Since the appointment of Professor Usman Yusuf as Executive Secretary (ES) of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), it has been a ‘ding dong’ affair between him and the workers’ union over alleged malpractices and deliberate attempt to convert the Scheme into a personal estate for ulterior gains. The development has assumed a frightening dimension, with the workers insisting that anti-graft agencies should commence immediate probe of Yusuf’s alleged corrupt activities. MUSA SIMON REEF reports on the bitter struggle threatening to derail the Scheme.
His appointment as the Executive Secretary, National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) had the trappings of high network connections made possible by powerful figures in the corridors of power. With Professor Usman Yusuf assuming the headship of NHIS, many predicted heady days ahead for the Scheme. Insiders had huge expectations that he was coming to transform and improve staff welfare and status of the Agency.
In his early days, the picture was that of a reformer, out to change things for the better. But weeks after, damning allegations against his leadership were thrown up by critics, both within and outside the Scheme. For these critics, Yusuf’s design was to foist a perceived nepotistic administration based on his selfish interest, by hurriedly employing no fewer than 15 new staff on so-called secondment without recourse to due process.
“What really angered members of the staff was the subterranean plot of employing people from Katsina state, while ignoring states in other geo-political zones of the country”, a competent source said. Obviously unfazed in his resolve to carry out this alleged selfish agenda despite staff outcry, the new Executive Secretary was confronted by an avalanche of petitions that flooded the Presidency, National Assembly and the Federal Ministry of Health on alleged corrupt practices trailing his stay as ‘Oga at-the-top’ in the Agency.
Caught in the mix of corruption allegations between the supervising ministry and the NHIS, members of the Senate Committee on Health, delved into the issues in a bid to resolve the feud that already pitched members of the union against their boss over several industrial issues. With a stubborn streak that refused to bow to protestations from the workers, Yusuf was later invited to the National Assembly for an amicable resolution of the contentious issues. But in the presence of the Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, the NHIS boss dazed the legislators with an attitude depicting that he operates beyond the Ministry’s supervision. It was a cocky show that infuriated the lawmakers who wasted no time in chiding him.
Sources close to the Senate Committee said the NHIS boss’ arrogant attitude came to the fore when the Health minister was invited to explain the expenditure pattern of the NHIS as an agency under his ministry. Promptly, Prof Adewole told the senators that he was actually in the dark about such matters. So, confronted with the issues, particularly in terms of referring such high profiled contracts far beyond his approving limit to the Minister, the NHIS Executive Scribe, with an air of pride, pointedly told the lawmakers that he has the President’s expressed mandate to act otherwise.
Disturbed by the sleaze allegations trailing the NHIS, the Senate recently constituted a committee to scrutinize the alleged wrong doings which Forefront had unraveled in its Edition 24. Among them were the perceived financial improprieties and executive arbitrariness being perpetrated by Yusuf since assuming office as Executive Secretary of the Scheme.
The Senate’s decision to probe the fraud allegations followed a motion sponsored by Senator Kabiru Marafa. He urged the upper legislative chamber to, as a matter of urgency, come to the aid of NHIS by rescuing it from “the grip of NHIS Executive Secretary.
Senator Marafa accused Yusuf of carrying out scandalous activities in the agency, claiming that the NHIS boss has not only been over-shooting his approval limits, but also allegedly embarked on corrupt expenditure up to the tune of N860 million. Contributing to the motion, Senator Mao Ohuabuwa (Abia North), urged the Senate to swing into action immediately and bring the Executive Secretary to work in line with the law.
Cases Against Embattled Yusuf
Checks by Forefront indicate that Prof Yusuf is accused of exceeding his approval limit of N2.5 million without reference to either the Tenders’ or Procurement Board for necessary action. He is also accused of single-handedly awarding a N295 million Health Care Financing Training contract to AMA Consultancy owned by his cronies.
Further investigations revealed that a Kaduna-based ICT firm was allegedly awarded a staff training contract at the cost of about N118 million by the ES without reference to any other approving authority. To circumvent extant financial procedures, the contract was broken into small units, with the training programmes packaged for three locations in Lagos, Enugu and Kaduna.
