17 July 2017

Nigeria: NHIs Probe Update - Permsec, Indicted Ex-ES Among Panel Members

Photo: The Guardian
National Health Insurance Scheme.

An indicted former acting Executive Secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), Mr Femi Akingbade, has been co-opted into the panel set up to probe his successor.

The Department of State Services (DSS) and Independent Corrupt Practices and other related Offences Commission (ICPC) in separate reports indicted Akingbade for corruption and called for his suspension and prosecution.

The Federal Ministry of Health recently set up an investigative committee to probe the Executive Secretary of NHIS, Professor Usman Yusuf, who was controversially suspended over allegations of N960million fraud - while he has denied.

Analysis of official correspondences between the health ministry and NHIS revealed that Professor Yusuf was actually suspended for his refusal to grant the ministry's dozens of requests for sponsorship of its officials to foreign events, execution of phoney contracts, chartering aircraft for the minister - all running into hundreds of millions of naira, among others.

The panel, comprising mostly health ministry officials, is headed by the ministry's permanent secretary Mrs Binta Adamu Aliyu. Other members are head of hospital services, head of human resources, director finance, director procurement, director ICT, special assistant to the health minister, special assistant to the permanent secretary, one representative each from DSS and ICPC, two secretariat staff and two others.

Multiple sources told Daily Trust that Akingbade who was in Benin as zonal coordinator was "hurriedly" transferred back to Abuja on Thursday and redeployed as General Manager, Zonal Heads. He was again co-opted by Mrs Binta as a member of the committee on Friday.

Findings show that most of the ministry officials appointed into the committee had benefitted at one time or the other, from the numerous sponsorship of foreign trips, which degenerated into the current crisis after Professor Yusuf refused to accede to them, citing 2008 federal government circular.

For instance, Mrs Bello was the one that signed the controversial memo, with reference number DFA/CORR/001, dated March 18, 2017, forwarding the health minister Professor Isaac Adewale's request for N197 million from the NHIS "intervention fund" for payment of "contracts awarded for rehabilitation and equipping" of seven Federal Medical Centres (FMCs).

Official documents analysed by Daily Trust revealed that Akingbade while acting as ES, approved dozens of monetary requests for the ministry of health officials foreign trips, chartering aircraft for the health minister Adewale, as well as the purchase of two Prado SUVs for the minister and the permanent secretary.

Akingbade, appointed as acting ES of the scheme on April 27, 2015, by President Goodluck Jonathan after the sack of Dr Femi Thomas, was indicted by two separate investigative reports authored by the DSS on April 4, 2017, and that of the ICPC dated November 15, 2015.

The DSS report, titled "Forwarding of investigations report on the maladministration and financial fraud at the National Health Insurance Scheme in 2015" with reference number NS/858/1399, and dated April 4, 2017, was signed by Ahmed Ahmed, on behalf of the Director General of the service.

The DSS report indicted the former ES, Thomas; and Akingbade, who was the General Manager, Information Communication Technology of the scheme.

Some of the findings of the DSS report are that, "The data base of NHIS was compromised by some States, and the NHIS management was fully aware of this; that the compromised database was perfected when Thomas was at the helm of affairs, while Femi Akingbade, who acted as Executive Secretary was Head of ICT; that using the same database, (known to be corrupted), Akingbade, as Executive Secretary, made a dubious payment of N1 billion and fifty million (N50m) to some HMOs, knowing fully well that the list was compromised and duplicated; and that in spite of the foregoing, no attempt was made by Akingbade to jettison the corrupted database at the NHIS ICT unit."

The secret service report recommended, among others, "the suspension of the payment of fifty percent (50%) balance of Fee For Service (FFS) and extraction of verbal commitment from the acting ES (Akingbade) to recoup the initial fifty percent already paid to the Health Management Organisations (HMOs) HMDs amounting to over one billion naira (N1billion)."

The DSS report further recommended "that Akingbade should be placed on suspension to allow for investigation into his activities at the Scheme; that all ICT Department personnel of NHIS should also be placed on suspension to allow for a thorough scrutiny of the NHIS database and their levels of involvement; that Akingbade should be summoned to state why he paid the N1.05billion fifty percent (50%) FFS to HMOs, even when the two (2) Executive Secretaries before him refused to pay same; that the payment to HMOs be ceased forthwith, until the irregularities in NHIS database are rectified."

About two years ago, the ICPC's investigative report entitled: "Corruption practices and abuse of office in NHIS," dated November 15, 2015, also indicted Akingbade and his predecessor, Dr Thomas, over an alleged N1.7 billion fraud.

The six-page report prepared by the ICPC's Special Duties Department and addressed to the commission's chairman found Thomas and Akingbade culpable of "abuse of office: flagrant abuse of financial rules and the regulations; executive rascality: embezzlement of public funds and monumental diversion of government funds."

The report said Akingbade committed the offence while he was General Manager, Information Communication Technology, during the tenure of Thomas in NHIS.

The report said Akingbade and Thomas are "neck- deep in the systematic creation and manifestation of ghost enrollees in the scheme at a staggering cost of N327 million."

"Data generated from the Information Communication Technology form the bedrock with which payments are made to the Health Maintenance Organisations. As at December 2013, Bayelsa and Ekiti state Health Maintenance Organisations were not part of the Millennium Development Goals payment but were paid during the period without a generated data from the supposed Contribution Management Department," the ICPC report said.

To cover up the fraud, the accused "later went ahead to award a contract of Integrity Review of Enrollee Data Base at the cost of N7m to Nexia Solution who gave the scheme a clean bill of health and swept all anomalies under the carpet. However, Nexia Solution advised the scheme on how to plug the leaking drain pipe through which the scheme lost avoidable fund," the report said.

The report also recommended the prosecution of Thomas and Akingbade, saying, "it's crystal clear that infractions have been made repeatedly on Act 2000 which would naturally justify legal action to bring the culprits to book and prevent future occurrence."

While Thomas has been sued by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for another alleged offence of $2.2 million money laundering, neither of them were prosecuted by the ICPC over this investigation. There is no evidence to prove that the two accused were ever is charged over the commission's report almost two years after.

When contacted, the spokesperson of NHIS Odoh Onu, however, told Daily Trust yesterday in a text message that "no any NHIS staff is a member of the (investigative) committee."

Also, the spokesperson of the ministry, Mrs Boade Akinola, in a text message last night said Mr. Akingbade was not a member of the committee, but declined further comments on the issues raised.

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