Health ministry’s alleged graft anti-corruption war

It is gratifying that President Muhammadu Buhari, in a national broadcast shortly after his return from an extended medical vacation in London, expressed his resolve to continue steering the ship of the nation and addressed some burning issues as well as right some wrongs committed in his absence. While the President may seem more determined to confront the political and security tensions in the land characterised by the threat of secession, ethnic agitations, hate speeches, resurgence of terrorism, among others, a few other overlooked issues that came up during his absence would also require immediate attention.

One of such issues that the President must seek to address as a matter of urgency is the allegation of fraud and other disreputable issues emanating from the Ministry of Health, following the suspension of the Executive Secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), Prof. Usman Yusuf, by the Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole. Prof. Yusuf, who was suspended over allegations of fraud and abuse of office, was quick to counter the action, describing it as a witch-hunt. He alleged that he was suspended because he refused to grant several monetary requests from the Federal Ministry of Health. According to sources close to Yusuf, he drew the anger of the minister for turning down the various requests from the ministry, which include hiring aircraft for the minister and sponsoring of its officials to foreign events.

There is also the worrisome issue of the massive misappropriation of fund in the Health Maintenance Organisation (HMO) as revealed by the embattled NHIS boss during the investigation of the NHIS scheme in relation to the HMO by the House of Representatives Committee on Health Services. The Committee’s Chairman, Chike Okafor, noted that during the investigation, Prof. Yusuf disclosed that there was fraud in the system. He further stated that the insufficient fund occasioned by corruption accounted for why the scheme has not been able to cover more than five per cent of Nigerians. These allegations and revelations are undoubtedly disturbing and further reinforce the numerous complaints by Nigerians about the dysfunction in the nation’s health insurance scheme since its inception.

It is instructive to note that such allegations of corruption, official recklessness and unethical conduct among parastatals, agencies and committees in the Health Ministry are not new to the institution.

No doubt, recent happenings in the Health Ministry bring to mind the revelation, by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), of fraudulent handling of N300 million of unspent funds in the 2008 budget and the award of contracts in the ministry, which eventually led to the sack of the then Minister of Health during President Musa Yar’Adua’s administration.

Nigerians are victims of corrupt practices in the health sector as well as other sectors of the economy; and the President himself is not immune to it. If there were an efficient, functional and corruption-free healthcare system in the country, there would be no need to seek medical care outside the country. The corruption in the health sector is the reason healthcare service is priced beyond the average Nigerian who cannot afford medical tourism, which is the vogue among the affluent.

The Buhari administration must begin to walk its talk in its fight against corruption by cleansing the Federal Ministry of Health. The President’s antecedents in fighting corruption raised expectations from Nigerians on his ability to deal with the social malaise, upon resumption of office, and revive the economy from the ashes of accumulated monumental corruption. Of course, there have been promising signs in this regard but the expectations are yet to be fully met. Therefore, the present situation in the Ministry of Health is a litmus test for the anti-corruption crusade.

The House of Representatives Committee on Health Services should extend its investigation to every department of the Ministry and refer any criminal finding to the EFCC and other anti-corruption agencies for prosecution. All those named and implicated in the allegation should be made to face the full wrath of the law. Also, efforts must be made to ensure that there is strict adherence to financial regulations in cooperation between MDAs and other arms of government and their parastatals.

The allegations of corruption in the Ministry of Health are too grave to be ignored, considering the critical nature of services provided by the sector and thus should be given serious thoughts and met with firm actions.

Adegeye sent this piece from Abuja.



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