The recent reinstatement of the Executive Secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme, Usman Yusuf, stirred nationwide controversy and left some staff of the agency bemused.
Some of the staff protested at the premises of the agency Thursday last week when Mr. Yusuf reported back to his office.
During the protest, the workers complained about alleged highhandedness of Mr. Yusuf before his suspension.
The workers’ complaint, which they claimed had not been addressed, was one of the 12 allegations over which Mr. Yusuf was suspended by the Minister of Health, Isaac Adewole, who also set up a panel to investigate the allegations.
Some newspapers reported, quoting anonymous sources at the presidency, that President Muhammadu Buhari ordered Mr. Yusuf’s reinstatement because he found the allegations against him largely unsubstantiated after evaluating the report of the panel that probed the offences.
The Presidency or the Ministry of Health has yet to make the report of the committee public.
However, PREMIUM TIMES exclusively sighted the document this week, and can report that cases of misconduct was clearly established against Mr. Yusuf.
We now serve you highlights of the report.
12- Point Allegations
Mr. Yusuf ran into trouble after a petition by a group to the Presidency and Federal Ministry of Health raised 12 allegations of misdeed and fraudulent practice against him.
The allegations ranged from misappropriation of funds, nepotism, misconduct, flagrant disregard for superior authority and use of inappropriate words on a senior officer.
Specifically, the ES was accused of mismanaging N860 million budgeted by the agency for training in 2016, flagrant disrespect for rules in the award of contracts for the supply of e-library equipment, award of media consultancy to his brother, and the payment of funds to contractors before supply of goods in connivance with the heads of finance and audit at the agency.
Other allegations include incurring expenditure above the N2.5 million threshold of the ES without approval of the supervising ministry, encouragement of the supply of fake products and substandard goods to the agency, inflation of cost of contract by over 100 percent, dropping of the name of President Buhari for disobedience of the Minister of Health, fraudulent practice in the selection of insurance broker for the scheme and collection of a flat rate of N7.2 million for registration of health management organisations, HMOs.
Mr. Yusuf was also alleged to have flouted the rules in granting financial assistance to a person who did not enroll in the NHIS, while denying such assistance to a staff of the scheme who eventually died. He was also accused of approving N210 million for electronic media operations without recourse to laid down procedure.
PREMIUM TIMES gathered that the minister was directed by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo (who was at the time acting president as President Buhari was on medical leave) and the Head of Service of the Federation, Winifred Oyo-Ita, to constitute a panel to investigate the allegations.
This was after Mr. Yusuf was first issued a query over the allegations.
According to a source at the ministry, the minister decided to suspend the ES and set up the investigative panel in line with Public Service Rule No 030406 to allow for uninterrupted administrative investigation because he was not satisfied by the response of the ES to the query.
Panel of Inquiry
PREMIUM TIMES investigations revealed that the Minister appointed 13 members for the panel, with 11 of them drawn from the Ministry of Health, one from the State Security Service and the other from the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Offences Commission, ICPC.
But the ICPC member declined to sit on the panel citing the need to avoid a conflict of interest.
The panel was headed by a former Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Health, Binta Adamu-Bello
A member who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES explained that the committee was constituted as an administrative panel by the ministry in compliance with the Public Services Act on investigating a public officer.
The source explained that the panel sat 30 times, while the subcommittees formed by the panel in the course of the investigation met 10 times each.
According to the source, Mr. Yusuf initially refused to appear before the panel but later changed his mind and appeared twice after the chairman of the panel persuaded him to do so.
The source told PREMIUM TIMES that Mr. Yusuf had to appear before the panel twice because on the first time he appeared in company with his lawyer but the panel said an administrative panel does not require the presence of a lawyer.
“When Mr. Yusuf came back, it was on a Saturday. We had to sit on a Saturday and he still came back in company of his lawyer who he said was there as an observer”.
A member of the panel said Mr. Yusuf admitted before the panel some of the allegations against him but claimed ignorance of the public service code in his defence.
