Questionable Reinstatement

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The reinstatement of the Executive Secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme, Prof. Usman Yusuf by President Muhammadu Buhari has again raised ethical issues about his administration. Davidson Iriekpen writes

For those who didn’t want to believe that nepotism has eaten deep into the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, last week’s reinstatement of the suspended Executive Secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), Prof. Usman Yusuf, provided them the opportunity.
A circular reportedly sent to the Ministry of Health by the Chief of Staff to the president, Abba Kyari, ordered Yusuf to be reinstated with immediate effect.

Yusuf took over the state-run health insurance provider on July 29, 2016. He was suspended by the Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, in July 2017 following allegations of graft and gross misconduct. He was also accused of spending the sum of N929 million on health care training “without recourse to any appropriate approving authority.”

Yusuf was also alleged to have violated procurement law, dishing out contracts to cronies.
A panel commissioned by the minister found him not have acted rightly in the circumstance among others, he was accused of nepotism. But Yusuf denied all the allegations, maintaining that he was victimised for fighting corruption in NHIS. He said the allegations referred to by the minister were also being investigated by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), which had not submitted its findings as at the time he was asked to step aside.

But Adewole said Yusuf’s response to the petition was unsatisfactory. Consequently, he was suspended, a decision he resisted insisting that the minister had no power to suspend him.
What perhaps shocked many Nigerians was that the Presidency did not consider Yusuf’s indictment by a ministerial panel before asking him to return to work, neither was the humiliation of the minister put into consideration. This move also sent a wrong signal and is likely to encourage insubordination among heads of agencies against their supervising ministers.

The reinstatement had sparked outrage across the country, with many saying that Buhari recalled him because he is from the president’s state of Katsina. Since the inception of his administration, the president has been accused of either favouring people from Katsina State in particular and the north general when making appointments into government offices. A case in point was his appointment of service chiefs and heads of security agencies who are mainly from the north. Also, heads of federal government parastatals are dominated by people from the north.
So bad is the nepotism allegation against Buhari that recently, former President Olusegun Obasanjo in a letter, said the president’s administration was characterised by ‘clannishness”. According to him, the president has also been unable to bring discipline to bear on “errant members of his nepotic court.”

While noting that it appears “national interest was being sacrificed on the altar of nepotic interest,” the former president listed the case of Abdulrasheed Maina, former pension boss, as an example: “What does one make of a case like that of Maina: collusion, condonation, ineptitude, incompetence, dereliction of responsibility or kinship and friendship on the part of those who should have taken visible and deterrent disciplinary action? How many similar cases are buried, ignored or covered up and not yet in the glare of the media and the public?”
The questions analysts are asking are: What now happens to the indictment against Yusuf? Should the anti-graft agencies arrest and prosecute him? What then happens to the anti-corruption war the administration has been touting of fighting? They wondered if Yusuf is from the southern part of the country, would he have been so favoured? Did he consider how the supervising minister would feel?

Though the federal government has said that Yusuf’s reinstatement would not stop his investigation, will he not interfere with the investigation?
Many Nigerians do not even believe Yusuf will face any further investigation. Why is it that neither the EFCC nor the ICPC has invited him for questioning? To lend credence to their view, they cited the reaction of the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, when last week he said he was not aware that the reinstated Executive Secretary of NHIS was being investigated by any anti-graft agency.

“I am not aware that the EFCC is investigating the recently reinstated Executive Secretary of NHIS but if that is the case, I don’t think his reinstatement is a bar to any investigation. I didn’t say I’m not aware of his investigation. I said by EFCC, I said I am not aware that the EFCC is investigating him and that if it is true, that the fact that he has been reinstated does not mean a stop to it. The fact that he has been reinstated does not mean that the EFCC will not continue with its investigation, that is what I said,” he stated.

Many analysts believe that whatever might be the justification for the action of President Buhari for lifting the suspension on Yusuf, it would no doubt create a 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.

But human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, (SAN) has asked the federal government to stop insulting the intelligence of Nigerians by saying that the allegation against Yusuf had not been swept under the carpet and that his purported reinstatement would not stop the investigation being conducted by EFCC.

Falana said in a statement that since section 42 of the constitution has banned the federal government from according preferential treatment to any citizen, the reinstatement of Yusuf could not be justified in law. According to him, the reinstatement should be withdrawn by the president without any delay.