The recruitment of no fewer than 15 staffers mostly on management cadre by Yusuf under the cover of ‘secondment deal’ sparked off tension in the agency. In the process, the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria (ASCSN) threatened a showdown if the Health Minister fails to enforce the demand by Organised Labour that the NHIS terminates and retrieve salaries paid to the so-called seconded staff.
In addition, insiders are demanding full-scale investigation into the activities of Yusuf alleged to be fraught with corrupt practices and rot that is slowly debasing affairs at the Scheme.
More Cans Of Worms
Recently, a group under the aegis of United Youth Alliance Against Corruption (UYAAC) alleged that Yusuf was engaged in gross abuse of his office and nepotism. In an open petition signed by its Coordinator, Solomon Agbo, the group noted that, “Yusuf’s expertise in the field of pediatrics and exposure in healthcare delivery is not in doubt.” It however said despite his competence, workers are against practices deemed inimical to the progress of NHIS. The petition also alleged that the Scheme approved the sum of N860 million “for a training programme” which was the total sum budgeted for training in the 2016 budget, adding, “These trainings were not targeted at staff capacity building, but towards his personal profiteering, as observed in their poor contents, particularly in the ICT sector. This, he perfected with his cronies by organizing five (5) different trainings namely: (i) ICT, (ii) Risk Management, (iii) Healthcare Financing, (iv) Communication strategy and (v) Public Procurement.”
The group also said; “All these spending he carried out were above his approval limits, but he was always heard boasting that he has the ears of the President, being from the same state, and whatever complaints against him will go nowhere.”
Similarly, there are claims that Yusuf approved the sum of N210 million for electronic media project without recourse to laid down procedures. According to the alliance group, an IT company, whose ownership is close to the Executive Secretary, was engaged in spending over N400 million through contract-splitting, a development anti-ethical to existing procurement rules. The initial course fee of N520,000 per staff for a three-day local training was approved without recourse to diligent planning, but with the mindset to gratify his cronies. However, after the initial protest from staff, the fee was reduced to N270,000.
Again, Yusuf allegedly approved the supply of e-library equipment at the cost of N28 million, with the favoured company receiving upfront payment before job execution, as against procurement rules. He is also alleged to be entrenching the culture of spending the Scheme’s funds without prior approval from the supervising minister, claiming that President Buhari had given him blank approval.
In his bid to fully take charge of the entire Agency, Yusuf approved a new head for the Insurance Unit. But tongues started wagging when he thereafter approved the transfer of two insurance experts out of the headquarters. With the appointment of an Actuarial Scientist as the Head of Insurance, claims are rife about the Executive Secretary’s preference for his cronies occupying juicy positions in the Scheme.
Another issue raised by the petitioners is the choice of Guinea Insurance among the numerous insurance firms approved by the NHIS. “One of the companies so chosen, does not have an office in Abuja, but was brought on board by the Scheme. More worrisome is the directive that each HMO should pay 7.2 million Naira to the insurance company. At present, there are over 34 national HMOs, the EFCC should urgently beam it searchlight on this matter. Why the flat rate?” the petitioners queried.
“Also of foremost importance is the open declaration by the ES that he would not give jobs to any one that is not his person, which he has adhered to so far. Let the names of companies that he has awarded contracts since August 2016 be brought out and their financial transactions examined. It would not be surprising that most of them are his cronies and fronts.”
Yusuf’s critics are also alleging that he “increased the approved financial support to one Fatima Saidu Dabai from a sum of N10,800,000.00 to N16,220,600 which he directed should be paid to Katameya Firstcall Hospital Ltd, as against the first approval to pay directly to the lady.” The group alleged that the hospital may be owned by a confidant of the NHIS boss.
There is also the case of Nnodim Chinyere, where a sum of N16 million was arbitrarily approved by the ES without recourse to laid-down rules. This approval looks suspect, because there are many enrollees currently awaiting support, but their claims have not received any favourable attention from the Executive Secretary. The petitioners recalled that a staff of the Kaduna office, Mr. Al Amin Mohammed, was denied medical assistance which ultimately led to his death, while the two already assisted by the Scheme are not even enrollees.
