The controversy generated by the reinstatement of embattled Executive Secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme, Usman Yusuf is yet to abate, writes Omololu Ogunmade
The controversial February 7 reinstatement of the Executive Secretary of National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), Usman Yusuf, by President Muhammadu Buhari, shocked many to their marrows. Yusuf had been accused of gross negligence, corrupt practices and abuse of office.
Such a decision by the president, who was noted for his remarkable statement, “if we don’t kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria,” generated hues and cries in the polity and resulted in the loss of confidence in the current war against corruption by the Buhari administration.
Yusuf had initially been suspended by the Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, on July 6, last year following petitions addressed to both the presidency and the Ministry of Health by a group, which listed 12 allegations of misconduct and corrupt practices against him.
Among others, Yusuf was reportedly accused of fund misappropriation, nepotism, misconduct, insurbodination and ill manners. And consequent upon this, then acting president Yemi Osinbajo approved the investigation as demanded by the minister.
In clear terms, he was accused of mismanaging N860 million meant for training of NHIS staff in 2016; violation of procedure for award of contracts on the supply of e-library equipment and approval of N210 million for electronic media operations; award of media consultancy contract to his brother as well as the payment of money to contractors ahead of supply in connivance with heads of finance and audit of the NHIS.
He also allegedly exceeded N2.5 million expenditure ceiling placed on his office without a recourse to the Ministry of Health, promoted the supply of fake and substandard products to the agency, inflated contract cost above 100 per cent, used Buhari’s name as an excuse for disregarding instructions from the Minister of Health, engaged in fraudulent practices in the selection of an insurance broker for NHIS and collection of a flat rate of N7.2 million for registration of health management organisations, among others.
Now, the Findings
Following receipt of the petitions, the presidency, then under the headship of Professor Yemi Osinbajo as acting president, directed the Head of Service, Winifred Oyo-Ita, to constitute a committee to probe the allegations.
The investigative committee, however, reportedly found that Yusuf allegedly spent more than N860 million stated by the petitioners for staff training without due process. The committee said the actual amount spent by Yusuf was N919, 644,800.00.
Besides, the committee found that N508, 036,096.00 that Yusuf spent on foreign trips, engagement of consultants and recording of payment process for the training violated due process.
The committee also discovered that Yusuf allegedly manipulated names and numbers of staff said to have been controversially trained why some staff, who did not attend the training programme were said to have been paid course fee and staff allowances.
What the Committee Recommended
The committee found Yusuf guilty and recommended the recovery of funds expended on the training and hiring of consultants by the NHIS.
The Controversial Reinstatement
Although Yusuf was initially suspended for three months in July 2017, the Health minister, in another letter dated October 6, extended the suspension indefinitely and asked him to await presidential directive on his fate.
When the presidential directive eventually came eight months later, Yusuf’s alleged brandishing of Buhari’s name as the cause of his audacity to flout Adewole’s directive appeared to have paid off as the president ordered his immediate reinstatement. A report said the president’s decision was predicated on a belief that the allegations against him were unsubstantiated.
The reinstatement which was contained in a letter signed by the Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari, with reference number SH/COS/106/6A/29, only charged Yusuf to work harmoniously with the Minister of Health.
Anger, Disappointment Trail His Reinstatement
The president’s decision sparked anger across the polity. While the staff of NHIS, who saw themselves as victims of Yusuf’s actions before his suspension staged a protest against his return, others who might be beneficiaries of his leadership staged a counter protest.
Besides, Nigerians including Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, some senior advocates of Nigeria, among others, condemned the reinstatement with some of them accusing the president of approbating and reprobating on issues of corruption.
Others, who questioned the president’s sincerity on his anti-graft campaign, recalled that the president was allegedly fingered in the earlier similar reinstatement of former Chairman of Pension Reform Task Team (PRTT), Abdulrasheed Maina, who had been declared wanted over alleged embezzlement of N195 billion pension fund.
The Head of Service, Oyo-Ita, had in her leaked response to a query issued by Buhari last year over Maina’s reinstatement, said she drew the president’s attention to the move to recall him and warned against the implications.
Notwithstanding, Maina’s recall process was followed through and he resumed work until the media blew open the secret reinstatement.
This latter reinstatement of Yusuf, who is also reportedly being probed by both the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Independent Corrupt Practices (ICPC) and Other Related Offences Commission raised a number of rhetorical questions in the minds of concerned Nigerians as many wondered if the agency under Yusuf in the current questionable circumstances has prospects of sanity and transparent leadership which Buhari’s government promised to entrench.
Soyinka, who was one of those notable Nigerians that asked rhetorical questions over the reinstatement, believed that the president’s decisions in recent times were strange and portrayed him to be in the world of trance and not of reality. He accused the president of committing a number of unforced errors in recent times.
“I don’t know; so many unforced errors. Take for instance, the reinstatement of the fellow who was sacked from NHIS. He was reinstated by the President. What is that about? What is going on? It is a certain kind of alienation from reality going on,” Soyinka stated.
Asked what he would tell the president should he meet him, Soyinka did not mince words to say: “I will say Mr. President, you are in a trance. Too many things are happening now which made me say that. I think he is under a trance.”
Also reacting, the leader of United Youths Against Acts of Corruption (UYAAC), Solomon Agbo, recalled some of Yusuf’s alleged misdeeds before the suspension.
“Immediately Yusuf was appointed, he brought in some people (mostly family members) on secondment and placed them in strategic locations. The agency became a business venture. He spent above his approval limit. He handled the agency as if it was a private business,” he added.
With the recent scenarios in the country’s anti-graft campaign, the multi-million dollar question on the lips of many is: Is the war still on course?