On the allegation of fraudulent use of N860 million for training of staff without due process, the committee found that the actual amount spent under Mr. Yusuf on training was N919, 644,800.00.
It was, however, noted that the entire processes and Mr. Yusuf’s actions involving all foreign trips, engagement of consultants and documentation of the payment process for the training, involving N508, 036,096.00, were devoid of due process. Therefore, the panel recommended that that sum should be recovered from the training consultants by the NHIS.
The panel also uncovered manipulation of names in the number of staff trained and number of staff on the nominal roll. It discovered that some staff who did not attend training were paid both course fee and staff allowances allocated for training.
It noted that the number of staff of the agency was 1,360 as indicated in its nominal roll. However, the number of staff trained by the scheme based on analysis of payment vouchers was 1,992, while the figure submitted by NHIS was 2,023 within three months. (October to December, 2016).
According to the panel, the Procurement Department of NHIS was not involved in the engagement of consultants for all the training programmes as the transactions were basically between the NHIS boss and the Human Resources Department, in contravention of the standard procurement process.
Even more damning, the panel also found that some consultants were directed to remit part of their fees into a private account as kickbacks.
For instance, GK Kanki Foundation was reportedly directed by the Assistant General Manager (Insurance) at the NHIS, Vincent Mamdam, to pay N2.8m into a Skye Bank account with number 1040569204 belonging to one Magaji Garba.
The committee revealed that, “The total course fees paid to the training firms was N508, 036, 096, while staff allowances for all the training was N411, 608, 704; totalling N919, 644, 800.”
The committee also noted that funds were diverted through local and foreign trips in form of estacode per day and per diem allowance for NHIS staff, which were in contravention of extant rules.
After its investigations, the committee made 17 recommendations to government.
It noted that Mr. Yusuf did not carry out his statutory function as an accounting officer, pursuant to section 20(1) and (2) (a-g) of PPA 2007. Hence, the panel recommended that he should be held responsible for all infractions observed in the procurement process of the agency for the period under review and should be sanctioned accordingly.
The committee said as the head of the agency, Mr. Yusuf was personnaly responsible for all administrative, procurement and financial lapses.
Aside recommending that some amounts be refunded to the agency, the panel asked that Economic Financial Crime Commission be mandated to recover N48, 378,800 paid to Katamaye Firstcall Hospital for the treatment of three cancer patients. Mr. Yusuf also approved the payment, although it is above his approval threshold.
The treatment of the cancer patients had generated controversy in the agency as a N16, 220,600.00 was released to treat each of them, although only one of them was an enrolee of the scheme.
The enrolee was a patient referred to NHIS by Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LUTH, but was eventually treated by Katamaye Firstcall Hospital, an hospital not accredited by the NHIS.
The panel noted that the hospital after collecting the money, in turned paid to Belam medicals.
On the foreign trip and training of staff by the agency, the committee noted some discrepancies in the activities and nominal roll.
The committee further recommended to government to carry out a comprehensive staff audit and streamline the bureaucratic setup of the scheme so that it can pursue the health goal it was established for.
EFCC Grilling Mr. Yusuf
According to a member of the committee who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES, the EFCC was grilling Mr.Yusuf after the panel submitted its report and before his sudden reinstatement.
Another official of the Ministry of Health said he could not say if and what process of evaluation the report of the probe panel went through before government decided to recall Mr. Yusuf.
However, the source said: “It would be a bad precedent for the agency and the civil service if the recommendations of the committee were not considered before the reinstatement of the ES.
“This implies that anyone can do anything without being held accountable for their actions. The health insurance scheme is a very sensitive agency which is currently facing lots of challenges and needs to work if we are to achieve Universal Health Coverage.
“The action by the presidency will also mean that ministers in future will have no administrative hold on agencies under their ministries.”
The official urged government to review the Act establishing the NHIS and also ensure that the person appointed to head the agency has knowledge of health insurance.
“With the way things are currently run in the agency, achieving effective health insurance for many Nigerians through the scheme will be a very difficult,” the official said.