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NHIS boss’ recall order is an endorsement for corruption

*How did they reach that ugly decision, workers ask

Health workers have expressed mixed reactions to the controversial reinstatement of the suspended Executive Secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), Prof Usman Yusuf.

Some of the workers who spoke with www.gongnews.net said they are reluctant to take the new decision of the government until the conditions for Prof. Yusuf’s suspension and recall are made public.

Prof Yusuf was suspended from office for six months with effect from 6th July 2017 by the Minister of Health, Prof Isaac Adewole, over varied allegations of fraud and abuse of office.

Acting on a directive from the office of Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, who was then Acting President and the Head of Service of the Federation, the minister set up a committee to probe the allegations against Prof. Yusuf and ordered him to stay away from office so as not to hinder the probe.

The panel submitted a report which indicted Prof. Yusuf with Mr. Adewole submitting the report to the presidency.

On last Tuesday, a letter signed by the Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari, Abba Kyari, directed the minister to reinstate Prof. Yusuf immediately, without making any reference to the report of the probe. This backyard ‘go and sin no more’ directive would have helped cover the N919million that Yusuf is alleged to have mismanaged.

Olusegun Sotiloye, Chairman of Joint Health Sector Union, JOHESU, University College Hospital, UCH Chapter Ibadan, in a telephone interview said the development is a big issue and involved many stories that are not clear to the public. These stories have to be replayed.

Mr. Sotiloye said Nigerians need to know the truth or the parameters which informed the recall of Prof Yusuf to be able to take an informed position on the development.

Some sponsored media reports had alleged that the minister had a misunderstanding with the NHIS boss because Prof. Yusuf rejected some requests from the ministry to the agency for funds.

“Whatever the issue is, Nigerians need to be told the truth. How did the President’s office reached the decision to recall him without recourse to the processes before them? This is the only way to move the health insurance in this country forward,” Mr. Sotiloye said.

“If the presidency reinstated the Executive Secretary without considering the report of the panel, that would be a bad move by the Federal Government. That will be an endorsement for corruption. That implies that the minister’s authority has been undermined if truly the man was suspended justly. However, if the ES had been wrongly suspended by the minister, it is expected that the minister should be admonished and called to order.”

Mr. Sotiloye said President Buhari should thoroughly investigate the matter and release the facts to the public.

“If the man was wrongly suspended, they can reinstate him and admonish the minister. But if the man was actually guilty of all the allegations levelled against him, then the government which mantra is to fight against corruption, has not done well by reinstating him. It is not only fighting corruption, it is also telling the minister that he does not have authority over his ministry.

Minister has no power to do what he did: “Until someone can tell us they exact fact, then I cannot tell you my position,” Mr. Sotiloye added.

Another health worker, Mallam Abdulfattah Ibrahim, a pro-Yusuf apologist, said it was wrong of the minster to have suspended the Executive Secretary in the first instance because the minister has no constitutional right to do so.

“We just have to follow the due process, private system is different from public service. In the public service, we have rules that you have to follow before you act on anything,” Mr. Ibrahim countered.

“The fact is that the ministers does not have any disciplinary power on permanent secretaries or director general of any agency. It is only the presidency that has such powers. The minister should stop abusing his powers. If they have problem with the laws they should go to the House of Representatives of the Senate to change the rules. The rules are there. Ministers and DGs are political appointees, it is to check their excesses; that is why the laws are there,” he said.

Mr. Ibrahim however added that if Prof. Yusuf is guilty of the allegations against him, he should not be pampered by the government but be brought to book.

Doctors say the Minister was right: Segun Olaopa, Chairman of National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), University College Hospital, Ibadan chapter, said he believed that the Ministry of Health supervises all its agencies, including the NHIS.

“They have their specific modes of operations. So if the panel set up by the minister in charge of the ministry indicts the NHIS boss, then we can say the minister’s action is justified. However, the details of the outcome of the panel were not really made public so it is difficult to really say ones position.

“If the coming back of Prof. Yusuf is done in the spirit of fairness and justice, it is a welcome development. However, I hope it is not politics at play, because it will have a long time ripple effect on the two sides.

“I think the presidency should also give the ministers the opportunity to administrate without someone within the system thinking that one godfather somewhere will upturn their decisions.”

