The Executive Secretary, National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), Professor Yusuf Usman, in this interview denied allegations of illegal recruitments and accused Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs) of ‘feeding fat’ from contributions of enrollees without rendering commensurate services.
What I have done over the last six months is to professionalize the departments; procurement processes within the NHIS has been criminally negligent. Billions of Naira worth of goods or services are procured without due process. I have professionalized my procurement by seconding professionals within the service-not new employment. For the first time since the creation of NHIS, procurement opening bids are now transparent according to the Procurement Act. We bought procurement boxes and bids are open to the public in the parking lot. This is the first time it is ever happening in the NHIS and that is what it should be as contained in the Act. ICT department professionals are now there; in the legal department professional lawyers are now there that are ready to go to court on behalf of the enrollee. We have also revamped our media department so that we are more visible to tell people what we do and how we can help people. In the finance department I have a consultant that is currently looking at the books of the finance and contributory pension departments to see how we can make things better and be transparent. This is what I have been doing.
But there have been reports about tension within the NHIS union over alleged illegal recruitment by your management…?
Talking about tension did you see any when you walked into NHIS today? All this is a myth and nonsensical! There is no tension in the NHIS; our staff are more motivated now because they see a management that is more serious. What you see in the newspapers about tension in the NHIS is nothing but planned by people from outside. I am professionalizing the NHIS By seconding from the federal civil service according to the law. Whatever I do I am guided by the law; that is why I have lawyers who know the law. I have not recruited anybody into the NHIS; secondment is not recruitment. What I am doing is exercise the power of a chief executive to second into his MDA according to the civil service and the law. A chief executive has the right and power to second into an MDA provided there is the need for it and provided that MDA can pay and this is exactly what I am doing. Go to FIRS and see at how many they have seconded, same for EFCC and ICPC, including many ministries and MDAs. The whole idea is to make the ministry or MDA functional and efficient and that is what I am here for; to make NHIS efficient and not continue in the same old ways of inefficiency, corruption and impunity.
The unions are specifically alleging that you are recruiting people predominantly from the North-West…?
That is not true. When I recruited I don’t think I was looking at what geopolitical zone they came from. I have the privilege of having being outside this country and I lived out there longer than I lived here. So I am not tainted nor held back by this is my religion, town or geo political zone but I am very mindful of the politics of that. I am very mindful about what the law says about equity in this country; that every member of this country must be represented in any MDA or ministry. That is why the federal character commission was created. I have visited the commission and was called to the federal character committee of the House of Representatives. So I am very much aware that what I have done is not skewed to a particular zone but to get very efficient peopl3e into my team regardless of their geopolitical zones
.So how would you respond to threats by the unions to picket the NHIS?
The unions are a valid and necessary component of any democracy and they are welcome. Unions must be effectively engaged because that is the only way they can keep the system in check. I told them the best way to neutralize any union the world over is for a person to be fair, just and transparent and these are my watchwords. Unions picketing NHIS is their legitimate rights under our constitution; they can do that. What would be illegal is for them to impede the functions of the NHIS either by molesting anybody or causing any damage to our property. But they are welcome!
The unions also allege that you are unreachable and stubborn…?
Stubborn, maybe; unreachable it is not true. What do they even want to reach me for? I have met with them severally; I have met their leadership severally. I took myself to them. There has never been a national leadership of labour that has come to me; I have gone to Lagos I have gone to the Labour House here; I have met them severally. I am not fighting unions, Nigerians need to know that. What I am fighting is a proxy war on corruption here in the NHIS and I am asking unions not to be tainted; not to be fooled because these so called unions are not representatives of the people in NHIS. In fact I have had my staff coming to tell me, sir these people are not representing us. Go and ask comrade Waba or Kaigama whether I am fighting the unions; I am not. What I am fighting is corruption and I will fight anybody who is a proxy of the corrupt. Mr. President said it that if we do not fight corruption in this country, corruption will kill us. So also in the NHIS corruption almost killed the NHIS when I came on board. You need to see the amount of money that had been stolen over the last eleven years and compare with the results we have seen. So if we do not fight corruption in the NHIS corruption will kill the NHIS. If corruption is afraid to come and fight me frontally and is sending its agents we will fight that too. But I remain focused and determined that corruption will not be part of the NHIS anymore; whether by proxy or frontal. I advise the unions that they should not be used by the corrupt.
There are allegations that drugs given to NHIS enrollees at the NHIS hospitals are substandard, what is your reaction to this?
I have given interviews and asked all doctors, nurses and pharmacists to educate NHIS enrollees when they come that drugs given to NHIS enrollees even though they are cheaper they are not substandard; they are generic drugs. I will give you an example of what generic drugs are in the western world. When a company spends money to create a drug, the government gives that company 10 years leeway that it is the only company that can make that drug so that it will recoup its expenses for research and development. After the 10 years any other company can make that drug because the cost will be substantially lower. These drugs called generic contain the same things. When I go to a chemist here in Abuja and I ask for ampicillin and they say we have N10,000 ampicillin I say no give me the cheap one. They say I have N500 one and I say that is the one I want. I read it and know they contain the same thing; the N500 one is generic and cheaper. This is what we are encouraging hospitals to give our patients. I am an enrollee too; when I and my family go to hospital we are given the generic drugs and we take it. The whole idea of the NHIS is to bring down the cost of healthcare in the nation.
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