The crisis rocking the National Health Insurance Scheme, NHIS, has taken a new dimension, as the Executive Secretary of the federal government-owned agency, Prof Usman Yusuf, has rejected the suspension order slammed on him by the Minister of Health, Prof Isaac Adewole.
Yusuf, a professor of Paediatrics, who came on board the scheme last year, was given a marching order by Adewole, a professor of Gynaecology and Obstetrics, to proceed on suspension for three months following mounting petitions against alleged fraudulent practices and nepotism by concerned groups.
The letter suspending Yusuf, who hails from the same state as President Muhammadu Buhari, was given to him on July 6, 2017, directing him to go on three months suspension to pave the way for an independent probe of the mountains of petitions against him.
In the three paragraph letter entitled “Suspension from Office” and addressed to Prof Yusuf , Adewole said;
“I refer to the series of petitions against you which were forwarded for your comments. “I am to draw your attention to your response which has been considered unsatisfactory. I have therefore, directed the setting up of an investigative committee on the various allegations against you.
“Consequently, you are directed to proceed on three months suspension with immediate effect to pave way for an uninterrupted investigation, in accordance with Public Service Rule.
“Meanwhile, you are hereby directed to handover to the next most senior General Manager in the Agency,” the suspension letter said.
However, in a daring tone, never seen in the history of the public service, Prof Yusuf fired back at the Health Minister on July 12, telling him to his face that he could not proceed on the suspension as the minister lacks the power to sanction him.
Yusuf pointedly told Adewole that it was only the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, who appointed him, that could remove him from office, which has tenure of five years in the first instance and another five, if renewed.
The embattled NHIS ES advanced five reasons why Adewole could not suspend him and why he would not leave his office to anyone else.
Yusuf said, “By virtue of the NHIS Act particularly section 4 and 8 thereof, my appointment and removal from office whether by way of suspension or otherwise is at the instance of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“Except removed from office by the president under circumstances specified in the NHIS Act, my appointment is for a period of five years subject to further term of the same period at the discretion of the president.
“Although by virtue of section 47 of the NHIS Act, you are empowered to give directives of a general nature to the Governing Council of the Scheme and in the absence of the Council, you have Presidential mandate to exercise the powers and functions of the council, but since the powers and functions of the Council do not include discipline, suspension or removal of the Executive Secretary of the Scheme from office, the directive in your letter under reference cannot find comfort under the said section or presidential mandate,
“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 petition referred to in the letter. The mere fact that there are pending petitions against a public officer which is yet to be substantiated does not constitute a ground for suspension under the Public Service Rules. Otherwise, with over 18,000 petitions pending against public office holders before the EFCC and ICPC as at the end of June 2017, the total number of public officers who would have been on suspension by now including Honourable Ministers, is left to be imagined.
“As you are aware, the petitions referred to in your letter are currently being investigated by the ICPC which is yet to submit its report. In view of the criminal nature of most of the allegations in the petitions, security/investigative agencies like ICPC are the appropriate agencies for investigation contemplated in your letter; not a Ministerial Committee. I have cooperated fully with the investigations so far and will continue to do so.”
Copies of the letter were sent to the Acting President, Senate President, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Katsina Governor, Attorney General of the Federation, Director of DSS, Head of Service of the Federation, the Chairman of the EFCC and the Chairman of the ICPC.
Vanguard gathered that the decision to suspend the embattled NHIS ES followed two memos given to him by the Acting President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo and the Head of Service of the Federation, Mrs. Winifred Oyo-Ita, directing him to investigate two allegations of criminal diversion of NHIS cash running into billions by the ES and cronies sent in by United Youths Alliance against Corruption and Dr. Tunde Ladele.
In the two petitions sighted by Saturday Vanguard, the two groups had called on the Acting President to cause the EFCC and the ICPC to investigate the high level of corruption and nepotism promoted by Prof Yusuf in the NHIS, which had caused the Federal Government billions of Naira and stifled the growth of health insurance as a result.
Source: Vanguard News