N919m fraud: Nigerian minister defies Reps, extends NHIS boss’ suspension indefinitely
The Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, has extended the suspension of the Executive Secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme, Prof Usman Yusuf, indefinitely.
Adewole’s move is in defiance of a resolution by the House of Representatives which asked him to reinstate Yusuf since July.
The minister had in July suspended Yusuf for three months and set up a committee to investigate the NHIS boss who was accused of fraud in a series of petitions. Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo who was the acting President at the time had asked the minister to investigate Yusuf
The committee set up by Adewole comprised senior officials of the ministry, the Department of State Services and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission.
Yusuf’s suspension coincided with an ongoing probe at the House wherein the NHIS boss had accused Health Management Organisations of frustrating the NHIS and perpetrating fraud worse than the oil subsidy.
The House, therefore, saw the suspension as an attempt to intimidate Yusuf and stifle its probe.
The committee set up by the minister, however, found that fraud to the tune of N919m allegedly took place under Yusuf who had spent less than a year in office. The report was then sent to the President on September 4.
In a memo with reference number HMH/ABJ/032/Vol.XII/29 which was dated October 5, 2017, the minister informed Yusuf that his suspension which began in July, would continue until the President acted on the report.
Adewole said since the report had indicted Yusuf, there was no need for him to return to office.
The memo read in part, “Please refer to my earlier letter ref C405/T/132 dated July 6, 2017 suspending you from office for three months to allow for an uninterrupted administrative investigative committee to look into the various allegations against you including that of monumental fraud, gross abuse of office and nepotic acts inimical to the objectives of the NHIS under your leadership.
“The committee has since submitted its report which I have forwarded to his Excellency, Mr. President, for further action.
“While awaiting Mr. President’s directives and considering that the committee found you culpable in many areas of your performance as the executive secretary of the scheme, I am further extending your suspension from the office pending the decision of Mr. President on the report.”
According to the panel’s report the N919m was dubiously given as payment to consultants for staff training under the suspended NHIS boss.
The committee said as the head of the agency, Yusuf was personally responsible for all administrative, procurement and financial lapses.
According to the report, “His (Yusuf’s) deceitful attitude coupled with ‘name dropping’ of Mr. President as having sent him to sanitise the NHIS but he caused more harm than good to the scheme.”
The committee, therefore, recommended that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission probe the agency for diversion of funds and contravention of the Procurement Act of 2007.
The report states that Yusuf contravened the Procurement Act of 2007 through nepotism and other irregular award of contracts and should be sanctioned in line with the provision of the Act.
Explaining how the alleged staff training scam took place, the committee said in some instances, the number of trainees was far more than the entire number of employees at the agency while in some other instances, some employees were registered for the same training in two different states at the same time.
Most of the consultants were said to have charged about N250, 000 per participant.
The report states in part, “The total number of staff at the NHIS is 1, 360. The total number of staff trained by the scheme based on analysis of payment vouchers on training was 1, 992 while the figure submitted by the NHIS was 2, 023 within three months (October-December 2016).
“The difference between the number of staff trained and the number of staff on the nominal roll was as a result of manipulation of names. It was discovered that some staff did not attend (training) but payments were made for both course fee and staff allowances.”
The panel alleged that some consultants were directed to remit part of their fees into a specified private account as kickbacks.