…Riot policemen clash with NHIS officials, fire teargas at workers
…Only Buhari, not Governing Council, can suspend, remove Yusuf’
…Buhari shielding indicted NHIS boss, PDP alleges
There was a mild drama at the headquarters of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) in Abuja, on Monday, as dozens of riot policemen clashed with aggrieved workers of the agency who earlier vowed to deny the suspended NHIS Executive Secretary, Prof. Yusuf Usman, access to office.
The angry workers, who had arrived the premises before 8am, chanting “Yusuf is a fraud,” “Yusuf must go,” among others, until the ES arrived outside the gate of the premises at about 9am were however tear-gassed by the riot policemen who forcefully broke through the entrance to allow Yusuf access into the premises.
While the workers blocked the road with their union vehicles, the riot policemen and a few operatives of the Department of State Security (DSS) assisted Yusuf in gaining access to his office him while abandoning his official vehicle outside the gate.
But the crowd of protesters soon fled as riot policemen shot teargas and pepper spray into the air as they insisted they would not give up until Yusuf leaves office.
The Daily Times recalls that the Governing Council of the NHIS had suspended Yusuf last Thursday indefinitely over alleged fraud, insurbonation, criminal breach of Procurement Act, self-aggrandisement, and arbitrariness among other offences.
The Governing Council, through its chairperson, Dr Enyantu Ifenne, had said that an administrative panel had been constituted to probe him. The panel was given three months to submit its report.
The Governing Council told journalists during a briefing at the NHIS headquarters in Abuja that it got the approval of Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, on the suspension.
Incidentally, the embattled ES, who was being probed for N919 million fraud at the time was suspended by Adewole in June 2018 over similar allegations.
But President Muhammadu Buhari reinstated Yusuf in February 2018, an action which attracted condemnations from Nigerians who saw his reinstatement as a huge dent on his anti-corruption crusade.
Nothing was later heard of the probe after his reinstatement while there are insinuations that the presidency might overrule the NHIS Governing Council on Yusuf’s suspension.
Meanwhile, at about 4:15pm on Monday, the suspended ES left the NHIS in the convoy of three vehicles amidst tight security.
Sources close to the NHIS told our correspondent that the Permanent Secretary from the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation had met with the Health Minister earlier while the chairperson of the Governing Council had been with the Minister same day. But details of their meetings were not disclosed at press time.
But speaking on behalf of the embattled ES, an employee of the NHIS, Mohammad Gajo, said that the Governing Council failed to back up its claim that the Health Minister gave his approval on Yusuf’s suspension with a letter.
According to him, only President Buhari could suspend or sack the suspended ES from office.
He said, “A faction of the union couldn’t allow us to have peace at NHIS. Prof. Yusuf has brought all his experience to bear to try and provide health care for all the people.
Regarding the suspension, the Governing Council claimed that it had the backing of the minister, but we have not seen any paper work. In public service, you need to see a paper work that says ‘I’m suspending you,’ we cannot work with the word of mouth.”
When asked if the ES would quit if he receives a letter duly signed by the minister on his suspension, Gajo said: “You see, President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria appointed Yusuf, it is the president that will sack him. Suspension is relative to sack”.
He added that corruption was fighting back at the NHIS.
“People that were benefitting from the immediate past administration are the ones that are causing chaos. You see what I mean by corruption is fighting back? You don’t have the right to come and be creating havoc. They are the beneficiaries of corruption. That is it.
“The first letter that we wrote to the Council that they didn’t reply, it is our right to exist as a union. (He was speaking on his own faction of employees loyal to the ES).
We formed this union out of the yearning and aspirations of our staff. The (other) union has derailed from the function of doing checks and balances. Their primary responsibility is to work for staff and protect the welfare of staff.
But, they derailed. So, we formed this union because of that. At the time they were aggressive against us, we wrote to the board, we never got invited.
Board never invited us. But, now, board will only hear allegation from a union, then, you suspend. No, it shouldn’t be done.
“The 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has given people right to associate. That is the basis. Secondly, the 2004 Trade Union Act also said everyone, every staff has right to join any union he chooses. So, we are exercising our fundamental right of joining the union we want,” he added.
Also, Theophilus Yiguda, Vice Chairman, National Association of Senior Civil Servants, who led the protest, said: “We are in full support of what the governing council has done.
If it hadn’t been for his proactiveness in seeing to this matter, he (Yusuf) would have stolen about N30billion.
Surreptitiously, he has forced the management to sign under the guise of investment, until it got to the attention of the management. We as the union are in full support of this man being suspended by the Council, and he remains suspended”.
On his part, Director of Security Agency and Students Relations to the NANS president, Comrade Adeyeye Olugbenga, who was also at the premises said: “We are here in solidarity with the good people of Nigeria who are workers here, who have been under oppression, depression and mismanagement of NHIS.
For record purpose, I was former National President of NAPS. And, under the former ES of this great agency, the scheme was running but we observed that since assumption of office of this corrupt element, there has been mismanagement of people’s fund. Unarguably, the voice of people is the voice of God.
People are calling for immediate removal or vacation of office of this man. At the same time, I want the presidency to be aware that his is being called to question. If a man is corrupt, all accusing fingers are pointing at that person as a corrupt person.
“Our position is this, if by tomorrow, this message is from the NANS president, this man has not vacated this office, we are going to mobile ourselves in thousands to barricade and paralyze this place.
“Since this man came on board, the Tertiary Insurance Social Health Insurance Programme (TISHIP), has not been running smoothly. Don’t forget that the money this man is spending is people’s money.
People make contributions out of their resources to contribute to a pool in return upon which they enjoy services under NHIS.
But, now that philosophy, that good idea is under a serious threat with the mismanagement, demeanour abuse of office of this current ES.
“Our own statement is very clear. By tomorrow, he should not even attempt to come here. We came here on a peaceful solidarity today, and to give a categorical statement, and we have left our impression,” he added.
Meanwhile, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has accused President Muhammadu Buhari and the Presidency of protecting the Executive Secretary of the NHIS, Prof. Usman Yakubu, who has been variously indicted for alleged corrupt practices, including the reported siphoning of over N25 billion from the coffers of the agency
The party said with Monday’s forceful repression of the suspension of the Executive Secretary by the NHIS Governing Council over humongous corruption allegation and abuse of office, it has become clear that the Presidency cabal is directly complicit in the NHIS fraud and is seeking every means to ensure a cover up.
It recalled that the Executive Secretary was in July 2017 suspended by the Minister of Health over alleged gross misconduct and corrupt practices, only for President Buhari, upon his return to the country in February, 2018, to reinstate him while he was still under probe at the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
The PDP called the attention of Nigerians to note how the Presidency has continued to provide official cover for accused officials even without the slightest investigation on the allegations and sanction by both the minister and the Governing Council.
The party’s national publicity secretary, Kola Ologbondiya in a statement on Monday queried: “We ask: Why is the Presidency protecting an official of government openly indicted for corruption? What is the Presidency trying to conceal by ensuring that Prof. Yusuf remains the Executive Secretary after his indictment?
“Furthermore, why is the Presidency vehemently opposed to any form of investigation on the activities of NHIS under Prof. Yakubu? Is it true that there are fears in the Presidency that an investigation will expose the alleged involvement of individuals close to the President in the reported fraud in the scheme?”
While the PDP described as reprehensible that an administration which prides itself as fighting corruption will continue to provide official cover for its officials indicted of corruption, it urged Nigerians to continue to hold President Buhari responsible for the corruption in NHIS, as well as the siphoning of trillions of naira from various agencies, under his watch.