- Heavy security, as minister suspends 6 GMs, others
The battle of wits at the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) is getting messier and fiercer. Instead of a letup, it has claimed more victims, as three General Managers and five other senior staff received a directive to proceed on suspension, yesterday, barely two weeks after Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole ousted the Executive Secretary, Yusuf…..
The affected officials are Olufemi Akingbade, general manager, zonal coordinator south-south zone; John Okon, general manager, finance account; Yusuf Fatika, general manager, human resources and administration; and Shehu Adamu, assistant general manager, audit, Vincent Mamdam, assistant general manager, head insurance; Safiyanu Attah, senior assistant officer, marketing; Owen Udoma, senior manager, contribution management and Innocent Abbah, senior assistant officer, planning research and monitoring.
The suspension, according to a statement from the ministry, was based on the “activities of the investigative panel of inquiry and the desire to have an uninterrupted and robust investigation of all petitions at the National Health Insurance Scheme, including security reports on maladministration and mismanagement by officials of the agency.”
The statement said the suspension was to pave way for thorough investigation.
Adewole urged the investigative committee to remain focused, fair and transparent in the discharge of this national task despite the sensation this development has generated.
Attahiru Ibrahim, acting executive secretary of the scheme, was directed to ensure the immediate implementation of the suspension order.
Meanwhile, staff of the agency arrived the Wuse 2 Abuja head office yesterday to meet a large contingent of stern looking policemen on guard.
An even higher level of security presence was at the Utako head office extension of the NHIS where the suspended Executive Secretary preferred to operate from.
Prof. Adewole had on July 6 ordered Yusuf to proceed on suspension in order for the ministry’s panel to look into petitions written against him.
However, Yusuf, in a letter, said the minister lacked the power to discipline him and that only the president “by virtue of the NHIS Act particularly section 4 and 8 thereof” could remove him from office “whether by way of suspension or otherwise.”
Yusuf, in a letter dated July 12, said: “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.”
He said although section 47 of the NHIS Act empowers the minister 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,” the powers and functions of the council do not include discipline, suspension or removal of the Executive Secretary of the scheme from office.
Besides, he said the suspension letter was not in accordance with the Public Service Rules as no prima facie case had been established against him in respect of the petitions 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 officer 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 the ICPC are the appropriate agencies for the investigation contemplated in your letter; not a Ministerial Committee. I have cooperated fully with the investigations, so far, and will continue to do so.” He asked the minister to allow “investigations of these petitions to follow due process.”
But responding, spokesperson for the ministry, Boade Akinola, said Yusuf, being a public officer, was bound by the regulations governing the Public Service.
Yusuf’s response to the minister came days after the House of Representatives condemned his suspension, describing it as a witch-hunt. The House which issued the minister a seven-day ultimatum to reinstate the suspended Executive-Secretary, accused Adewole of suspending him over his refusal to accede to series of demands, including the payment of N197.073 million to the ministry for unsubstantiated expenditures.
According to a reliable source at the NHIS, the letter from the suspended Executive-Secretary led to an agreement between the Joint Staff Union of the NHIS and the minister to have policemen posted to the headquarters of the agency to prevent a breakdown of law and order.
The union, which has had a running battle with the embattled NHIS boss sent out a memo to its members, through its secretary, Chris Achir, calling for vigilance as there were speculations that Yusuf had plans to mobilise people to escort him to office to resume work.
Even with the back and forth between Adewole and Yusuf, Daily Sun gathered that the acting executive secretary has taken full control of the agency and with the tacit support of the union reversed certain financial agreements and postings carried out by Yusuf.
Sources within the agency further disclosed that Akingbade, five other General Managers, five Assistant General Managers and six other staff posted out of Abuja by Yusuf, under controversial circumstances, have been recalled to the headquarters by Attahiru.
The acting executive secretary, insiders said, also halted certain payments for contracts that were higher than the N2.5 million approval limit of an NHIS head.
“It’s true that six GMs, five Deputy GMs and five other senior and middle cadre staff has been posted back to the head office. These people were posted out by the suspended E.S.
“The thinking was that it is not right having three senior GMs, who form part of the five asked back to Abuja, operating from outside the headquarters and another move that has earned the Acting Executive-Secretary approval from staff is his decision to stop payments on contracts that were awarded without following due process”, the source said.