President Muhammadu Buhari-led All Progressives Congress (APC) administration may have good intentions, the zeal and commitment in the fight against corruption, yet there are clear indications that some appointees of the President are not in sync with his policy direction on this very important anti-graft war. Senior Staff Writer, VICTOR BUORO peeps into unsavory happenings at the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) and notes the system needs obvious safety nets to check inherent abuses capable of derailing the laudable objectives of this vital health programme.
Ardent critics that President Buhari’s political appointments profile reeks of nepotism and lacking in elegance are celebrating their claims that some key things have not yet straightened out in the polity. Determined to stoke and strengthen the assertions that it is still business as usual in government circles, these appraisers’ searchlight tenaciously beams from agency to agency. And currently in stormy waters is National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) where damning reports are unearthing that the anti-corruption war is facing uncanny hostilities from both internal and external forces.
According to competent sources, the novel styled corruption evolving with impunity is being encouraged by the alleged skewed process of appointing heads of some key government Agencies and Departments without inputs from their supervisory ministers and ministries. Forefront authoritatively gathered the appointment of Professor Usman Yusuf as Executive Secretary, National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), is one such contentious arrangements allegedly coordinated by the President’s Chief of Staff and Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) without required healthy inputs from the parent Federal Ministry of Health.
Like many others, insiders hinted the development may have created room for poor adherence to procedures and rules as well as disloyalty and indiscipline within the system. In the process, some of these political appointees now see themselves as larger than life and being answerable only to the Presidency. Aside from the constant snubbing of their supervising Ministers in certain key policy and staff matters, our sources claimed this worrisome scenario is currently playing out between the NHIS Executive Secretary, Professor Usman Yusuf and the Minister of Health Professor Isaac Adewole. Caught in the mix of this budding feud between supervising ministry and its agency is the Senate Committee on Health that has expressed grave concern over the unhealthy rivalry and situation on ground.
Forefront learnt that taking advantage of the vista provided by the alleged twisted procedure adopted in his appointment, Prof Yusuf is accused by health industry stakeholders and NHIS staff of acting as the all-powerful Chief Executive not guided by rules and procedures. For instance, as the Scheme’s Executive Secretary, he has an approving limit of only N2.5 million and must refer any amount above that sealing to either the Tenders’ or Procurement Board for action. However, there are claims that the NHIS boss, boasting severally to some management staff that he is not answerable to the Health Minister but President Buhari, has continued to flout these extant financial rules. Allegations are rife that with this posturing, Prof Yusuf single-handedly awarded a N295 million Health Care Financing Training to AMA Consultancy believed to be co-owned by the trio of Abdulsalam, Mustapha and Adeoye, who are known close allies of Prof Yusuf.
Giving credence to this business intimacy conjecture, our sources said always seen doing business together, the threesome, Abdulsalam, Mustapha and Adeoye, were once kidnapped by suspected Fulani herdsmen in Ibillo, Edo State shortly before the 2015 general elections. In the process, the kidnappers were said to have released Abdulsalam on condition that he will go and raise the ransom money for his two business partners. “It was Prof Yusuf, being of Fulani stalk that reportedly waded into the unfortunate incident and negotiated the release of his ‘bosom friends’ from captivity”, one of our sources stated.
Similarly, investigations showed that Kaduna-based ICT firm was also awarded a staff training contract at the cost of about N118 million by Prof Yusuf without reference to any other approving authority. But as a way of circumventing financial procedures, the bogus contract figure was broken into sub-parts with the training programmes arranged to hold in three locations comprising Lagos, Enugu and Kaduna. Unfortunately, the training, according to some senior staff that participated, was the worst organized programme they ever attended due to poor planning and facilities as well as average-performing resource persons. To insiders, this is against the backdrop that the said training remains one of the highest funded programmes in terms of cost implication in the history of NHIS.
Forefront gathered that the low quality and very poor state of the hotel chosen as the venue and accommodation facility at one of the centres in Agege, Lagos State were so unbearable that some staff had to abandon the training and returned to their stations. The same cheerless story came from participants at the Kaduna and Enugu training centres.
