The Unwholesome Recall of Suspended NHIS Boss

Usman Yusuf

President Muhammadu Buhari through a presidential fiat returns Usman Yusuf, executive secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme, to office after six months of suspension for alleged fraudulent activities, much to the chagrin of Nigerians who feel that the allegations against him should not have been ignored

By Olu Ojewale

THE anti-corruption stance of the President Muhammadu Buhari is once again under public scrutiny, following the reinstatement of Usman Yusuf, the suspended executive secretary, ES, of the National Health Insurance Scheme, NHIS. Since the news about Yusuf’s reinstatement surfaced on Tuesday, February 6, a lot of Nigerians have been asking what criteria Buhari used in recalling him back to his post having been indicted by a ministerial panel on allegations of corruption and abuse of office.

On Thursday, February 8, the workers’ union of the NHIS demonstrated to showed their discontent by staging a peaceful protest against the reinstatement of Yusuf. The union workers were seen at the NHIS office in Utako, Abuja, carrying banners denouncing his return.

The unionists, who paralysed activities in the NHIS, sang protest songs and argued that the reinstatement of the ES would thwart his investigation by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.

Addressing the workers, Razaq Omomeji, chairman, Association of the Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria, ASCSN, the NHIS chapter, alleged that the reinstatement of Yusuf would worsen the state of the agency. “The man has a case in court. We are calling on President Muhammadu Buhari to revisit allegations against Professor Yusuf and investigate this matter before reinstating him.

“EFCC is investigating him and president Buhari should allow the investigation before recalling him,” Omomeji said.

The workers called on Buhari to reverse the reinstatement immediately, saying his reinstatement was a mockery of Buhari’s anti-corruption war. The protest lasted about one hour after Yusuf resumed at the NHIS headquarters in Abuja.

Perhaps, sensing the untoward implications of the reinstatement, Buhari allegedly summoned Isaac Adewole, minister of Health, and Attahiru Ibrahim, who acted as executive secretary of the NHIS during Yusuf’s suspension to the Presidential Villa on Wednesday, February 7.

President Buhari
President Muhammadu Buhari

Ayo Osinlu, head, Media and Public Relations of NHIS, confirmed the meeting on Wednesday in Abuja. But the outcome of the meeting was yet to be disclosed at press time.

The president, had recalled Yusuf through a letter signed by Abba Kyari, chief of staff to president. The letter with subject matter ‘Recall from suspension of Professor Usman Yusuf, dated February 5, with ref no: FH/COS/10/6/A/29, was addressed to Adewole and delivered to the Ministry of Health on Tuesday, February 6, in the evening.

It said in part: “The above subject matter referred, kindly note that His Excellency Mr. President has approved the recall of Professor Usman Yusuf from suspension effective immediately.”

Yusuf was initially suspended from office on July 6, 2017, by the minister of Health after directives from the office of the Vice president, Yemi Osinbajo while in acting capacity as the president.

The minister, had in his letter to Yusuf, directed him to step aside and hand over to the most senior officer at the agency so as not to influence outcome of the panel set up to investigate the allegations of gross misconducts against him.

A panel commissioned by the minister after Yusuf’s suspension later found him culpable of infractions that ranged from nepotism to theft of public funds. The panel submitted its report to the Presidency in September last year.

Reports alleged that since his appointment on July 29, 2016, Yusuf had violated procurement laws and gave out contracts to cronies without due process.

The last straw which led to his suspension was that Yusuf allegedly bought a Prado SUV for N58 million shortly before Ramadan, though his approval limit was N2.5 million.

When the minister ordered his suspension based on the weighty allegations, Yusuf was said to have bluntly told Adewole that only the president had the power to suspend him and not the minister.

The House of Representatives had also called for his reinstatement, pending the outcome of the probe into the allegations against him. Some members of the House actually believed that Yusuf was being witch-hunted because he failed to carry out order of the minister.

Nevertheless, his recent reinstatement has not gone down well with Nigerians who have reacted with anger, shock, and disbelief.

The ASCSN, in a statement issued on Wednesday, February 7, by Alade Lawal, its secretary-general, said the action of the president was capable of being interpreted to mean that the government’s anti-graft crusade was “selective and designed to deal with specific targets.”

The statement said: “This is one intervention too many and as such Mr. President should allow Yusuf to retire from service to have time to run his personal business. How can a government official being investigated for a whopping sum of N919m fraud by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission be reinstated by the government that came to power promising to sanitise the system? This is very unfortunate. We, therefore, urge President Buhari to rescind his action and allow Prof. Yusuf to leave the system in peace.”

Besides, he said the president’s action was capable of lending credence to Yusuf’s arrogant public statements several times that he could not report to the minister of Health, since he dealt directly with the president, and that his return would amount to passing a vote of no confidence on the minister.

Similarly, Kola Ologbondiyan, PDP national publicity secretary, in a statement in Abuja, on Wednesday,  February 7, alleged that the “Presidency stinks of corruption and has lost all claim of fighting graft, as long as it continues to protect alleged indicted officials of the administration.”

According to him, Yusuf having been officially probed and indicted for abuse of office and fraud to the tune of N919m by a committee set up by the minister of Health, should not have been reinstated by the president.

He charged: “Instead of allowing for the conclusion of investigation and eventual prosecution by the EFCC, the Presidency halted the process and rewarded the indicted official with a recall from suspension, even without any recourse to the supervising minister simply because Prof. Yusuf is not only of the APC but also known to be very close to the president.

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