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Health minister speaks on NHIS controversy

The Nigerian government says it will take appropriate steps to ‘restore peace’ at the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS).

This was disclosed by the health minister in an interview with PREMIUM TIMES on Monday afternoon.

The state-run health insurance provider was thrown into a fresh crisis on Monday when the Executive Secretary, Usman Yusuf, ignored his indefinite suspension by the governing council of the agency.

Mr Yusuf’s suspension was announced by the council on Thursday to allow a panel the council set up probe allegations of misconduct and fraud against him.

Despite being ordered to stay away from Monday, Mr Yusuf stormed the headquarters of the scheme with a contingent of about 50 police officers and forced his way into his office.

Workers and a handful of security personnel at the gate on Monday morning were tear-gassed and harassed in the melee.

Reacting to the developments in a telephone conversation with PREMIUM TIMES Monday afternoon, the Minister of Health, Isaac Adewole, said he was yet to be properly briefed.

“I have not being properly briefed on the development at the NHIS. I have called for a meeting and once I get full details of what is happening, I will send my report to the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF).

“I can only assure you that government will take appropriate steps to restore peace in NHIS and ensure that the scheme fulfills its mandate,” he said.

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Mr Adewole had himself been at odds with Mr Yusuf over the running of the NHIS. The minister was the first to suspend the executive secretary last July at a time the governing council had not been put in place, also over alleged gross misconduct and fraud.

The immediate reaction of the executive secretary back then was to question the authority of the minister to suspend him, although he eventually stayed away from office until February when he was controversially reinstated by President Muhammadu Buhari.

Mr Adewole had also asked a panel to investigate the allegations against Mr Yusuf. Documents in possession of PREMIUM TIMES revealed that the panel indicted the official and recommended sanctions.

Since his reinstatement, the agency has been enmeshed in infighting as Mr Yusuf and some senior officials traded accusations of fraud.

Eight months later, Mr Yusuf was again handed another suspension over allegations of fraud and misconduct by the scheme’s governing council inaugurated earlier in March.

While announcing his suspension to journalists on Thursday, Enyantu Ifenne, the chairperson of the governing council, said several executive infractions that “we can not ignore” had been observed, noting that the council resolved to suspend Mr Yusuf because it was inundated with petitions and infractions against him.

PREMIUM TIMES on Friday published details of nine ‘infractions’ allegedly committed by Mr Yusuf as released by the governing council.

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In one of which was about insubordination, the council noted that its chairperson in particular had been subjected to ”verbal assaults, unruly outbursts and various forms of unprofessional behaviour” by the controversial executive secretary.

Also reacting to Monday’s siege, Mrs Ifenne said the council had no position yet as it was yet to meet.

“Give us sometime to digest what is going on. Once we sit, we will brief you,” she told our correspondent.

Meanwhile, workers at the two Abuja offices of the NHIS downed tools over the Monday incident and are currently protesting at the head office of the agency, calling on President Buhari to do the ‘needful’.

“The needful is for the President to remove Mr Yusuf and bring in somebody who can salvage this agency which is at the brink of collapse,” Chris Achi, the secretary, Senior Civil Servants of the NHIS explained.

Calls to Mr Yusuf’s known official telephone line hit the voicemail. A voice of a man had earlier told our reporter “it’s a wrong number” when several attempts were made on Thursday to reach Mr Yusuf through the line. Officials in the scheme however confirmed the number is that of Mr Yusuf.

The presidency is yet to react to the latest controversy.

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