Many worry about the fate of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) going forward, as the already much-challenged scheme which has only been able to cover an embarrassingly low 4% of Nigerians in its 13-year existence, has been thrown into a major crisis.
For months now, the NHIS has been enmeshed in a multi-dimensional crisis set off by allegations of N860m procurement fraud and other breaches of procedure involving the Executive Secretary, Prof Usman Yusuf.
These allegations which have received attention by both houses of the National Assembly have seen different stakeholders including Prof Yusuf and other members of the scheme, health ministry officials, and HMO representatives all appear to answer questions on important aspects of the scheme and the different angles to their conflicting positions.
But the crisis has only assumed more intensity at different turns, devolving into what is now seen as a messy personal feud between the Minister of Health, Isaac Adewole, and Prof Yusuf, especially following Yusuf’s suspension by the minister.
Yusuf has maintained a defiant position that he was never going to honour his suspension and this has been met with an equally firm stand by the health ministry, insisting that he had no option but to comply.
Yusuf was said to have in a letter addressed to Health Minister Adewole, Acting President Yemi Osinbajo, Senate President Bukola Saraki, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara and the Governor of his home state of Katsina,
Aminu Masari, said he was not going to obey the suspension order.
According to him, only the president had the power to suspend him from office.
The letter of the NHIS boss read in part, “I am in receipt of your letter dated July 6, 2017, directing me to proceed on three months suspension with immediate effect to pave way for uninterrupted investigation of petitions against me in accordance to public service rules.
“With utmost respect sir, I am unable to comply with your directive.”
Yusuf claimed that by virtue of sections 4 and 8 of the NHIS Act, the approval and removal of the head of the NHIS was the sole prerogative of the president.
He further said that Section 47 of the NHIS Act empowers the minister to merely give directives of a general nature to the Governing Council of the NHIS and such directives do not include discipline, suspension or removal of the NHIS boss.
Yusuf said that it was wrong of Adewole to have suspended him as “the letter of suspension is not in accordance with public service rules as no prima facie case has been established against me in respect of the petitions. The mere fact that there are pending petitions against a public officer which have yet to be substantiated does not constitute grounds for suspension.”
But in its response on Friday, the health ministry in a statement signed and released by spokesperson, Boade Akinola, dissociated itself from Yusuf’s letter and said that Yusuf as a public officer, is bound by the regulations governing the Public Service.
He said, “The NHIS is an agency supervised by the Federal Ministry of Health and the Administrative Panel of Inquiry raised by the Ministry to investigate activities of the agency has commenced its assignment with specific terms of reference.”
Yusuf was handed a three-month suspension to give room for unhindered investigations into corruption allegations levelled against him.
Meanwhile, the position of the House of Representatives that he should be reinstated, has been condemned by a civil society group who said the resolution was one which encouraged corruption.
There is also emerging report that the committee investigating Yusuf has received more petitions against him.
It was learnt that over 50 petitions against Yusuf had now been received by the Ministry of Health, the Presidency, the Office of the Head of Service of the Federation, the National Assembly, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and several other government agencies.
It was further leant that a petition from the Office of the Head of Service of the Federation which contains 23 allegations against Yusuf had also been sent to the committee.
As millions of Nigerians remain excluded from the NHIS, many wonder when this crisis will be resolved so that the scheme can receive the drastic internal rejig it had long required in order to effectively coordinate the Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs), improve plans on offer, and broaden coverage, thereby ultimately fulfilling its mandate.