Further checks indicated that despite attempts to split the contract as a cover-up, the amount involved was still far beyond the Executive Secretary’s approval limit of N2.5 million. Curiously, in these entire contract awards, Prof Yusuf did not bother to consult the supervising ministry which he has consistently shown disdain and lack of respect with claims that his mandate came directly from the Presidency.
Notably, this swagger of Prof Yusuf was frowned at by the Senate Committee on Health that invited him and the Minister of Health to one of their sessions. Asked to explain the expenditure pattern by the NHIS under his ministry during the encounter, the Minister, Prof Adewole, quickly responded that he was actually in the dark about such matters, noting that since the Scheme’s Executive Secretary was physically present at the session, it would be appropriate for him to make such clarifications. Interestingly, when confronted with the issues, particularly in relations to referral of such high volume of contracts that were far beyond his approving limit to the minister, Prof Yusuf reportedly told the Committee with an air of arrogance that he has an expressed mandate from the President. Sources close to the Committee hinted that this statement infuriated the Senators, who chided him in unmistakable terms to watch his steps because he was acting outside extant law setting up the NHIS.
Again, despite presidential order banning promotional items in line with the economic realities, the Prof Yusuf-led management smartly advertised and approved the procurement of N50 million promotional items, comprising mainly T-shirts and fez-caps in flagrant defiance of the President’s directive.
It was also gathered another worrying feature of the Prof Yusuf’s leadership style is the lopsided nature of staff recruitment where he has taken the so-called secondment policy to a ridiculous dimension, unmindful of existing federal character rules and procedure. Regrettably, he is accused of embracing and institutionalizing nepotism at its highest peak in the organisation.
Specifically, since resuming duty, Prof Yusuf has recruited 15 staff out of which 11 are from his North-west geo-political zone, with one from Taraba State in North-east and three from North-central zone, including a driver. The three zones of South-west, South-east and South-south were completely ignored, just as the North-east and to a large extent the North-central were merely used as covers for this visible lopsidedness.
Furthermore, there is simmering crisis on Yusuf’s alleged deliberate distortion in career patterns and progression within the NHIS. For instance, the official designation of a Grade Level 15 officer in the Scheme is General Manager (GM) and in this category, Prof Yusuf has engaged four substantive Level 15 officers but rather than designating them appropriately, he smartly ascribed “Head” as their official designation.
Curiously too, the Executive Secretary claimed that the 15 newly employed personnel are on ‘Secondment or Transfer of service’ but with November 2016 as dates of their “Present or First” appointment. But despite attempts to skip the term “First Appointment” under the guise of transferring a career civil servant from some other MDAs in the event of transfer of service or Secondment, insiders insisted that it is clear the 15 affected new hands are on fresh appointments. The argument is that secondment by the civil service rules means ‘the detachment of a person(s) from their regular organization for temporary assignment elsewhere.’
Accordingly, the NHIS Staff Union, in a petition to the Senate Committee on Health, the Presidency and the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), is demanding that the Executive Secretary justifies the hurried engagement of these 15 new staff when there are many officers with appropriate competences, skills and requisite experiences within the Scheme. For instance, in three departments where three of the four new ‘General Managers’ (GMs) now designated Heads were posted, there are already substantive GMs, who went through the process of elevations and were found competent with requisite qualifications. This is unlike the recruitment carried out by Prof Yusuf that does not align with appropriate provisions of the NHIS Act as well as the spirit and letter of the Public Service rules. Forefront learnt the questions Prof Yusuf was found wanting and unable to provide satisfactory answers when appearing before the Senate Committee on Health were: ‘On whose authority and under what approval were the recruitment carried out?’
