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INVESTIGATION: Suspension of NHIS boss: The untold story

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The Executive Secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), Professor Usman Yusuf, was suspended because of his refusal to oblige to series of monetary requests by the Federal Ministry of Health, Daily Trust investigations have shown.

Official documents analysed by this newspaper show that the NHIS chief invited the wrath of the ministry for refusing to grant the health ministry’s various requests of sponsorship of its officials to foreign events, hiring of aircrafts for the minister, among others.

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This development angered the ministry officials, particularly the health minister Professor Isaac Adewale.

Dozens official correspondence between the ministry of health and NHIS showed that the Scheme had spent hundreds of millions of naira in sponsorship of health ministry’s officials despite a 2008 federal government circular that prohibited such actions.

The prohibition circular with Ref.No.SGF.6/VIII, dated May 8, 2008, entitled “Need for strict adherence to financial regulations in cooperation between MDAs and other arms of government and between MDAs an their parastatals,” was signed by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Ambassador Baba Gana Kingibe.

The letter read that “In the light of the recent revelations at the Federal Ministry of Health, all MDAs are hereby directed that the practice of MDAs initiating or acceding to requests for financial assistance or contributions to the National Assembly or its Committees to facilitate their activities, in particular in the carrying out their oversight functions be immediately discontinued. MDAs are aware that every arm of Government has its own budgetary allocation to fund their activities.

“Similarly, the practice of Ministers and Ministries requesting for funds and financial support of any form, including loans and purchase of vehicles from parastatals under their supervision should be stopped henceforth. Chief executives of Parastatals will be held accountable for such lapses, including the provision of facilities and vehicles to ministers and ministries.

“Every effort should be made by the MDAs to prudently manage their resources within existing regulations to avoid attracting appropriate sanctions as such violations of extant financial laws and regulations constitute criminal offences,” the circular said.

But despite this circular, Daily Trust investigations revealed that the federal ministry of health has written so many letters requesting for sponsorship of trips of their officials to conferences abroad.

Official vouchers analysed by this newspaper showed that NHIS had paid hundreds of millions to these ministry officials.

From September 2015 to November 2016, the NHIS former acting Executive Secretary had severally approved between N3 million to N15million for the ministry, far above his approval limit of N2.5million.

The Minister of Health Professor Adewale is one of the beneficiaries of these illegal payments. For instance, on November 19, 2015, the ministry via a letter with Ref.No.MH.8500/TI, requested N5million from NHIS as support to attend WHO meeting in Chad.

The Scheme approved N5.1million on November 23, 2015 for the ministry, out of which N2million was paid directly to the personal account of the minister domiciled in Stanbic IBTC.

But trouble started for the new NHIS boss, Prof Yusuf in March 18, 2017, when the minister requested for N197 million from the scheme “intervention fund” to execute some projects located across seven Federal Medical Centres.

The letter with reference number DFA/CORR/001 was signed by the ministry’s permanent secretary Mrs Binta Adamu Bello.

But Prof Yusuf declined the minister’s request, citing the 2008 federal government circular.

Not only that, the ministry again requested for $37,838 from NHIS through a letter dated May 12, 2017 with reference number C.2483/11, to enable six staff of the ministry to attend the 70th session of the WHO, scheduled to hold in Geneva, Switzerland between May 16 to 31, 2017.

The NHIS chief, citing the same circular, refused to pay this money to the ministry officials, a development that led to his controversial suspension.

Though the minister of health has announced the suspension of the NHIS boss, sources at the ministry and the scheme, last night said the suspension won’t hold because it violated legal and civil service processes.

One of the public servants who spoke to Daily Trust in confidence said “by virtue of the NHIS Act, particularly sections 4 and 8 thereof, the appointment and removal from office of NHIS ES, whether by way of suspension or otherwise is at the instance of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

He said “except removed from office by the President under the circumstances specified in the NHIS Act, the NHIS ES appointment is for a period of five (5) years subject to a further term of the same period at the discretion of the President.”

The source said “by this, the suspension of the NHIS ES, is not in accordance with Public Service Rules as no prima facie case has been established against the NHIS ES in respect of the petitions referred to in the letter.

“The mere fact that there are pending petitions against a public officer which are yet to be substantiated does not constitute a ground for suspension under the Public Service Rules. Otherwise, with over 18,000 petitions pending against public office holders before the EFCC and ICPC as at the end of June 2017, the total number of public officers who would have been on suspension by now including the Honourable Ministers is left to be imagined.”

 

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