“In line with the provisions of the Public Service Rules the former Secretary to the Government of the Federation and former Director-General of the National Intelligence Agency, Messers Babachir Lawal and Ayo Oke respectively were suspended pending the conclusion of the investigation into the allegations of corrupt practices and money laundering levelled against them. But the established principle has just been set aside by President Buhari who has reinstated the suspended Executive Secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme, Professor Usman Yussuf,” Falana added.

He argued that the federal government was playing on the intelligence of Nigerians by saying that the allegation has not been swept under the carpet and that his purported reinstatement would not stop the investigation being conducted by the EFCC.

The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) chided the presidency for reinstating Yusuf. The party, in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, described the presidency’s action as shocking, scandalous and a mockery of justice. It also mocked the All Progressives Congress (APC)-controlled federal government for allegedly covering up a cabinet minister reported to have bought a property worth N280 million in Abuja from alleged corrupt enrichment.
“The presidency stinks of corruption and has lost all claim of fighting graft, as long as it continues to protect indicted officials of the APC administration,” the statement added.

The PDP added that it was disgusting that the same presidency that is brandishing a medal of African Union Anti-Corruption champion, would short-circuit the processes, arm-twist anti-graft agencies and pull out an indicted government official, while he was still a guest at the EFCC where he was being grilled for his alleged malfeasance.
The statement said, “This is a government official probed and thoroughly indicted for abuse of office and fraud to the tune of N919 million by a committee set up by the minister of health, comprising senior officials of the health ministry, Department of State Services (DSS), and the ICPC and which report was submitted to the president last September.”

Also, labour under the umbrella of Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria (ASCSN), has questioned the recall of Yusuf by President Buhari. In a statement issued in Lagos yesterday, ASCSN Secretary-General, Alade Bashir Lawal, said the action of the president was capable of being interpreted to mean that the government’s anti-graft war was selective and designed to deal with specific targets.

“How can a government official being investigated for a whopping sum of N919 million fraud by the EFCC be reinstated by the government that came to power promising to sanitise the system. This is very unfortunate. We, therefore, urge President Buhari to rescind his action and allow Yusuf to leave the system in peace,” Lawal said.

The union also regretted that the action of the president was capable of lending credence to Yusuf’s arrogant public statements several times that he could not report to the Minister of Health since he dealt directly with Mr. President. According to the ASCSN, the investigative panel set up by the Minister of Health to look into the atrocities of Yusuf which include engaging a consultancy firm in which he is alleged to have vested interests is serious public demeanour that should not be condoned.

“Thus, if Yusuf resumes as Executive Secretary of NHIS, it will amount to passing a vote of no confidence on the minister. What type of a government are we claiming to be running that anyone who is close to the president will become lawless, will not obey public service rules, nor report to the supervisory minister, running a government agency as his personal estate because he is close to the powers that be. This is the type of action that continues to give the likes of United States President, Donald Trump, the effrontery to be deriding Africa and its leaders.”
The union’s statement added: “It is also on record that Yusuf had recruited persons from his primordial constituency who are on grade level 10 in the state public service and imposed them on the staff of the NHIS by placing them on grade level 15 and above. This is one intervention too many and as such Mr. President should allow Yusuf to retire from service to have time to run his personal business.”

On its part, the Health and Managed Care Association of Nigeria (HMCAN) has threatened to sue the federal government over the recall of Yusuf. Speaking at a press conference in Lagos, the Chairman of the Association, Dr. Tunde Ladele, said since Yusuf was already under investigation, President Buhari should have waited till the case was over before either reinstating him or upholding the suspension. He said for someone who was accused of embezzling several millions of naira, and involved in nepotism, there was no basis for his recall except cleared after investigations.

“It was reported that the panel set up by the Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole had found that the sum of N919m had been dubiously given to consultants for staff training and recommended that the EFCC probe the agency for diversion of funds and contravention of the Procurement Act. We therefore advised that in the spirit of transparency, accountability and the stance of government on anti corruption, the report and investigation should not be swept under the carpet. Doing this will erode public confidence and cast a doubt on the sincerity of government,” he added.

“Yusuf has little idea on how NHIS should best be run. The Acting Executive Secretary who replaced him after suspension was already making progress in growing the scheme before the latest announcement. So we condemn the recall, and urged the federal government to do the needful,” he added.

He explained that for the one year Yusuf held sway as the head of the scheme, not a single person was added to the number of those already under the scheme.

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What type of a government are we claiming to be running that anyone who is close to the president will become lawless, will not obey public service rules and will run a government agency as his personal estate because he is close to the powers that be?