By Lawrence Olaoye, Christiana Ekpa and Umar Muhammad Puma
The Presidency and the House of Representatives have waded into the crisis rocking the National Health Insurance Scheme following the purported suspension of its Executive Secretary, Prof. Usman Yusuf.
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Malam Garba Shehu yesterday called for due process saying that the NHIS crisis had been ethnicized and politicized by some interest groups within and outside the agency.
This is just as the House of Representatives yesterday set up an Ad-hoc committee to investigate the lingering crisis rocking the Leadership and operation of the NHIS.
The presidential aide stated that he was not in the position to challenge the allegations of wrongdoings leveled against the executive secretary in some quarters.
Shehu, however, maintained that the two chambers of the National Assembly had previously cleared the Executive Secretary of the allegations against him.
He also dismissed the accusation of ‘double standards’ by the Buhari administration while dealing with cases of corruption in the country.
Garba asked, “Did the board follow due process in suspending this gentleman? There are opinions that said, ‘No, they haven’t.’
“Again, we all have to do the right thing all of the times. I don’t deny the fact that there is a lot of work to do, but the crisis has been complicated by the fact that the whole thing about the NHIS has been ethnicised and politicised. Even a political party was issuing a statement on matters that are unknown to it!
“I’ll tell you one thing. You know that no matter whatever mistakes this gentleman may have made, it is to be proved. He has launched a major reform in that institution which had blocked access to public resources.
“Money from the NHIS is not money belonging to government; it is money taken from your salary, from my salary.
“If we have been enlisted, we are supposed to get treatment when we fall ill. You should ask the question that in 13 years of the NHIS how many Nigerians have received treatment. Yet, you have HMOs. These vendors, taking N5bn every month, money that is just being shared and somebody came and said, ‘Look, this
can’t go on’; and with strong support from this administration, the N5bn has been reduced to N1.3bn.
“And even then, the administration is not satisfied. We want to see healthcare delivered to the citizens of this country. So, there is a lot of work to do,’’ he said.
At the National Assembly, the resolution of the House of Representatives followed a motion of national urgent importance ‘’on the urgent need to prevent the NHIS from degenerating into a theatre of war’’ sponsored by Hon. Diri Duoye (Bayelsa).
Duoye, while leading the debate, noted that the governing council of NHIS on 18th October, 2018, announced the suspension of the Executive Secretary of the scheme, Prof. Usman Yusuf over alleged fraudulent activities and infractions.
He equally added that the council has also issued the Executive Secretary series of queries, demanding explanations on the alleged infractions which he didn’t respond to.
The lawmaker recalled that the latest crisis came moths after the Executive Secretary was controversially reinstated by President Muhammadu Buhari following his suspension by the Ministry of Health over similar allegations.
“The governing council of the National Health Insurance Scheme announced the suspension of Prof. Usman Yusuf over allegations of fraud and severe infractions, including but not limited to, public procurement infringements, unlawful staff posting, will full defiance of Council’s directives, violation of Federal Government’s Treasury Single Account policy and superfluous arrogation of projects.
“The council had issued the Executive Secretary queries dated May 25, 2018 and another June 4, 2018, prior to the suspension.
“The latest pandemonium is coming barely five months after the NHIS Executive Secretary was controversially reinstated by President Buhari from an indefinite suspension slammed on him by his supervising Ministry of Health, in July 2017 over similar alleged gross misconduct, corruption and nepotism.”
Hon. Duoye also noted that Prof. Yusuf defied the authority of the council to suspend him by violently breaking into the Abuja Head office of the scheme, aided by heavily armed police who indiscriminately tear-gassed and manhandled staff.
He expressed concern that the agency, on which the hope of the nation’s universal health delivery is hinged, far from being a theatre of health has generated into a theatre of war.
In his contribution, Hon. Toby Okechukwu (Enugu) bemoaned the circumstances surrounding the crisis which, according to him, borders on issues of leader, lack of capacity and corruption which is the major platform on which the APC government was voted in.
“The major platform which the government came to power is to fight corruption; and it is sad that this agency is embroiled in controversy over issue of procurement and travel cost running into 17 million naira. Something is really wrong. If the council and the head of the agency can’t find it necessary to provide services to Nigerians, then they shouldn’t be there”.
On his part, Hon. Edward Pwajok (Plateau) who cautioned the House to wait for the outcome of the investigation before arriving at a position, pointed out that the Act establishing the scheme is unclear whether the council has the power to suspend the Executive Secretary; as such, there is need for the investigation.
Pwajok also stressed that the investigation would enable the House determine whether the allegations made on the Executive Secretary is true or not, even as it would determine if there is a need for the act to be amended.
Adopting the motion, the House resolved to constitute an ad hoc committee to probe the crisis, as well as the scheme’s operations.