The disgusting NHIS saga

Executive Secretary of NHIS, Prof. Usman Yusuf

Professor Usman Yusuf is back at his desk carrying on with his duty as Executive Secretary of National Insurance Scheme alias NHIS, courtesy of the Federal might.

His story is by now well known. But just a recap: Yusuf was suspended by the Governing Council of his organization following allegations of corruption; 2018 budget padding by about N264million; an attempt to invest N30billion of the organization’s funds contrary to the Treasury Single Account, TSA, which is a veritable tool to curb clever, bank deposit engineering hitherto widespread in government agencies; bloated establishment from 1,360 roll to 2, 043 pushing agency financial obligations to N919.64million within three months and disregard for board decisions.

Indeed, Professor Enyatu Ifenne, chair of the council, said at a press conference, “I am concerned that if President Buhari is fully briefed about a 10th of Yusuf’s atrocities, he would throw him out. The truth, like health, has no colour no tribe and no religion and no social class.”

This is the second time he was being sent on suspension. The first time was last year following a petition by a youth group called United Alliance Against Corruption in which Executive Secretary Yusuf was accused of fraud, abuse of office and nepotism.

The Minister of Health asked that Yusuf be suspended to pave the way for a thorough investigation of the allegations.

The purpose of the suspension by the Governing Council this time around is also to allow for investigations without interference.

Whether in the public service or private sector, that is the step that is always taken. Interdiction or suspension does not amount to a sack; it is only to facilitate an unimpeded investigation into sordid allegations.

It was bad enough that Professor Yusuf brushed aside his governing council and treated it with utter contempt, claiming that only the President had the power to suspend him.

He came bulldozing his way to his office, accompanied by policemen in battle gear and unmistakable war mood.

It was worse that Boss Mustapha, Secretary to the Government of the Federation, out of indiscretion and veiled support for Yusuf said publicly that governing boards or councils lack the powers to suspend or sack chief executives under their watch.

Are there no standards any more in our public affairs? The government appointed the governing boards and councils. In the corporate world and governance, the board is the company.

In the case of the NHIS, true the President appointed the governing board.

By that appointment, the governing council becomes the representative of the President with delegated powers of the President.

The chief executive reports to the Governing Council through the chairman and not to the President. By definition, the council is to govern the organization; that is why it is so called.

By countermanding the board decision, the Presidency has unwittingly undermined his own council. How does Mustapha expect the council and Professor Yusuf to work together henceforth even if Yusuf is cleared of the allegations? No wonder there is indiscipline everywhere.

Even if the council was wrong you send for the chairman and hear her or him out and together find a way of managing the issue.

What would have stopped Mustapha from getting in touch with Professor Ifenne on phone for a chat ? Governing boards everywhere know that they share thoughts with the appointing authority, in this case with the President, when a matter is to end in a termination of appointment. But suspension, no.

Is it being suggested that all chief executives of parastatals should report to the President despite his work load? So, why are they there? Mustapha’s address to the boards was ill timed.

Indeed, it ought not to be more than circulars to the various boards. The public announcement is a recipe for indiscipline.

Having said that, the public demonstration through a press conference by Professor Ifenne herself was overkill and Yusuf rightly felt publicly humiliated.

Already there is a veiled pronouncement of guilt when the EFCC had not submitted its report. Did the chairman issue him a query or a series of queries? That is due process.

It is when his answers are unsatisfactory that there can be recourse to suspension and the police or EFCC called in. It ought not to have been a matter for a press conference.

Send him his letter of suspension and let the press dig up the goings on if they could. It is not in the interest of any organization for its chief executive to be publicly humiliated.

In order to resolve the impasse, the President should step in, uphold the suspension of Professor Yusuf in order to restore the dignity and authority of the NHIS Governing Council he himself appointed.

As things are, the whole saga is distasteful. The suspension is afterall to determine the veracity of the allegations and probably clear Yusuf’s name and reputation. That is the accustomed universal practice.

Editor’s note: This piece was sent in before the suspension of Yusuf by the Federal Government yesterday.

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