Yusuf is a Professor of Haematology Oncology and Bone Marrow Transplantation. He has extensive experience practicing medicine across three continents
“Nothing predicts future behaviour as much as past impunity.”
– Jane Mayer
The Executive Secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), Usman Yusuf, is on the spot again for the same old reason. Since his assumption of office in July 2017, the embattled Professor of Pediatrics has been enmeshed in controversies ranging from alleged corruption, fraudulent inflation of cost of biometric capturing machines, unlawful staff postings, insubordination to willful defiance of Council’s directive. A quick reference point is his alleged refusal to reflect amendments made by the Council in this year’s budget, as well as alleged move to invest N30 billion belonging to NHIS in Federal Government bonds.
READ ALSO: NHIS Crisis: Presidency orders due process
The long list of wrongdoings, according to the Chairman of the Council, Ifene Enyantu, who announced the suspension order slammed on Yusuf, Thursday, is just a tip of the ice-berg. Her words: “I am convinced that if the president is fully briefed about one-tenth of Usman’s atrocities, he would jail him.”
But defiant to the suspension order, Yusuf stormed the NHIS office on Monday with a team of police escort amidst workers’ protest, insisting that only President Muhammadu Buhari, who appointed him, has the powers to remove him from office. It took the intervention of combined team of police, Civil Defence Corps and the DSS to avert what would have amounted to a breach of peace.
One major concern of the stakeholders is the impunity with which Yusuf defied the purported suspension order by the constituted authority, while the presidency turned the blind eye. Indeed, the tragic comedy drama that heralded his forceful resumption of office on Monday is only an anti-climax of the silent conspiracy that has sustained his tenure as the head of the NHIS.
Last year, the Minister of Health, Prof Isaac Adewole, had ordered a similar directive based on the allegation of N919 million fraud. But he boldly dismissed the action as illegal, saying only Buhari had the power to do so. “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 declared.
Subsequently, he returned to office under the protection of the police following the report of administrative panel, which declared him not guilty of the allegations of abuse of office and maladministration.
Before the latest suspension order, the Council was said to have met with the Permanent Secretary in the ministry, who then invited the Director of Legal Services to interpret the provisions of the law, and confirm the power of the Council to suspend the Executive Secretary.
As the controversy rages, there are those who see the present crisis as the handiwork of some unscrupulous elements within the organization who are said to be opposed to the laudable reforms introduced by Yusuf. These subversive elements, they argue, are bent on doing everything possible to resist the new changes being championed by the Executive Secretary.
On the other side of the divide is also another group, which accuses the presidency of shielding Yusuf for all his wrongdoings. The Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria (ASCSN), Medical and Health Workers Union of Nigeria (MHWUN) and Nigeria Civil Service Union, among others, belong to this later category. They nearly clashed with their counterparts in the Nigeria Civil Service Union, which mobilised themselves and countered the protest against Yusuf at his resumed duty on Monday.
READ ALSO: NHIS unions protest resumption of NHIS boss
Its statement read: “The ES has recovered a lot of money since his assumption of office; he remitted about N1.2 billion to the TSA account; he insisted that the Health Management Organisations paid back funds meant for health facilities.
“What is playing out today is that those benefiting from these funds and the past administration are fighting, causing crisis.”
Reading from the body language, there is no indication that the presidency is ready to accede to the demand of workers to sack Yusuf, as according to the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Malam Garba Shehu, the embattled ES has prevented the misappropriation of public funds.
Though Shehu agreed that the NHIS had been “ethnicised and politicised by some interest groups within and outside the agency,” he wondered if Yusuf’s suspension followed due process.
President Buhari had appointed Yusuf at a time the Health Management Organisations were short changing the system, leading to a situation where subscribers to the scheme were not getting the best out of their dues owing to sharp practices on the part of the HMOs and health providers.
Yusuf, who graduated from the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, in 1982, is a Professor of Haematology Oncology and Bone Marrow Transplantation. He has extensive experience practicing medicine across three continents – Africa, Europe and North America. He became a Consultant Paediatrician and Fellow of the West African College of Physicians in 1989. In 1988, he won a scholarship for a postgraduate diploma in Tropical Medicine and Hygiene at the University of Liverpool, UK. He had also worked at Christies Hospital and Holt Radium Institute in Manchester as an Oncologist 1990 – 1994 before he moved to the United States of America in 1995 where he was a Fellow of Haematology and Oncology at the Medical University of South Carolina.
In order to avert further crisis, the Federal Government has directed the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, and Adewole to intervene and ensure resolution of the issues.
Some people are of the view that only a thorough investigation of the allegations could end the raging crisis.