By Yemi Adebowale
It is always very depressing when pro-Buhari activists make noise about the President’s so called war against corruption. These people want us to believe that the President is truly fighting corruption. This position is so difficult to reconcile with the loads of sleaze allegations against key figures of the Buhari government and heads of federal agencies. It pours from Barugate to NNPCgate, to Maihajagate to NHISgate, to Mainagate and Babachirgate. The list is endless.
The case of the Executive Secretary, National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), Prof. Usman Yusuf, is most intriguing. Sleaze allegations against him pour daily, yet, the Buhari government has refused to quarantine him.
Early this week, the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria (ASCSN) called for Yusuf’s immediate suspension over alleged gross misconduct. Mr. Isaac Ojemhenke, Head of Abuja Secretariat of the association, alleged that after Yusuf`s recall from suspension, “the scribe paid himself N3.6 million allegedly used to fuel seven vehicles attached to himself and as reimbursement for purchase of newspapers when he was on suspension.”
Ojemhenke further alleged that the NHIS boss refused to refund N4.3 million which he advanced to himself for a trip to Netherlands, “which the Minister of Health never approved in 2017.” He also alleged that Yusuf allocated seven official vehicles to himself, with monthly allowance of N500,000 for fuelling. Seven policemen are also allegedly attached to the NHIS boss with monthly expense of N565,000.
The ASCSN said: “The Association is demanding that the government should do the needful as regards the case of Prof. Yusuf. He needs to be asked to step down to serve as a deterrent to others.”
Ojemhenke added that such action was necessary in conformity with the anti-corruption war of the present administration.
By now, the reinstated NHIS boss ought to have been asked to return home, if we are truly serious about the war against corruption. The Minister of Health, Isaac Adewole, had on July 6, 2017 suspended Yusuf over allegations of fraud against him. However, the Presidency reinstated him but failed to make reference to the sleaze accusations against him. Perhaps, our President was in a trance when he gave approval for this ignoble reinstatement of Yusuf. Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka alludes to this, saying “Buhari is in a trance based on so many unforced errors”.
Public service rules are very clear about how to handle cases like that of Yusuf’s. Since he is under investigation, he should remain at home until the conclusion of the investigation. This did not happen. I am very sure that the EFCC must have thrown his file into the trash can.
Recall that Adewole had set up a panel to probe Yusuf’s alleged transgressions and the panel found him culpable. He was subsequently suspended indefinitely by the minister. The allegations against the NHIS boss are weighty. He was mainly accused of violating procurement laws and dishing out contracts to cronies. Why should government sweep under the carpet the alleged purchase of a Prado SUV by Yusuf for N58 million, even though his approval limit was N2.5 million? Why should government overlook claims that Yusuf mismanaged huge contributions of subscribers to the NHIS?
Why is government keeping quiet about the alleged award of contracts worth about N1 billion by Yusuf to his cronies? Is this how Buhari is fighting his war against corruption? This is evidently a mockery of his anti-corruption war. Besides, our President has again demonstrated his clannishness and lack of respect for due process. Recall that Vice President Yemi Osinbajo stepped in on this Yusuf’s case, suspended him and handed his file to the EFCC before Buhari’s prickly recall of the NHIS boss. Yusuf’s godfather could not wait for the EFCC to conclude its investigation before recalling him.
After Yusuf’s controversial recall in February, I remember erudite lawyer, Yusuf Ali, (SAN) saying: “Nigerians deserved an explanation from the federal government. The President’s recall of the indicted NHIS official belittles the minister’s authority. The reason for which he was suspended is well known to everybody. It was well publicised. It was said that there was some money which he couldn’t account for and for which the EFCC was invited. Curiously, nobody has heard anything from the EFCC and the man was recalled.
“So, I think the government owes us an explanation on why the man who was suspended by the minister was recalled by the Presidency. Why was it not the minister that recalled him? The problem about such a matter is that it would have been better if the minister recalled him because they are demystifying the office of the minister. The reinstatement does not portend well for the anti-corruption crusade of the present administration. It has the tendency of sending a wrong signal. For all intents and purposes, it means that the anti-corruption body can do whatever it wants to do; the government is least concerned.”
Another lawyer, Ifedayo Adedipe, added: “It is a total disgrace and an embarrassment. If I were the minister of health, I would resign and give them back their useless position. The President has undermined his so-called war on corruption for whatever reason, and it does him no credit that he is doing this. A man under his watch is accused of corruption and being probed, and you reinstate him. He has undermined that minister. And this professor (Yusuf) was so boastful, saying only the President could query him. That he (Buhari) would do this kind of thing no longer shocks me.”
The reinstatement of Yusuf is unconvincing. All forces of good must continue to challenge it until the needful is done. The workers were spot-on when, back in February, they said Yusuf’s recall would thwart his investigation by the EFCC. Clearly, no staff will be willing to give evidence against a sitting CEO at the EFCC office. This is exactly what happened when Yusuf returned.
The leadership of the NLC and the TUC must rise and support the leader of the NHIS workers’ union in this war against Yusuf,
As for our President, I want him to reflect on a portion of late Shehu Usman Dan Fodio’s teaching that “the crown of a leader is his integrity, his stronghold is his impartiality.”