19 October 2018

Nigeria: Governing Council Suspends NHIs Boss

Photo: Premium Times
Usman Yusuf.

The Executive Secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), Professor Usman Yusuf, was again suspended by the governing council of the scheme - the second time in two years over alleged "infractions" and "serious misconduct" all of which he denied.

The suspension was announced in a press briefing by the governing council chairman, Dr Eyantu Efene, in Abuja yesterday. She said the ES was suspended because of infractions and petitions levelled against him.

Yusuf was appointed by President Muhammadu Buhari on July 29, 2016. He was suspended by the Minister of Health Prof Isaac Adewole on July 6, 2017 over allegations of corruption, which the ES also denied. Yusuf was reinstated on February 7, 2018.

Prof Yusuf when contacted last night, said he will not speak on the matter now. "I can't speak on the issue now. I will do that at the appropriate time," he said.

The council, in the letter of suspension obtained by Daily Trust, said it has reviewed the alleged infractions and petitions leveled against the ES and has relied on "the provisions of the powers granted the Council in the NHIS Act in Part 11, Section 6 (i) which states that 'doing such other things as are necessary or expedient for the purpose of achieving the objectives of the Scheme.'"

The council said it relied on Section 7 (a) and (j) of the act which states "carry out such activities as are necessary and expedient for the purpose of achieving the objectives of the Scheme set out in this Act."

"The Council has noted these infractions as serious misconducts and in line with the public service rule 030406, has resolved to suspend you, Professor Usman Yusuf, indefinitely with effect from 18th October 2018 to allow for a comprehensive and unfettered investigation of the issues in the petitions against you," the letter read.

When the council chairman was asked during the press briefing that the council has no such powers to suspend the ES, she said they have consulted and received approval from the Minister of Health, Prof Adewole.

She said the minister has approved the setting up of an administrative panel to investigate the matter. The panel has three months to finish its work.

The council has appointed General Manager legal department, Dr Abubakar Sadiq Adamu, as acting ES before investigation is concluded.

Some of the infractions by Prof Yusuf, according to the council, include alleged inflation of procurement of cost of biometric capturing machines, attempt to illegally execute N30 billion investment in FGN bonus, unlawful staff posting and willful defiance of council directive, and superfluous arrogation of project vehicles.

Too many crisis

It was not clear whether the current investigation will be anything different from that of the past. Daily Trust earlier reports through analysis of official correspondences between the health ministry and NHIS that 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 investigative panel was chaired by then permanent secretary Mrs Bello, who 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).

Another member of the panel set up by the minister was a former acting Executive Secretary of the NHIS, Mr Femi Akingbade who was earlier indicted by reports of the Department of State Services (DSS) and Independent Corrupt Practices and other related Offences Commission (ICPC), which called for his suspension and prosecution.

Investigations further revealed that the ministerial investigative committee was paid N19 million from the contributions of NHIS enrolees as sitting allowance.

Daily Trust findings revealed that Yusuf was at loggerheads with the council which was inaugurated on March 7, 2018 because of his resolve to clean the enrollee's data base and the rot in the Health Management Organisations (HMOs).

On April 2018, Yusuf deregistered 23 HMOs for failing to meet up with the minimum operational standards expected of them. That development triggered another controversy particularly the decision was taken just about two months after his reinstatement.

Daily Trust reports that the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, had warned boards' chairmen and members of MDAs not to interfere with the day to day running of the agencies.

Officials at the office of the SGF said the Council lacked the powers to suspend the ES, as he is a presidential appointee and as such can only be suspended or removed by the president alone.

One of the officials said: "What the NHIS Governing Council has done is unlawful. The ES remains an appointee of the President. What the Council may have done was to recommend Yusuf's suspension to the President, and even at that, it remains within the President's purview to act."

Another official, however, said, "Since this is just to pave way for unhindered investigations into allegations, this should be taken like it is. It does not amount sack."

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