ICPC to Interrogate Suspended NHIS Boss, as Rift with Adewole Deepens

Senator Iroegbu in Abuja

The Independent Corrupt Practices and other offences Commission (ICPC) has invited the suspended Executive Secretary of National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), Prof. Usman Yusuf for questioning bordering on allegations of fraud, nepotism and outright abuse of office.

A reliable source informed THISDAY that saturday that ICPC has swung into action in response to the corruption allegations levelled against Yusuf and subsequent suspension by the Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole pending the conclusion of investigation against him.

According the source both the ICPC and possibly the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) will be interrogating the embattled NHIS boss this week as part of combined effort got “get to the bottom of the allegations and cleans the agency of corruption”.

“I have it on good authority that ICPC has stepped in and have invited him for interrogation. So he will be a guest this coming week,” the source said.

This is coming as the rift between Yusuf and his supervising minister Adewole has deepened following the formers insistence that he will not comply with the suspension letter.

The Minister had in a letter dated July 6, 2017 reference number C.4051/T/132 in compliance with directives from the Office of the Head of Civil Service of the Federation in a letter dated June 9, 2017 with reference no. HCS/SPSO/ODD /E&WP/51680/S.2/Vol.2/T, and obtained by THISDAY, suspended Yusuf.

The letter from the Head of Service to the Minister of Health signed by the Director of Organising Design and Development, Mr. Kehinde Adeyemi, read: “I am directed to forward the attached letter received in this Office from Coordinator of a group called the United Youths Alliance Against Corruption.

“The Head of the Civil Service of the Federation has directed that the petition on ‘monumental fraud, gross abuse of Office and nepotic acts’ against the leadership of the NHIS be referred to tour Minister for proper investigation and necessary action.”

Acting on this, Adewole on June 9 handed Yusuf three months suspension from office stating reference “to series of petitions against you (Yusuf) which were forwarded for your comments.

“I am to draw your attention to your response which has been considered unsatisfactory, I have therefore directed the setting up of an investigative committee on the various allegations against you. Consequently, you are to proceed on three months suspension with immediate effect to pave way for an uninterrupted investigation, in accordance with the Public Service Rule”.

The suspension order by the Minister received backing from the Presidency on July 10 in a letter signed by the Deputy Chief of Staff to the President, Office of the Vice President, Mr. Ade Ipaye.

Ipaye with references to letters dated April 21, 2017 from one Solomon Agbo and another dated May 12, 2017 from certain Dr. Tunde Ladele stated that the Acting President Yemi Osinbajo “is in receipt of the referred two petitions, in which allegations of fraud and abuse of office were levied against the Executive Secretary of NHIS, Prof. Usman Yusuf, and has directed that the petitions be forwarded to you for inquiry and necessary action”.

But Yusuf who would have none of that in a letter dated July 12, 2017 raised a five-point order by which he outrightly rejected the suspension directive of the Minister of Health on “the virtue of the NHIS Act particularly sections 4 and 8 thereof”.

According to him, his “removal from office whether by the way of suspension or otherwise is at the instance of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria”.

He stressed among other things that “except removed from office by the President under the circumstances specified in the NHIS Act, my appointment is for a period of five years subject to a further term of the same period at the discretion of the President”.

Although, Yusuf stated, by virtue of Section 47 of the NHIS Act, the minister is empowered to give directives of a general nature to the Governing Council of the Scheme and in the absence of the Council have the Presidential mandate to exercise the powers and functions of the council, “but since powers and functions of the Council do not include the discipline, suspension or removal of the Executive Secretary of the Scheme from office, the directive” in the “letter under reference cannot find comfort under the said section or Presidential mandate”.

Responding, the Ministry of Health in a statement on Friday by the Director, Media and Public Relations, Mrs. Boade Akinola, dissociated “itself from the letter written by the suspended Executive Secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme, Prof. Usman Yusuf”.

The Ministry insisted that “Prof. Yusuf, being a public officer, is bound by the regulations governing the Public Service. The NHIS is an agency supervised by the Federal Ministry of Health”.

Akinola also noted that the “Administrative panel of Inquiry raised by the Ministry to investigate activities of the agency has commenced its assignment with specific terms of reference”.

The membership of the Committee investigating the NHIS obtained by THISDAY include: Permanent Secretary as the Chairman but was reliably informed that he will step aside from the panel.

Others are: Director Hospital Service, Director Human Resources, a representative from the Directorate of State Security, ICPC, Director Finance and Accounts, Director ICT, Director Procurement, Head ACT, STA to the Minister, STA to the Permanent Secretary, and Director Legal with the Secretariat that consists of the Head, Tertiary Hospitals Division, Deputy Director APD and ACCS.

THISDAY also obtained the original letter of petition on April 21 by United Youth Alliance Against Corruption (UYAAC) alleging some financial crime agencies over the corruption presently being perpetrated at the NHIS under the leadership of Prof. Usman Yusuf.

The Coordinator of the group, Solomon Agbo, had in the detailed 8-page letter alleged that the NHIS under Yusuf is bedeviled with fraud ranging from award of contracts without passing through due process to flouting of laid down procurement procedures.

The group marshalled out 23-point offences with corresponding appendix why Yusuf and NHIS leadership must be probed with one of such fraud purportedly perpetuated by the secretary, being the award of contract for training programme for staff of the scheme.

It was disclosed that N860 million was budgeted for training in the 2016 appropriation bill. “Immediately the executive secretary resumed office he set in place machinery to award contract for training which were all devoid of laid down procedure”

According to Agbo, the training were not targeted to improve the capacity of the staff but rather it done for profit reasons and contract splitting to enable proxy contractors make gains.

“The contract for training was split into five with the spending for the jobs above the executive secretary approval limit. Under the ICT training, the contractor, First Digital and Techno-Law Forensics Ltd spent over N400 million by contract splitting which is anti-ethical to laid down procurement rules.

The group also raised eyebrow over a local training carried out by NHIS where a course fee of N530,000 per staff for three day was approved but when the huge fraud was detected by some staff, the management had to cut it down to N270,000.

“Thus the fraud began, most of the training which were scheduled to hold across the thirty six states could not hold while those that held was incomparable to the funds that were released for the training while there were obvious lack of training materials.

They noted that multiple payment vouchers ranging from N19 million, N18 million and N21 million where raised to cover up for the payment of N400 million for the training.
The executive secretary was also accused of paying N28 million to an IT firm Promatrix Global before the execution of the contract.

The petitioners with supporting documents, also alleged that the management of the scheme has developed a culture of spending the schemes funds without prior approval of the supervising minister

“The executive secretary has severally awarded contracts above his 2.5million threshold which is against procurement act and most of the contracts were awarded to his brothers and cronies,” the letter read, adding that staff of the NHIS were helpless to the situation and despite a petition against the secretary not much has been achieved due to his closeness to the presidency.

The Katsina born NHIS boss has also dismissed the allegations as “corruption fighting back” refusing to respond to earlier THISDAY inquiries as he was accused of acting with impunity claiming to have the “ears and backing of Mr. President”.