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Reps may query Yusuf’s suspension by NHIS council

Executive Secretary of NHIS, Prof. Usman Yusuf

The governing council of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) yesterday announced the indefinite suspension of the executive secretary, Prof. Yusuf Usman.

The decision, however, could face a backlash from federal lawmakers.

Spokesperson of the House of Representatives, Abdulrazak Namdas, expressed surprise over the development, insisting that the chamber’s earlier position on retaining Yusuf stands.

He told The Guardian via phone: “We still stand by our position. It has not changed as we speak.

However, I am not aware that the council has suspended the NHIS boss. By the time the House is formerly communicated on the issue, we will know the next step to take.”

The House was party to his reinstatement following his July last year suspension by Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole.

Yusuf, found culpable in an alleged N919 million fraud, was eventually recalled in February 2018 by the presidency.

The resolution to suspend him a second time was reached after a two-day meeting of the council’s members. The chairman, Dr. Ifene Enyantu, disclosed that the council had been inundated with petitions and had observed lots of executive infractions that could not be ignored.

According to her, Yusuf stands suspended indefinitely, to allow a panel unfettered space to thoroughly investigate the petitions and allegations and submit a report in three months.

Enyantu said the GM Legal Department Adams Sadik would henceforth be the acting executive secretary. She noted that the council consulted and received the approval of the health minister before arriving at the decisions.

She added that the council’s powers derive from provisions of the law that empowers the organ to initiate expedient and appropriate action, to ensure that the objectives of the scheme are realised.

Allegations against the NHIS boss included an attempt to illegally execute N30 billion investments in FGN bonds, fraudulent inflation of the cost of biometric capturing machines, unlawful staff postings, insubordination, wilful defiance of council’s directive and refusal to reflect amendment’s made by the council in the 2018 budget.

A committee set up by the minister last year discovered that the alleged N919 million fraud took place less than a year after Yusuf assumed office. A report was subsequently sent to President Muhammadu Buhari on September 4.

Adewole, in a memo (ref. HMH/ABJ/032/Vol.XII/29) dated October 5, 2017, had informed Yusuf that his suspension would continue until the president acted on the report.

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 nepotism inimical to the objectives of the NHIS under your leadership.”

Yusuf, in a letter dated July 12, had acknowledged receipt of the suspension letter. He however stated reasons why he may not comply with the order.

“By virtue of the NHIS Act, particularly Section 4 and 8 thereof, my appointment and removal from office, whether by way of suspension or otherwise, is at the instance of the president.

Except removed from office by the president under circumstances specified in the NHIS Act, my appointment is for a period of five years, subject to further term of the same period at the discretion of the president,” he said.

The House of Assembly had faulted Adewole on the suspension, describing it as a deliberate breach of its constitutional duties.

Chika Okafor, the Chairman of the House Committee on Health Services, described the minister’s action as contemptuous. He said the suspension was intended to intimidate, silence and punish Yusuf for testifying recently before the committee.

Witnesses who testify before the House’s committees are protected from administrative sanctions and intimidation, he explained.

Chike, who claimed he had documentary evidence to prove the NHIS boss was being victimised by the minister, said: “The committee was aware that the minister wrote to the executive secretary through the permanent secretary, Mrs. Binta Adamu Bello, to pay N197, 072,500 for the rehabilitation of some federal medical centres in a contract awarded by the ministry in 2016.

“The letter also directed Yusuf to pay the money to the ministry’s account number: 0020155061015 in the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), even when there was no budgetary provisions for the payment in the NHIS’s 2016 budget.”

He further alleged: “In another letter, the permanent secretary asked Yusuf to pay $37,838 to six officials of the ministry to attend a World Health Organisation conference in Geneva.”

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