The storm at the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) is showing no sign of abating as the reinstated Executive Secretary, Usman Yusuf, and other top officials have accused each other of fraud.
Mr Yusuf returned from a seven-month suspension in February after President Muhammadu Buhari turned aside the recommendations of a ministerial probe panel that indicted him of misconduct.
He stoked the current crisis that has further heated the tension at the agency by asking the Governing Council to punish the man who held the fort while he was on suspension, Attahiru Ibrahim, and three other directors.
Mr Yusuf alleged that the top management officials paid upfront a lawyer they engaged to defend the agency in a case instituted by Mr Yusuf’s predecessor, Martins Thomas, over his removal as Executive Secretary in April 2015.
In December 2017, the National Industrial Court gave judgment in favour of Mr Thomas and ordered that he be paid N172.1 million as his emoluments for the remaining four years of his tenure and other compensations.
Not satisfied with the judgment, NHIS under Mr Ibrahim as acting ES engaged Yunus Usman to pursue an appeal and paid him N44 million as fee.
But following his return from suspension, Mr Yusuf complained to the governing council of the agency that the four directors acted irregularly in the engagement of the lawyer, in particular by allegedly paying his fee upfront, contrary to procurement laws.
Responding after the Governing Council set up an Establishment Committee to look into the complaint, the senior officials denied the allegations. They claimed Mr Yusuf only wanted them flushed out of the system over their roles in restraining his excesses.
“We wish to state emphatically and for the records, that the pressure and harassment of the officers under investigation is being mounted by the Executive Secretary, Prof Usman Yusuf as an extension of the culture of siege he has imposed on the organisation since he arrived on the scene, and the vicious witch-hunt and selective persecution of those he considered as not in his favour, particularly for raising the flag against his high-handedness and wanton abuse of due process for personal advantage,” Mr Ibrahim wrote in a memo dated July 9 to the chairman of the governing council, Enyatu Ifenne.
“This effort is to appeal to the council to kindly ensure that natural justice and equity are upheld in the consideration of this matter, considering that a thorough analysis of the infraction alleged against us pales significantly compared with the enormous and grievous infractions that have been committed and are still being committed by Professor Usman Yusuf as Executive Secretary, in terms of volumes of funds involved and his unprecedented impunity and disrespect for constituted authority.”
The alleged infractions raised by Mr Ibrahim included some over which the ministerial probe panel had indicted Mr Yusuf, but a serious new one revealed that upon his reinstatement, he took N3.5 million from the agency as “fuel money” for the period he was on suspension.
Also grave was the allegation that Mr Yusuf awarded contracts to a company owned by his elder brother which also does not have competence in the areas covered by the contracts.
“The Executive Secretary awarded contracts to Lubekh Nigeria Limited for Consultancy for Media and Special Public Relations for NHIS at contract sum of N43 million. The company was found and confirmed to be owned majorly by Alhaji Kabir Yusuf Yar’Adua, the elder brother of the Executive Secretary. The evaluation of the submissions by respondents to this lot was done by Hassan Kabir Yar’Adua, the son of the owner of the company.”
Kabir Yar’Adua is one of 14 officers whose secondment by Mr Yusuf to the NHIS was faulted by the Ministry of Health, but which the Executive Secretary has allegedly flatly refused to reverse.
“This action amounts to fraudulent practice and conflict of interest contrary to Section 57 (12) (b) of the Public Procurement Act, 2007 which states that “A conflict of interests exists where a person: possesses a direct or indirect interest in or relationship with a bidder, supplier, contractor or service provider that is inherently unethical or that may be implied or construed to be or make possible person gain due to the person’s ability to influence dealing.”
Aside these, the said Lubekh Nigeria Limited lacks the competence to execute the contracts awarded to it by NHIS, as the company was registered by the Corporate Affairs Commission “to carry on business as food processors, building and construction.”
The Governing Council is yet to deliberate on the case against the directors as well as on their counter accusations against the Executive Secretary.
This is perhaps because the council has several other issues on its hands, especially after Mr Yusuf alleged that funds of the agency totaling a whopping N720 billion was missing.
Mr Yusuf made the allegation early last month while responding to a query issued him by the council for engaging an auditing firm without approval of superior authorities. In its query, the council also said the audit firm was engaged despite the fact the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, had engaged another firm for the same purpose.
Responding to the query through a power-point presentation to the governing council, the Executive Secretary alleged that NHIS over the years prior to his appointment in 2016 had “invested” N720 billion without approval by successive Ministers of Health, Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation and Governing Boards of the Scheme.
He said commercial banks, former executive secretaries and select management staff of the NHIS as well as interest groups were involved in the investment that could no longer be traced.
Mr Yusuf said it was upon discovering the scandal that he engaged forensic accountants to trace the huge “missing funds.”
Complicating the issue was the fact that a team raised by the Federal Government had reported that over N138 billion of NHIS cash was trapped in 17 banks, financial companies and individual pockets between 2011 and July this year, he said.
Following the report, the Chairman of the Governing Council of the agency, Enyatu Ifenne, directed the Executive Secretary to clear the concerns of the trapped funds and forensic audit and guide the council on the way forward.
It was in response to the directive that Mr Yusuf made the submission that the agency could no longer trace the whopping funds it invested over the years, a discovery he said led him in December 2016 to engage the services of Sofura Professional Services to carry out a forensic review of the accounting and banking system of the NHIS.
He said it was when he resumed from suspension in February that he became aware that the office of the AGF had engaged another firm, Aruna Bawa & Co, to carry out an audit and recovery of NHIS funds held by financial institutions, companies and individuals.
While Mr Yusuf did not respond to calls and text messages to his phone, Mrs Enyanatu, the chairperson of the governing council whose desk received all the allegations, however spoke.
“Yes your sources are probably right but it is premature for me to say anything at this point,” she told this reporter.
“These petitions keep bouncing back and forth. All I can say for now is that the council is going to meet and the petitions will be put before them to decide what to do. I can’t say more because I don’t want to preempt anything.”