Ring True

By Yemi Adebowale; yemi.adebowale@thisdaylive.com; 07013940521 (Text only)

By now, the reinstated Executive Secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme, Prof. Usman Yusuf, ought to have been asked to return home, if we are truly in a democracy. Minister of Health, Isaac Adewole, had on July 6, 2017 suspended Yusuf over allegations of fraud against him. However, the Presidency reinstated him but failed to make reference to the accusations against him. Opposition to the recall of Yusuf pours from all corners of Nigeria. A truly democratic government must persistently abide by the wish of the people. Unfortunately, ours remains a crooked democracy. The key actors hardly respect the wishes of the people. This was exactly what played out in the reinstatement of the NHIS boss by President Muhammadu Buhari. Perhaps, our President was in a trance when he gave approval for this ignoble action. Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka alludes to this, saying “Buhari is in a trance based on so many unforced errors”. Public service rules are very clear about how to handle cases like that of Yusuf’s. Since he is under investigation, he should remain at home until the conclusion of the investigation.

Adewole had earlier set up a panel to probe Yusuf’s transgressions and the panel found him culpable. He was subsequently suspended indefinitely by the minister. The allegations against the NHIS boss are weighty. He was mainly accused of violating procurement laws and dishing out contracts to cronies. Why should Adewole sweep under the carpet the purchase of a Prado SUV by Yusuf for N58 million shortly before the last Ramadan, even though his approval limit was N2.5 million? Sources said a number of Prado SUVs were attached to his office, but the NHIS boss allegedly went ahead to buy a new one. Why should the minister overlook claims that Yusuf mismanaged about N919 million contributions of subscribers to the NHIS?
Why should Adewole keep quiet about the alleged award of contracts worth about N1 billion by Yusuf to his cronies? This decision to recall Yusuf left me dumbfounded. Is this how Buhari will continue his war against corruption? This is evidently a mockery of his anti-corruption war. Besides, our President has again demonstrated his clannishness and lack of respect for due process. Yusuf, who spoke in Sokoto on Thursday, remained insolent, saying that he was not corrupt; yet, his godfathers could not wait for the EFCC to conclude its investigation.

The position of erudite lawyer, Yusuf Ali, (SAN) on the recall of the NHIS boss and the warped war against corruption aptly captures the frustration of majority of Nigerians with the Buhari administration. Ali said: “Nigerians deserved an explanation from the federal government. The President’s recall of the indicted NHIS official belittles the minister’s authority. The reason for which he was suspended is well known to everybody. It was well publicised. It was said that there was some money which he couldn’t account for and for which the EFCC was invited. Curiously, nobody has heard anything from the EFCC and the man was recalled.
“So, I think the government owes us an explanation on why the man who was suspended by the minister was recalled by the Presidency. Why was it not the minister that recalled him? The problem about such a matter is that it would have been better if the minister recalled him because they are demystifying the offices of the minister. The reinstatement does not portend well for the anti-corruption crusade of the present administration. It has the tendency of sending a wrong signal. For all intents and purposes, it means that the anti-corruption body can do whatever it wants to do; the government is least concerned.”

Another lawyer, Ifedayo Adedipe, added: “It is a total disgrace and an embarrassment. If I were the minister of health, I would resign and give them back their useless position. The President has undermined his so-called war on corruption for whatever reason, and it does him no credit that he is doing this. A man under his watch is accused of corruption and being probed, and you reinstate him. He has undermined that minister. And this professor (Yusuf) was so boastful, saying only the President could query him. That he (Buhari) would do this kind of thing no longer shocks me.”

It is heartwarming that employees of the NHIS, under the aegis of the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria and the Joint Health Sector Union, are challenging the unconvincing reinstatement of Yusuf with protest. This must continue until Yusuf packs out of the headquarters of the agency in Abuja. The workers were spot-on when they said that Yusuf’s recall would thwart his ongoing investigation by the EFCC. Clearly, no staff will be willing to give evidence against a sitting CEO at the EFCC office. The leadership of the NLC and the TUC must rise and support the leader of the NHIS workers, Razaq Omomeji, to sustain the strike against Yusuf’s recall.
Omomeji has vowed to sustain the protests until Buhari reverses Yusuf’s restoration. “Yusuf has bastardised the scheme and his return would only worsen affairs at the agency,” declared the leader of the workers.
As for our President, I want him to reflect on a portion of late Shehu Usman Dan Fodio’s teaching that “the crown of a leader is his integrity, his stronghold is his impartiality.” My message to Adewole is a very simple one: Please, bow out honourably.