The NHIS boss, who was in company of the Health Minister, whom he allegedly holds in distasteful contempt, failed woefully to clear himself, just as he could not back up his actions with appropriate laws and rules. An official at the Federal Civil Service Commission told Forefront that Prof Yusuf’s actions, no matter how good his intention, clearly constitute an abuse of extant process. According to the official, aside his Chief Driver, the Executive Secretary does not have powers to single-handedly carry out employment or so-called secondment recruitment drive without an approval from the supervising minister in the absence of the Board. Worse still, is the fact that the records of service of the 15 newly ‘seconded’ workers were not open to scrutiny in line with the rules of engagement.
Strangely too, a female staff with a birth date of October 24, 1984 (name withheld) from Kano State with Personal File number NHIS/2038 was catapulted to the position of Assistant General Manager (AGM), an equivalent to Assistant Director in the civil service in very suspicious and curious circumstance. Our findings indicate the lady, who is slightly above 32-year- old, may have spent less than 10 years in service to get to the position whereas those that graduated from the university at about the same time she was born are presently in the directorate cadre, just as her seniors in age, with more years of working experience and higher qualifications in the same department are at best Principals officers, Assistant Chiefs but certainly not Assistant Directors.
Added to this is the fact that NHIS’ Senior Staff Establishment Committee (SSEC) did not meet to declare such vacancies, just as there was no meeting of the Executive Management Corps of the Scheme to consider and approve any action(s) that may have come from recommendations by SSEC for new recruitment.
A breakdown of the skewed employment by Prof Yusuf showed that in the General Manager category, Prof Yusuf now has Head (GM) Procurement from Taraba, North-east, Head (GM) ICT from Zamfara, North-west, Head Legal from Kwara, North-central and Head (GM) Media from Katsina while the Deputy General Manager category include DGM Procurement from Kaduna, North-west and DGM Media but now posted as Head of Special Services is from Kebbi, North-west.
The Assistant General Manager Category where the highly-favoured lady from Kano, North-west zone belongs as AGM ICT, has another AGM ICT from Kaduna, North-west, AGM Legal from Niger, North-central and AGM Finance and Account from Kano, North-west. In the same vein, the two Principal Manager positions on ICT and Finance and Account are both from Katsina, North-west while Senior Manager and Manager Procurement are from Zamfara and Katsina State respectively with the position of Chief Driver interestingly domiciled in Benue State, North-central.
Insiders insist the goings-on in NHIS indicate that President Buhari’s vision and determination to eradicate or at least, reduce corruption to the barest minimum in Nigeria seem utterly misunderstood and unappreciated by certain internal forces, especially political appointees donning many government’s parastatals and agencies. It is learnt that these presidential aides have not only thrown caution to the winds but are suddenly playing gods under the cover of presidential mandate to evade scrutiny by supervising ministries and ministers.
Forefront gathered from an authoritative source that while external forces massing against the populist’s war is quite understandable, the subtle internal kicks are being delivered with devastating blows against the anti-graft fight and this present a very worrisome scenario to many admirers and supporters of the Buhari administration. The consensus is that if not checked urgently, it may have serious consequences and telling effects on the corruption war as many still insist it is aimed at silencing the opposition.
When contacted, the Head (GM) Media, Abba Zayyan, who is a key beneficiary of Prof Yusuf’s slanted employment procedures was quick to lash onto the ‘secondment’ theory in explaining the contentious recruitment process. He however parried Forefront’s inquest on whether the secondment arrangement was only opened to individuals from particular geo-political zones. Zayyan, told Forefront that though he has been cited as a beneficiary of the so-called skewed recruitment procedure, the processes within the Scheme are system compliant and devoid of any abuses.
On the various allegations against Prof Yusuf-led management team, the NHIS’ spokesman, who admitted that his freshness in the organisation puts obvious handicap on him having a firm grasp of the issues in contention, however failed to keep his repeated promise of getting the Executive Secretary to engage Forefront and respond to our inquiries as at press time.
Contacted earlier, the Deputy General Manager in charge of Special Services, Hajiya Larai Aisha Musa said that most of the issues raised have not only been over flogged but already handled by the management. Though Hajiya Musa did not explain how these were sorted out, she told Forefront that the promotional items earlier advertised were no longer on the table for execution.