House Asks Health Minister to Recall Suspended Executive Secretary of NHIS

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• Alleges attack on lower chamber

James Emejo in Abuja

The House of Representatives wednesday passed a resolution requesting the Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, to immediately recall the Executive Secretary (ES) of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), Prof. Usman Yusuf, from suspension and allow him continue with his sanitisation programme in the agency.

The legislators also resolved to invite the minister to show cause why he should not be cited for contempt of the House as the suspension appeared to intimidate the ES and punish him for testifying before the House as well as silence him from further testifying before the lower chamber, in its constitutional duties of investigation of issues of corruption, inefficiency and waste in governance.

It further requested Adewole and the acting ES to stop henceforth, every process of HMOs reaccreditation pending the outcome of ongoing investigation mandated by the House.

The resolution of the green chamber followed a motion of urgent public importance which was moved by Hon. Chike Okafor (APC, Imo) and 35 others on the plight being suffered by the Executive Secretary of the NHIS who is allegedly being persecuted by the Health Ministry due to his revelations at a public hearing organised recently by the lower chamber.
The motion hinged on the need for immediate protection of witnesses who testify before House committees: the case of suspension of the executive secretary of NHIS.

Yusuf was allegedly suspended for three months by the minister following his recent testimony before the House Committee on Healthcare under a false pretence that there are petitions pending against him.

Based on a resolution of the House to investigate the activities of the HMOs and the inhumane treatments given to the NHIS enrollees, the House Committee on Healthcare had commenced an investigative public hearing where relevant stakeholders made startling revelations and useful submissions.

The embattled ES had at the hearing spilled the beans about the fraud being perpetrated in the scheme. He, particularly decried the corruption being perpetrated by the HMOs, which he likened to the fraud in the fuel subsidy scheme, stressing that they are padding figures of enrollees so they could get paid.

He also said that none of the 57 HMOs had a valid license as most of their accreditation has expired and vowed to ensure that any HMO owing health providers, would not be re-accredited.

According to him, a total of N60 billion has been paid to HMOs without commensurate results as they owe hospitals over N2.6 billion. He maintained that there is great corruption in the scheme adding that NHIS ICT department was used by HMOs to pad up to 23,000 enrollees.

Consequently, the House, which vehemently condemned his suspension at plenary, said he was being witch-hunted with intent to punish him administratively for speaking out.

House Majority Leader, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila, said the suspension was an attack on public hearing and the House in general.

He highlighted the legal implication of the removal of Yusuf as it leaned towards tampering with evidence, coercing a witness and fighting against the whistle blowing policy of the government.

Hon. Tobi Okchukwu also decried the situation where a leader of an agency would be suspended through trivial allegations because he spoke against the corruption in the agency.

He wondered how others would be encouraged to do the right thing during public hearings of the National Assembly from which the Executive Secretary’s revelations for which he is being persecuted emanated from.

He sought a review to the way and manner heads of agencies could be sacked or suspended and urged the House to ensure the ES was not neglected for doing the right thing.

However, Okafor, who is the Chairman of the House Committee on Healthcare, in his lead debate argued that the suspension was a witch-hunt on a man who “wants to work and expose corruption.”

He said the minister’s action tended to make people uncomfortable to give evidence at House public hearings, adding that the suspension would also jeopardise the outcome of ongoing probe of the scheme.

The lawmakers further questioned the powers of the minister to suspend an appointee of the president because of petitions which were yet to be established.

They argued that it was rare to have a chief executive of an agency come forth to expose underdealings in his agency and commended him.

The House stressed the importance of the NHIS scheme as crucial for the health of Nigerians and financing thereof and highlighted the wellness of the enrollees and the dangers that the helpless enrollees will face in the light of the current situation of things.

It raise concern that if witnesses who testify before committees of the House are not offered some form of protection and are exposed to various administrative sanctions and intimidation, it will discourage witnesses from revealing the truth and weaken the Houses’ constitutional authority to expose corruption, inefficiency, fraud and waste in governance.

Legislators also expressed worry that the Legislative Houses Powers and Privileges Act only protects evidence of witnesses from being used against them in a civil or criminal proceeding but has no provisions for administrative sanctions or intimidation of witnesses and thus making it necessary that the House acts.

However, the House noted that even Adewole is currently under investigation, resulting from a petition that he allegedly he received car gifts from a former NHIS ES but has not been suspended by the presidency.

It cited an instance whereby “The minister wrote to the Executive Secretary, through the Permanent Secretary, Mrs. Binta Adamu Bello, Ref No: DFA/CORR/001, and dated March 28, 2017, directing the ES to pay the sum of N197,072,500 only for rehabilitation works in some Federal Medical Centres, contract awarded by the ministry in 2016 and directed him to pay the money to the ministry’s account number: 0020155061015 in the CBN, when there is no budgetary provisions for this payment in the NHIS 2016 budget. The ES inquired from the CMDs as to whether there were such projects being executed, they all confirmed to the contrary.

“In another letter dated May 12, 2017, the Permanent Secretary wrote to the ES directing him to pay the sum of $37,838 in respect to six staff of the ministry to attend a World Health Organisation conference in Geneva, and the NHIS has no budgetary provision for such and this is contrary to an existing government circular from the Office of the SGF that ministers should not pressurise their parastatals to sponsor such requests. The fund in possession of NHIS is a Contributory Fund by Nigerian workers. The fund should not be used as directed.”