The embattled executive secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme, Usman Yusuf, resumed work yesterday in defiance of a directive by the agency’s governing council.
The council’s chairman, Dr Ifene Enyantu, had on Thursday announced the sanction, following Yusuf’s alleged attempt to illegally execute N30 billion investments in FGN bonds, fraudulent inflation of the cost of biometric capturing machines and unlawful staff postings among others.
She added that the indefinite suspension would allow a panel freedom to investigate petitions and allegations against the secretary and submit a report in three months.
But at about 9:00 a.m., Yusuf, accompanied by some 50 heavily armed policemen, arrived on the premises and walked into his office. The workers had earlier vowed they would resist the move and as early as 8:00 a.m. had turned out in large numbers, locking the gate to the premises.
But they were no match for the armed officers, who cleared the way, deploying teargas canisters in the process. Helpless, the workers resorted to shouting: “Shame! Shame! Shame! You are not even bold enough to walk on your own! Why should you be assisted by the police?”
Yusuf has always insisted that only President Muhammadu Buhari has the powers to suspend or remove him from office.
The Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, suspended Yusuf last year after finding him culpable in an alleged N919 million fraud. The House of Assembly had faulted the move, describing it as a deliberate breach of its own constitutional duties and a ploy to stop the executive secretary’s stand against alleged corruption. Buhari eventually reinstated him.
The chairman, Joint Union of NHIS, Comrade Kayode Olawuyi, told reporters that Yusuf remained suspended. “We need to help the president, who is a man of integrity. But because he cannot be everywhere, we are in full support of Yusuf’s suspension. But for the intervention of the council, about N30 billion would have been stolen from the scheme under the guise of investment,” he alleged.
But the chairman of the Nigerian Civil Service Union, Comrade Muhammad Shehu Gajo, backed Yusuf. “Anybody that is here to cause havoc is a beneficiary of corruption, because the executive secretary is fighting corruption. Now, corruption is fighting back. The minister had earlier suspended him. But he has a clean bill of health. That was why President Buhari brought him back because he was not found wanting,” he explained.
Also, the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) threatened it would mobilise thousands of students to paralyse activities at the NHIS, if Yusuf fails to vacate the office by today.
Delivering the ultimatum, Comrade Adeyeye Olugbenga, who represented NANS president, Danielson Bamidele Akpan, urged Buhari to remove the executive secretary. He noted: “The money at stake constitute contributions from enrollees to enable them to enjoy good healthcare services. But the noble idea is under a serious threat. We are involved because our constituents are involved and their money is at stake.”
When The Guardian queried the police deployment, Chief Superintendent of Police J.F. Gbenle, said the men were on ground to protect life and property and directed all questions to force public relations officer, Jimoh Moshood. The spokesman however seemed to have evaded speaking on the matter.
The opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) meanwhile asked Buhari to “come out clear on why he has been protective of Prof. Usman Yusuf, who has been indicted for alleged corrupt practices, including the reported siphoning of over N25 billion from the coffers of the agency.”
The party, in a statement by its national publicity secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, said that with yesterday’s forcible repression of the suspension, “it has become clear that the presidency cabal is directly complicit in the NHIS fraud and is seeking every means to ensure a coverup.”
The PDP described as reprehensible the fact that an administration, which prides itself as fighting corruption, would continue to provide cover for its officials indicted of corruption. It urged Nigerians to continue to hold Buhari responsible for the alleged corruption in NHIS and siphoning of trillions of naira from agencies under his watch.