Dr. Olaopa said if the reinstatement is about politics, then it is bad for democracy and at same time bad for the health insurance scheme, which the government is trying to encourage Nigerians to key into.

“It is difficult to either say one is right and the other is wrong. However, since the Executive Secretary was suspended and not totally sacked, anybody can be suspended and if the case has been cleared, the proper thing is to reinstate that kind of person.

“The problem here is if the due process was followed or not. I think that is the question and I do not think it is victory for anyone of them, either the minister or NHIS boss. We should be hopeful that it is a good development and something that will benefit the whole of Nigerians,” he added.

NHIS workers say no to Yusuf’s return: Meanwhile, staffers of the NHIS on Thursday staged a protest at the headquarters of the agency in Abuja as Prof. Yusuf attempted to resume work.

The workers under the aegis of the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria and the Joint Health Sector Union demanded that Yusuf’s reinstatement be reversed while investigations into the allegations against him continue.

According to the workers, the reinstatement of Prof. Yusuf would impede his investigation by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

Some of the workers described Yusuf’s short term leadership as causing disaffection and low morale in the system.

The chairman, Association of Senior Civil Servants, NHIS chapter, Razaq Omomeji, accused Prof. Yusuf of bringing someone born in 1984 into the agency as an assistant director.

Alowuyi Kayode, Chairman Medical and Health Association Union, also accused him (Yusuf) of using divide and rule system to transfer staffers indiscriminately.

Government should wait for investigations against Yusuf: “We believe that this government came to fight corruption. We also believe that whoever must come to equity must come with clean hands. Prof Yusuf’s reinstatement behoves much to be desired. Presently he is being investigated by the EFCC and ICPC, so we are appealing to President Muhammadu Buhari to wait for the report of this investigation to be concluded before any further action,” Mr. Kayode said.

“If the man is given a clean slate then he can return but as is it now, all his activities for the past one year has been that of ethnicity, tribalism, religiosity and nepotism. Imagine him transferring over 40 per cent of the staff outside Abuja and replacing them with 300 NYSC members. It leaves much to be desired, so we are appealing to this government as a union of NHIS to reverse this recall while investigation with EFCC and ICPC continues,” he added.

There has been a rash of reactions from Nigerians since the news of Prof. Yusuf’s reinstatement broke.

On Wednesday, the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, explained that Prof. Yusuf’s recall will not stop any corruption investigation by anti-graft agencies.

Though, the presidency has not spoken official on the basis for his reinstatement, a source at the Presidential Villa claimed that the suspended executive secretary was reinstated because the president believes the allegations against him are yet to be proven. Both of them are friends and hail from the same state, Katsina.

The source said the Federal Government believed that the committee constituted by the minister to investigate Prof. Yusuf was neither independent nor free from bias.

“Barely one year into his assumption of office, Professor Usman Yusuf was suspended by the Minister of health on the strength of a petition by the United Youth Alliance Against Corruption, UYAC and Association of Senior Civil Servants.

“The Minister, relying on the petition, constituted a 17-man committee under the headship of the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry to look into the petition by this body of Civil servants. Out of the 17 members of the committee, 16 of them were staff of the Ministry while one member was from the Department of State Services (DSS). The request for a nomination from the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) was declined because they feared a conflict of interest.

“From the composition of the committee, it was obvious that the committee was neither independent nor free from biases,” said the Federal Government source.

“Some of the allegations brought against the Executive Secretary by the UYAC could not be substantiated in 20 of the 23 allegations as no evidence was brought forward. Others were obviously concocted as there were evident alterations and mix-ups in dates on some of the petitions,” the source said.

FG admits lack of competence in NHIS: He said it is clear from the investigation that the presidency identified an acute lack of capacity in the NHIS as an organisation and unless a new set of competent managers are found and recruited, the objectives of setting up of the NHIS may remain a mirage.

“This is why the minister was directed to work with the Executive Secretary to redress some of the identified shortcomings within the organisation to avoid a breakdown of one of the federal government’s flagship programmes and truncate the intention of government to expand the scope of beneficiaries of health insurance scheme and indeed broaden government’s efforts in repositioning the health sector.”

Meanwhile, the acting Executive Secretary of the NHIS, Attahiru Ibrahim, on Wednesday reportedly met with the senior officials of the agency during which he asked them to prepare handover notes for the unpopular Yusuf.

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