Health workers have expressed mixed reactions to the controversial reinstatement on Tuesday of the suspended Executive Secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme, Usman Yusuf.
Some of the workers who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES said they were reluctant to take a stand until the conditions for Mr. Yusuf’s suspension and recall are made public.
Mr. Yusuf was suspended from office for six months on July 6 last year by the Minister of Health, Isaac Adewole, over allegations of fraud and abuse of office.
Acting on a directive from the office of Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, who was then Acting President, and the Head of Service of the Federation, the minister set up a committee to probe the allegations against Mr. Yusuf and ordered him to stay away from office so as not to hinder the probe.
The panel submitted a report which indicted Mr. Yusuf with Mr. Adewole submitting the report to the presidency.
On Tuesday, a letter signed by the Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari directed the minister to reinstate Mr. Yusuf immediately, without making any reference to the report of the probe.
Olusegun Sotiloye, Chairman of Joint Health Sector Union, JOHESU, University College Hospital, UCH Chapter, in a telephone interview with PREMIUM TIMES said the development is a big issue and involved many stories that are not clear to the public.
Mr. Sotiloye said Nigerians need to know the truth to be able to take an informed position on the development.
Some media reports had alleged that the minister had a misunderstanding with the NHIS boss because Mr. Yusuf rejected some requests from the ministry to the agency for funds. PREMIUM TIMES has no such evidence,
“Whatever the issue, Nigerians need to be told the truth as this is the only way to move the health insurance in this country forward,” Mr. Sotiloye said.
“If the presidency reinstated the ES without considering the report of the panel, that would be a bad move by the government. That implies that the minister’s authority has been undermined if truly the man was suspended justly. However, if the ES had been wrongly suspended by the minister, it is expected that the minister should be admonished and called to order.”
Mr. Sotiloye said President Buhari should thoroughly investigate the matter and release the facts to the public.
“If the man was wrongly suspended, they can reinstate him and admonish the minister. But if the man was actually guilty of all the allegations levelled against him, then the government which mantra is to fight against corruption, has not done well by reinstating him. It is not only fighting corruption, it is also telling the minister that he does not have authority over his ministry.
“Until someone can tell us they exact fact, then I cannot tell you my position,” Mr. Sotiloye added.
Another health worker, Abdulfattah Ibrahim, said it was wrong of the minster to have suspended the ES in the first instance because the minister has no constitutional right to do so.
“We just have to follow the due process, private system is different from public service. In the public service, we have rules that you have to follow before you act on anything,” Mr. Ibrahim said.
“The fact is that the ministers does not have any disciplinary power on permanent secretaries or director general of any agency. It is only the presidency that has such powers.
“The ministers should stop abusing his powers. If they have problem with the laws they should go to the House and change the rules. The rules are there. Ministers and DGs are political appointees, it is to check their excesses; that is why the laws are there,” he said.
Mr. Ibrahim however added that if Mr. Yusuf is guilty of the allegations against him, he should not be pampered by the government but be brought to book.
Segun Olaopa, Chairman of National Association of Resident Doctors, NARD, University College Hospital, Ibadan chapter, said he believed that the Ministry of Health supervises all its agencies, including the NHIS.
“They have their specific modes of operations. So if the panel set up by the minister in charge of the ministry indicts the NHIS boss, then we can say the minister’s action is justified. However, the details of the outcome of the panel were not really made public so it is difficult to really say ones position.
“If the coming back of Mr. Yusuf is done in the spirit of fairness and justices, it is a welcome development. However, I hope it is not politics at play, because it will have a long time ripple effects on the two sides.
“I think the presidency should also give the ministers the opportunity to administrate without someone within the system thinking that one godfather somewhere will upturn their decisions.”
Mr. Olaopa said if the reinstatement is about politics, then it is bad for democracy and at same time bad for the health insurance scheme, which the government is trying to encourage Nigerians to key into.
“It is difficult to either say one is right and the other is wrong. However, since the ES was suspended and not totally sacked, anybody can be suspended and if the case has been cleared, the proper thing is to reinstate that kind of person.
“The problem here is if the due process was followed or not. I think that is the question and I do not think it is victory for anyone of them, either the minister or NHIS boss, and we should be hopeful that it is a good development and something that will benefit the whole of Nigerians,” he added.
NHIS workers on Thursday staged a protest at the headquarters of the agency in Abuja as Mr. Yusuf resumed work.
The workers under the aegis of the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria and the Joint Health Sector Union demanded that Mr. Yusuf’s reinstatement be reversed while investigations into the allegations against him continue.
According to the workers, the reinstatement of Mr. Yusuf would impede his investigation by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.
Some of the workers described Mr. Yusuf’s leadership as causing disaffection and low morale in the system.
The chairman, Association of Senior Civil Servants, NHIS chapter, Razaq Omomeji, accused Mr. Yusuf of bringing someone born in 1984 into the agency as an assistant director.
Alowuyi Kayode, Chairman Medical and Health Association Union, also accused Mr. Yusuf of using divide and rule system to transfer staff indiscriminately.