All the Noise about Worthless Positive Statistics
The news in town is that Nigeria’s external reserves rallied to a new high of $42.8 billion on Tuesday. This is almost $1.8 billion more than the $41,092,672,948 in reserves as at February 8, 2018. The Central Bank of Nigeria is so happy telling us that the last time the foreign reserves hit the $40 billion mark was January 2014, about five months before the crash in global oil prices. The National Bureau of Statistics also wants Nigerians to know that inflation rate, measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI), has dropped to 15.13 per cent in January from 15.37 per cent recorded in December, 2017. This week in Lokoja, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo claimed that the Buhari administration had committed the highest amount ever by any administration to capital development and projects in the country.

So, how have all these fantastic figures impacted on the lives of hapless Nigerians in the last 33 months of the Buhari administration? The answer is nil. This rising reserves have not translated into decent life for the masses of our people. Nigerians continue to be ranked among the poorest globally. Poverty, disease, hunger, mass sack still pervade our land while those in power regale us with these so-called positive statistics. Are these people in power unaware that the country’s unemployment rate rose from 14.2% to 18.8% in the third quarter of last year, according to figures from the National Bureau of Statistics? This should burden the authorities. Is this government really interested in working with data? Any serious government would have ensured a robust engagement of this unemployment figures.

I am worried that Nigeria will soon surpass India as the country with the largest number of people living in life-threatening poverty despite the fact that India’s population is almost four times that of Nigeria’s. Living in extreme poverty, going by the parameters set by the World Bank, means living on less than $1.90 per day, an amount that cannot guarantee even the token needs for existence. This is another insignia of disgrace that should task genuine patriots.

Authorities at all levels in our dear nation should concentrate on pragmatic steps to pull more Nigerians out of poverty instead of celebrating statistics not impacting on the lives of Nigerians. Besides, the increase in reserves is due to the high price of crude oil, which is the only product that earns forex for Nigeria. This government and the CBN did not perform any magic on this. So, they should stop this nonsensical celebration.

Reordering of the Sequence of 2019 General Election
I still can’t understand the grudge of the nine senators protesting against the amendment to Electoral Act 2010 and Electoral (Amendment) Act 2015, reordering the sequence of 2019 general election. The aggrieved senators stormed out of the upper chambers shortly after the adoption of the report of the Conference Committee of the Senate and the House of Representatives that harmonised the two versions of the amendment bill. They even threatened never to allow the alteration to stand. This is preposterous.  I listened to one of them, Senator Abdullahi Adamu, giving humdrum reasons for their opposition to the amendment. I am happy he did not say that the National Assembly breached the constitution with this action. These dissatisfied senators are clearly working for the Presidency instead of the masses of this country. So, they are afraid that the reordering of the sequence would adversely affect the chances of Buhari in the 2019 election? Buhari has not told Nigerians that he would re-contest. Even if he does, I am sure that this reordering of the election sequence won’t be the major determinant of his fate.

With the amendment, the National Assembly election holds first, followed by the state Houses of Assembly and governorship elections, while the presidential election comes last. Senator Abdullahi and his cohorts are pretending to be unaware that this country has had this type of election sequence in the past in which the Presidential election was held last. It was adopted in 1979, 1992, 1999, 2003 and 2011. When the sequence was reversed in the 2015 general election, it could not save sitting President Goodluck Jonathan. So, what is Senator Abdullahi and his allies talking about? I sincerely hope Buhari will append his signature to this bill. The National Assembly clearly has the needed majority support to override the president if he vetoes the bill. The fact that only nine of the 108 senators opposed the transparent amendment process speaks volumes. That was the precise message of Senator Suleiman Nazif (APC, Bauchi North) when he said: “Whether it would be assented to or not by the President, as far as we are concerned, it remains in the realm of conjecture for now; but if such eventually happens, we’ll know how to cross the bridge.”