Contrary to claims by Yusuf that he has succeeded in ridding the Scheme of about 23,000 ghost enrollees, another source faulted this assertion, saying “what the NHIS boss did was merely an attempt to discredit past administrations and divert attention from his wrong doings. The truth of the matter is that Yusuf has taken charge of the Scheme’s data base. This is suspected to be part of his plans to systematically dish out whatever information he desires without any hindrance. What he did was to delete names and claim they were ghost enrollees. Some staffers whose names were among the ones deleted have been complaining. For now, there are enrollees all over the country whose names are no longer in the system and they are genuine. What do you say about that?”
Workers Issue Ultimatum
Following the refusal of Yusuf to outrightly terminate the engagement of the 15 staffers he recruited, senior civil servants had to issue an ultimatum on the NHIS boss to do the needful or risk an industrial action. In a memo to the Health Minister, Professor Isaac Adewole, they wondered why the Executive Secretary should defy the ministerial directive for him to drop from the Agency’s payroll names of the 15 illegally recruited staff.
In their petition to the Minister, the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria (ASCSN), called on him to ensure the agreement on the illegally recruited staffers by the NHIS is implemented. Their letter dated May 4, 2017, and titled: ‘Demand for the Implementation of the Report In Respect of the vexed Issue Of Illegal Secondment Of Officers In The NHIS: Urgent Need To Call The Executive Secretary To Order’, the Union alleged that the Prof. Yusuf has turned himself into “an emperor” and running the Scheme as a personal estate.
“For the avoidance of doubt, the Executive Secretary NHIS only informed the seconded officers to step aside while he kept assuring them that he is doing some work in the Presidency, Office of the Secretary of the Government of the Federation, including the Office of the Head of the Service of the Federation towards their eventual return to the NHIS.
“On the strength of that promise, he has refused to delete their names from the payroll. Thus, the affected secondees were illegally paid April salary by the Executive Secretary against due process,” said the letter.
According to an insider, the official designation of a Grade Level 15 officer in the Scheme is General Manager (GM) and in this category, the ES engaged four substantive Level 15 officers but rather than designate them appropriately, he smartly ascribed ‘Head’ as their official designation.
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. Findings indicate that 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 just got to the directorate cadre. Curiously too, her seniors in age, with more years of working experience and higher qualifications in the same department are Principals officers and Assistant Chiefs.
Plotting Collapse of Health Insurance
Insiders in the Scheme told Forefront that current efforts massed against Yusuf is capable of bringing down the laudable vision of health insurance scheme to Nigerians. The workers are at a loss why the Federal Government seems unconcerned with happenings in the agency.
“Why should the Buhari-led administration be unconcerned with the rot threatening to consume health insurance in the country? This is someone who is out to foist nepotism and plot the collapse of the agency. He cannot be trusted to do justice and improve on what he met on ground,” said a source who pleaded anonymity.
Not to be bested by other forces massing against Yusuf’s alleged high-handed leadership style in NHIS is the Health and Managed Care Association of Nigeria (HMCAN). The Association has already approached a court of competent jurisdiction in its bid to resolve all contentious issues with the NHIS new management, especially in relations to the payment of outstanding capitation fee by the Scheme.
According to its Chairman, Dr Tunde Ladele, who swore to an affidavit to support the originating summon, “The governing council of the first defendants (NHIS), designed the health insurance scheme to be prepaid and the members of the plaintiff (HMOs), were paid three months in advance, a payment referred to as capitation fee.”
In addition, Forefront gathered that the Health Maintenance Organisations (HMOs), with several stakeholders are also not left out in the mounting protestations meant to draw government’s attention to the alleged rot threatening to derail the health Scheme.
Will Yusuf Be Probed?
Several attempts to get the reaction of Prof Yusuf were unsuccessful as phone calls to his lines were ignored. The Scheme’s Public Relations Unit presently has no head or staff to handle enquiries as he was said to have transferred those on ground immediately after assuming duties in the Agency.
Will Prof Yusuf continue to play the Lord of the Manor? This and other questions are only left in the womb of time.