the Council said should be investigated by the administrative panel set up to probe him.

“As a civil servant, he cannot remain in office while he is being probed. He was given only three months to step aside. He should abide by that decision, except his hands are not clean.”

Interestingly, the Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, had suspended the ES in June 2018 over similar allegations.

He was being probed for N919 million fraud at the time.

President Muhammadu Buhari reinstated him in February this year. The action attracted condemnations from Nigerians who saw his reinstatement as a huge dent on the president’s anti-corruption crusade.

Nothing was later heard of the probe after his reinstatement.

There were insinuations yesterday that the Presidency might overrule the Governing Council as it did to the Health Minister.

Chairperson of the council, Dr (Mrs.) Enyantu Ifenne, told our correspondent yesterday in a text message that the council stood by its decision, and said should President Buhari receive just ‘a tenth’ of Yusuf’s alleged misdeeds, he would sack him immediately.

Ifenne was reacting to allegation that the Presidency might overrule the council’s stand.

“Let those who hide under cover of the Presidency to protect corruption know that Nigerians are keenly watching. I am convinced that if President Buhari is fully briefed about a tenth of Yusuf atrocities, he would throw him out! The truth, like health, has no colour, no tribe and no religion and no social class…The council stands by its decision,” she said.

Briefing newsmen on Thursday, the council, through Ifenne, said: “The council has met. We have been inundated with petitions. We also observed some executive infractions that we cannot ignore, especially in administration that is committed to transparency and accountability like Muhammadu Buhari’s administration.

“So, with detailed examination or review of some of these documents, the council has made some landmark decisions. The first decision is that we have resolved to constitute and administrative panel of investigation immediately to examine the issues at stake.

“This administrative panel has three months to complete its assignment and report back to council to decide on way forward. Also, council resolved that executive-secretary, NHIS, Prof. Usman Yusuf, is suspended indefinitely. The reason is to allow the panel unencumbered, unfettered space to do a thorough investigation.

“Council also resolved that the Acting Executive-Secretary now is mallam Sadiq Adamu Abubakar. Also, I want you to know that we consulted and got the approval of the honourable Minister of Health because we came to this decision.”

Asked if the council has such power, Ifenne responded: “Our power is derived from the law. We base our decisions on the provisions of the law. We base our decision on the provisions of the law that allow NHIS governing council to take expedite and appropriate actions to make sure that the objectives of the scheme are achieved.”

Fielding question further on what the council would do, should the presidency overrule it’s decision and reinstate him as it did earlier, Ifenne said she didn’t envisage such an action.

A document made available to journalists by the council detailed alleged offences of the suspended Executive Secretary. Part of it reads: “At the inauguration of the Council in March 2018, NHIS had no approved budget for its activities for 2018. Therefore, the Council underscored passing the 2018 budget as priority. Unfortunately, management of the scheme seemed unmindful of the financial and operation risks and consequences of running a public entity without approved budget. Sadly, 10 months into the financial year, the scheme has no approved budget.

“To arrest the drift and expedite progress, the finance committee and council held five meetings, dedicated to the budget culminating in a resolution on 24th July, 2018 which directed the Executive Secretary to amend, reflecting final council positions and represent for chairman’s signature for chairman’­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­s signature to avoid further delay.

“Some highlights of the required amendments include the following: Removal of the N264 million padding discovered in the budget proposal; reduction of the 2018 training budget from over N1 billion to a realistic N250 million naira to avoid the training stampede in 2017 when N919,664,800 was spent, in just three months, without needs assessment and departmental training plans.

“Removal of the N100 million posting and transfer provision since the council had adopted an earlier policy that transfer/postings shall be contingent upon outcome of comprehensive staff audit to enable the scheme align transfers and posting with needs, structure, skills and organizations.

“Removal of the frivolous provision of N50 million for an additional SUV for the ES, considering that one was acquired for him last year.

“However, after many reminders through council members, the ES forwarded the budget document on the 6th August, 2018 without the amendments as directed. The chairman subsequently, returned the budget document two weeks later with detailed analysis. Significantly, till date there has been no response, compliance nor correspondence on the matter whatsoever from the ES despite written reminders sent to him by the chairman.

“Fraudulent inflation of the cost of biometric capturing machines: The 2018 budget proposal submitted by the ES included the procurement of biometric capturing machines at a unit cost of N11,500,000.00, whereas, the market cost is only between N700,000.00 and N1,400,000.00, depending on specifications. When council finance committee requested for more information and vendor presentation to justify the astronomical cost, the ES blatantly refused to oblige. It is significant that the ICT projet cost escalated, without justification, by 242% from N7,783,185,805.37 in 2015 to N18,864,676,612.85 in 2016 and N14,975,032,572.30 in 2018. Unfortunately, the ICT project which should significantly improve operational efficiency and service delivery is stalled because executive secretary denied council critical information required for decision making on the project.”

Summary of other crimes committed by him are: attempt to illegally execute N30 billion investment bonds; unlawful staff postings and willful defiance of council directive, willful refusal to implement council directive on the disbanding of illegal union, unauthorized staff travel in defiance of council directive, superfluous arrogation of project vehicles, insurbodinate conduct by the executive secretary, failure to provide leadership for the development of a strategic plan for the agency despite council’s directive, plethora of petitions against the executive secretary

The document furthered: “At in inauguration on 5th March 2018, NHIS was in turmoil and council proactively intervened to douse tensions. We were determined to set a clear path to refocus the agency and regain stakeholder, public and government confidence in the agency.

“However, despite council efforts, nine months later, HIS is back in turmoil. Unfortunately, the governing council is trapped in a vicious cycle of conflict and corruption management. Our dreams to contribute the rich resource of members’ professional, corporate and administrative experience to add value to federal government of Nigeria vision for the agency is constantly frustrated by the non-collegial leadership approach of the ES. We are pained that council meetings are reduced to acrimonious and confrontational platform for management staff and ES to air petitions and counter petitions of corruption and present frivolous house-keeping matters. In fact, council efforts to reset the agenda, refocus the agency on a strategic path and change the narrative is resisted at every turn.

“We are deeply concerned about the situation and the incremental drift that may tip NHIS into financial, operational and organizational collapse. In fact, we must reiterate that with current deficit budget trends and dwindling net reserve funds, the probability of the scheme collapsing in three years is high. This tipping point may occur sooner if remittances decline further, budget deficit trend persists and the management fiscal indiscipline continues.

“We were appointed as men and women with integrity and trusted by the president and Commander-in-Chief, crusader for transparency and accountability, to salvage the organization. We must (respect) his trust and reinforce his anticorruption philosophy in NHIS.

“Therefore, the council must address institutionalized corruption in NHIS. We must shift the focus from managing the money and not on growing the mission. Sadly, ‘managing the money’ to the detriment of growing the mission is the norm to the extent corruption drives and defines the agency’s organizational and leadership culture. The two prongs, managing the money and growing the mission should be mutually reinforcing. This must be council’s approach going forward.

“Pervasive corruption is past, present and ongoing in NHIS. Sadly, over the years, it has concretized and now defines the agency in public perception. We must frontally address to pull the agency from the brink of collapse/ we must fight decidedly against the sharp and fraudulent practices of some health management organizations and health provider.

“Beyond that, as representatives of Buhari administration, we must focus the fight inwards, within NHIS, which currently enables and facilitates corruption amongst players in the health insurance eco-system.

“Finally, NHIS and the governing council are at a cross road. This council must choose to elevate NHIS to a high moral ground and refocus it in strategic directions to expand coverage deliver efficient health insurance services to Nigerians. The council must step into the authority space granted by the law and justify president President Buhari’s trust.”

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