Niyi Odebode, Olalekan Adetayo and Eniola Akinkuotu
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission has begun investigations into allegations of misappropriation of funds and abuse of office levelled against the suspended Executive Secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme, Prof. Usman Yusuf.
The EFCC stated this in a letter dated December 21, 2017, which was addressed to the current acting Executive Secretary of the NHIS.
The investigations by the commission started five months after Yusuf was suspended by the Federal Ministry of Health.
The ministry, four months ago, submitted the report of a panel on the allegations against Yusuf to the Presidency. In its report, the panel accused the suspended NHIS boss of N919m fraud.
The EFCC’s letter was titled ‘Investigation into activities of Prof. Usman Yusuf –suspended Executive Secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme’.
Besides the EFCC, the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related Offences Commission is investigating the suspended executive secretary and four other officials of the NHIS.
The ICPC, in its letter dated December 11, 2017, and addressed to the acting executive secretary of the NHIS, stated that the officers were being investigated for “alleged violation of the provisions of the Corrupt Practices and other related Offences Act 2000.”
The ICPC added, “Pursuant to Section 45(3) of the cited Act, you are hereby directed to recover the money advanced to the five officers (of the NHIS) and two staff from the Ministry of Health for the aborted trip to the Netherlands.
“You are further required to furnish the commission with the evidence of compliance by each of the beneficiaries.”
On its part, the EFCC stated that it was investigating suspected cases of fraud and misappropriation 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 EFCC is seeking information on, “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.
“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.
“All payments relating to the fuelling of the suspended secretary’s official vehicles. Disbursement of NEED assessment funds between July 2016 and July 2017.”
The EFCC requested documents relating to the audit verification conducted during the tenure of the suspended executive secretary.
The commission also said the NHIS should confirm if four other persons it mentioned in the letter were members of staff of the scheme and their current status.
The persons are Nasir Shinkafi, Shuab Mohammed, Suleiman Ilu and Yusuf Abdullahi.
The anti-graft agency stated that it was making the requests “pursuant to Section 38 (1) and (2) of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (Establishment) Act, 2004.”
However, there were indications on Tuesday that the suspended executive had begun moves to return to his post.
It was gathered that Yusuf had contacted members of a cabal in the Presidency to reach out to the President.
A Presidency official, who confided in The PUNCH, said, “He has the sympathy of members of the cabal, who have assisted him in reaching out to the President. He feels that he is being victimised.”
The panel, set up by the Federal Ministry of Health to probe the suspended NHIS boss and other activities at the NHIS, had presented a damning report to the Minister, Prof. Isaac Adewole.
The report was submitted to the President in August.
The report was received by the Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari, on behalf of the President but the Presidency had remained silent on the report.
A top government official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told one of our correspondents that the Presidency had so far not taken action on the report of the investigation initiated by the health minister because “a procedural error” was noticed.
The source claimed that contrary to the normal procedure, the Ministry of Health went ahead to prepare a White Paper on the report before forwarding it to the Presidency.
He said, “What I am aware of is that the ministry did not stop at investigating him, it prepared a White Paper on the report of the investigation. The Presidency has noticed this procedural error and has called the ministry’s attention to it.
“I don’t know if a fresh committee will be set up to investigate the matter all over again.”
The source added that the Presidency was also taking its time to ensure fairness in the case.
“You know that there are two legs to the issue. The suspended man has also made an allegation against the minister.
“He said he ran into trouble with the minister because he refused to provide a particular amount of money that he was asked to bring for the send-off of the ministry’s permanent secretary.”
When asked if the Presidency would investigate the minister before taking a stand on the matter, he said, “Like I told you earlier, I don’t know if a fresh committee has been set up yet.”
Presidential spokesmen, Femi Adesina and Garba Shehu, could not be reached on the telephone as of the time of filing this report.
In the report, which was compiled by senior officials of the health ministry, the Department of State Services and the ICPC, the suspended NHIS boss was accused of perpetrating fraud to the tune of N919m.
The panel described Yusuf as a public servant who “portrayed a holier than thou attitude but at the background, milked the agency dry” by conniving with others to perpetrate fraud to the tune of over N919m.
According to the panel, the N919m was dubiously given as payment to consultants for staff training.
The committee said as the head of the agency, Yusuf was personally responsible for all administrative, procurement and financial lapses.
The panel noted “his (Yusuf’s) deceitful attitude coupled with ‘name dropping’ of Mr. President as having sent him to sanitise the NHIS, but he caused more harm than good to the scheme.”
The committee, therefore, recommended that the EFCC probe the agency for diversion of funds and contravention of the Procurement Act of 2007.
The report states that Yusuf contravened the Procurement Act of 2007 through nepotism and other irregular award of contracts and should be sanctioned in line with the provision of the Act.
Explaining how the alleged staff training scam took place, the committee said in some instances, the number of trainees was far more than the entire number of employees at the agency.
It noted that in other instances, some employees were registered for the same training in two different states at the same time.
Most of the consultants were said to have charged about N250,000 per participant.
Yusuf insults minister, correspondent
When the suspended NHIS boss was contacted for comment on Tuesday, Yusuf decided to rain insults on one of our correspondents and the minister, asking the reporter to put his vulgar language in print.
The following conversation ensued between The PUNCH and the embattled professor:
The PUNCH Good evening sir, my name is Eniola Akinkuotu, a reporter with The PUNCH. I’m calling in respect to your probe by the minister…
Prof. Yusuf: (Cuts in) Are you listening to me? You and the minister, f**ck you. Can you put that in print? (Punch)