By DAPO OKUBANJO
In 2019, Usman Yusuf was finally eased out of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) after his indictment by a panel led by Hassan Bukar which found him guilty of breaching provisions of the Public Procurement Act.
But what many people are not privy to are the details of the misdemeanours that, according to the panel’s report, characterized his very short stint at the agency and which if pursued may deny him a chance to hold public office in the future.
So much has been said about Usman Yusuf’s temperament which led to him having multiple conflicts with virtually everyone from the staff and workers union to the then health minister, Professor Isaac Adewole, whom he not only disrespected, but also sued for placing him on suspension.
This could easily be attributed to his zero knowledge of the norms of the public sector and insiders at NHIS would later say he had little patience to learn the ropes especially in a field he neither had absolutely no knowledge of, nor administrative experience to make a lasting impact.
So like a bull in a China shop, the man who today postures as a critic of President Muhammadu Buhari ran the NHIS as a fiefdom and took decisions without a recourse to extant laws.
Within few months of heading the health financing agency, Usman had allegedly engaged in misdemeanors that could easily be ranked as the worst in NHIS history. It was therefore not surprising that he had the distinction of having the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other offences Commission (ICPC) beaming the searchlight on his activities just about the time he should be marking his first year in office.
The EFCC specifically stated that it was investigating suspected cases of fraud and misappropriation totalling N919m levelled against Yusuf during his tenure as the executive secretary of the NHIS between July, 2016 and July, 2017.
In its letter, with reference number CR: 3000/EFCC/ABJ/CTGI.2/VOL.15/ 237, and signed by its Director of Operations, Umar Abba, for the Acting Chairman, the commission noted that it was seeking information on the following:
a. “All necessary documents relating to local and international training programmes sponsored by the scheme from July 2016 to July 2017, all documents relating to payment made to Katamaya First Call Hospital.
b. “All procurement documents relating to the e-library project of the NHIS. Documents relating to all NHIS-sponsored foreign trips embarked upon by the suspended executive secretary.
c. “All payments relating to the fuelling of the suspended secretary’s official vehicles. Disbursement of NEED assessment funds between July 2016 and July 2017.”
This was after a 21-member administrative panel set up by the ministry of health had found Yusuf culpable of the allegation of fraudulent use of N860 million for staff training without due process.
And talking about due process, the former ES had demonstrated his disdain for it by awarding a media consultancy contract of N46,798,512 and another one of N17,500,000 for Strategic training on Communication to Lubekh Nigeria Ltd, a company registered as a meat processing company.
It is interesting to note that the majority shares in that firm belonged to one Alhaji Kabiru Yusuf Yar’Adua who is said to be Yusuf’s brother. And as if that was not enough, he seconded one Hassan Kabiru, his nephew (Alhaji Kabiru’s son) to the procurement department, a move many say was intended to circumvent and manipulate procurement procedure.
Back to the issue of training which is also a subject of investigations, the committee that first investigated Yusuf wondered how payment vouchers showed 1,992 members of staff, yet the total number of staff in NHIS is 1,360.
On Yusuf’s watch, it was not strange for payments to be made without supporting documents and there are many instances of this, including the payment to training consultants without the agency raising a single payment voucher. Instead, their payments were said to have been lumped with participants training allowances and a composite voucher raised in the name of one of the participants, making it look like a normal staff claim.
So, saying Usman Yusuf mismanaged a critical agency like the NHIS that is meant to solve problems is stating the obvious.
Insiders alleged that he ran the scheme like a dictator, without a recourse to the laws, and consistently broke protocols and financial regulations.
In the midst of all these, he purportedly bragged to be ‘untouchable’ and gave the impression that he had the backing of the President, especially as he is also from Katsina state
So it is surprising watching him going from one forum to the other, and one TV station to the other, lampooning President Buhari and backing Sheik Gumi’s ill-advised mission to get the Presidency to provide a Niger Delta-like amnesty for bandits who have now been designated as terrorists.
It is even funny watching him on a viral video taking pot shots at the President in Kaduna in October last year and hearing him saying if a tenth of Nigeria’s defence spending is handed to him, the country would be a safer place.
Nothing could be more entertaining when one considers how the former NHIS ES was not able to efficiently manage the funds of a government agency, yet is boastful of his ability to better handle billions of dollars.
In recommending his sack, the committee that investigated him said the NHIS boss deserved to be dismissed for failing to explore internal administrative remedies before suing the then Minister of Health, the Attorney-General of the Federation Abubakar Malami, and the NHIS
Though the panel recommended Mr Yusuf’s dismissal, it did not call for his prosecution in what is clearly a soft landing considering the alleged sleaze and financial malfeasances on his watch.
But in the light of revelation that EFCC and ICPC have not closed his file, it would not be out of place to demand that the two anti graft agencies expedite action in order for Yusuf to have his day in court.
This is the best way to send a clear message to all public officers, including those like the former NHIS boss, who had a habit of dropping the President’s name, that there is indeed no sacred cow as far as the anti corruption crusade is concerned.
*Dapo Okubanjo is a journalist and public affairs analyst.