There’s a war brewing at the headquarters of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) of Nigeria, and all hell is about to break loose. NHIS Executive Secretary, Professor Usman Yusuf has been suspended again, this time, by the NHIS Governing Board, but he’s having none of of it.
Professor Yusuf is telling off the NHIS Board just like he told the Minister Of Health last year, that only President Muhammadu Buhari can suspend or sack him. He says the board lacks powers to suspend him, being a Presidential appointee so he threatens to be at work in the morning of Monday, 22nd October.
Staff of the NHIS who had been jubilating since Thursday, 18th October when Yusuf Usman was sent away, are ready and have promised to take matters into their own hands if the Executive Secretary defies his suspension.
Professor Yusuf has been trailed by several petitions since he resumed office in 2016, up till July 6th, 2017 when the Minister Of Health, Isaac Adewole had no choice but to suspend him. Even then, he had boasted that he answers only to President Buhari, and the President eventually proved Yusuf right by overturning the original suspension by the Minister
Just days after resuming work, in February 2018, the EFCC and invited the Professor for questioning on a long list of charges bordering on misappropriation of funds, unauthorized withdrawals, subversion of staff salaries, award of contracts to cronies, and budget irregularities. Ministry Of Health also formally wrote Yusuf to explain the charges to the ministry immediately and report to the EFCC.
Not long after the EFCC invitation, the recently inaugurated NHIS noticed inexplicable expenditure by the office of the Executive Secretary. Yusuf paid himself N500,000 per month for vehicle fuelling and newspaper purchase for every month he was put on suspension by the Minister Of Health, another N565,000 per month for police security during the same period, award of N17.5 million contract to his brother’s meat processing company for media and communication training, award of another N46.8 million contract to the same brother’s food processing company for media services.
He budgeted N50 million to purchase a new SUV for himself despite a brand new one bought for him last year, inserted N1 billion for staff training which was later revealed to cost N250,000 million, expenditure by the office of the Executive Secretary rose from N945 million to N12 billion in 2018.
Most alarming of all, was his dubious attempt to divert N25 billion later increased to N30 billion from the NHIS enrollee funds into a private company.
In August of 2017, while Mr Yusuf was still on suspension, acting Executive Secretary of the NHIS, Attahiru Ibrahim, got approval from the Minister Of Health to invest “idle funds” of the National Health Insurance in federal government securities in line with the National Health Insurance Act (Part IV, Section 11.4). 11 days later, the Minister Of Health wrote again to the acting Executive Secretary to reverse his approval based on advice from the Ministry Of Finance which said such an investment would be an indirect violation of the Government’s Treasury Single Accounts (TSA) policy.
Documents revealed that shortly after his reinstatement in February 2018, Usman Yusuf went on to engage Cowry Asset Management Limited, as financial adviser and directed it to proceed with the investment, relying on the original letter of the minister conveying approval but ignoring the other letter withdrawing the approval.
He directed that N25 billion be invested in five tranches of five billion Naira each and to mature in 2034.
According to insiders at the NHIS, this was also in defiance of advice of officers at the agency, some of whom later decided to stall the process pending the inauguration of the governing board.
Following the inauguration of the Council on March 6, Mr Yusuf presented a memo to its first sitting on April 25, on the “urgent need to invest NHIS funds due to huge deficit spending, inflation, poor cash backing, debts owed the Scheme by banks and unauthorized deductions by the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation.”
He asked the council to approve that the NHIS management immediately commence the process of investing the residual funds in federal government securities and give progress report of the investment to council from time to time.
Based on the memo, the council approved the placement of N30 billion in federal government securities “with no commission payment to a third party”. It had become clear over the years, that one of the easiest means of looting the NHIS was not by directly withdrawing its funds, but by awarding billions worth of contracts to private companies, and receiving a chunk of the commission on such deals.
Following the council’s resolution, Mr Yusuf on May 3, wrote Cowry Asset Management Limited informing them that the council stated clearly that “there should be no payment of any commission to a third party” for the investment.
He, however, stated: “The Scheme will therefore engage Cowry Asset Management Ltd in a similar way it did its Forensic Auditors and retained Lawyer with initial engagement fee and any subsequent payments of fees presented for work done”. These fees then became the area of concern.
After the approval, aghast insiders at NHIS made the council aware that the Ministry Of Finance had warned NHIS against the investment when the idea was initially mooted in 2017. Irked that the Executive Secretary had deceived them by only presenting the initial letter of the Minister of Health conveying his approval, but not the final one stating the position of the Ministry of Finance, the board directed the investment be halted.
The council also issued Mr Yusuf a query for misleading it to get approval for a course of action that is against the policy directive of government.
Other infractions which culminated in the recent suspension of the Professor Usman Yusuf are:
Inflation of cost of biometrics capturing machines by 1000% from about N1 million to more than N11 million;
Unauthorised travel expense of N17 million;
Escalation of ICT project costs for N7 billion in 2015 to N15 billion in 2018;
Budgeting N80 billion expenditure for 2018, while revenue is N45 billion;
Budgeting N61 million for renovation of his office.
Raising administrative costs of NHIS to 43.63% of enrollees funds due to mismanagement, incompetence, misappropriation, unauthorized contracts, unauthorized withdrawals, and gross incompetence.
Mrs Enyantu Ifenne, chairperson of NHIS Governing Board, announced last Thursday, that all these executive infractions could not be ignored, noting that the council resolved to suspend Mr Yusuf because it was inundated with several petitions and infractions against him. Mrs Ifenne said the council had resolved to set up an administrative panel to examine allegations levelled against Mr Yusuf. “The panel has three months to complete it’s assignment and report back to us,” she stated.
Sadiq Abubakar will act as Executive Secretary in the meantime. Mr Abubakar was the General Manager in the NHIS legal department.
Professor Yusuf on his part, remains defiant, and will be at the NHIS headquarters on Monday for a showdown which could turn violent unless something is said or done by the President who is the power Usman Yusuf has often boasted of through his tumultuous tenure.