The reinstatement of Usman Yusuf raises more questions than answers

The reinstatement, by President Muhammadu Buhari, of the suspended Executive Secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), Prof. Usman Yusuf, has raised several pertinent questions about propriety, due process and sensitivity to core governance issues. It has also put the beleaguered health sector under the spotlight, for all the wrong reasons at a time the country is battling with another Lassa fever epidemic.

It all started with a petition dated April 21, 2017, by a group named United Youth Alliance Against Corruption (UYAAC), which made damaging allegations against Yusuf. Aside accusing him of budgeting N860 million for a questionable training programme in the 2016 appropriation bill, the group went into details on how Yusuf allegedly violated laid-down procedure by splitting contracts and raising multiple payment vouchers. With supporting documents, the group also alleged that the NHIS boss was fond of spending money without any approval from the supervising ministry. Following the petition, Health Minister, Prof. Isaac Adewole, suspended Yusuf. To the shock of everyone, the latter publicly declared that he would disregard the minister’s directive.

In a defence of his questionable action, Yusuf stated that by virtue of Section 47 of the NHIS Act, only empowers the minister to give directives of a general nature to the Governing Council of the scheme while, in the absence of the council, the Presidential mandate allows him to exercise its powers and functions. He added that “since the powers and functions of the council do not include the discipline, suspension or removal of the Executive Secretary of the Scheme from office” the action of the minister was ill-motivated and that he would not obey it. This open confrontation cannot be right.

Unfortunately, in a bid to outwit one another, the parties introduced into the dispute polarising ethno-religious slants, which have now trivialised the seriousness of the issues. For almost two weeks, the Nigerian public was subjected to the stench coming from the health sector in the form of allegations and counter-allegations between Yusuf and Adewole. For an administration that claims to be fighting corruption, the revelations are very troubling. More disturbing was that as the matter played out in the public glare nobody deemed it fit to bring the parties under control, or at least prevail on them to act within the bounds of decency demanded by their respective offices.

While Yusuf, who initially resisted the attempt to suspend him eventually had to vacate office to pave way for a proper investigation of the allegations of fraud, nepotism and abuse of office levelled against him, the entire saga has, once again, exposed the indiscipline in our public service and the lack of effective coordination within the Buhari administration. To say that these reprehensible traits have come to characterise the current administration is to state the obvious.

However, whatever may be the justification for the action of President Buhari to lift the suspension on Yusuf, it creates a very disturbing impression and puts Adewole in the worst possible situation any superior official can find himself in an organisation. The minister’s authority has been severely undermined, discipline has been compromised and his directives would no longer carry much weight in a very important sector. If Yusuf is guilty as charged and the minister is being prevented from reprimanding him, then the president is encouraging indiscipline and insubordination in the public service. If, on the other hand, Yusuf is not indicted by the panel set up to probe him, then Adewole and his men in the ministry have serious questions to answer.

Either way, this matter does not reflect positively on the Buhari administration.