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OPINION

In NHIS, corruption fights back even harder, By Suleiman Abdulaziz

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The Executive Secretary (ES) of the NHIS Professor Usman Yusuf’s effort to sanitise and rid the NHIS is being sabotaged and resisted every step of the way by Agents of the corrupt both within and outside the Scheme. When the scheme was created about 13 years ago, it was expected to provide affordable healthcare to all 180 million Nigerians and give them the comfort of reducing their out of pocket spending and a net of protection from huge bills associated with serious illnesses.

But several years after, the Scheme’s coverage is an embarrassing number of little above 3 million in-spite of the massive Federal Government’s contributions on behalf of its employees.

Billions of Naira have gone down the drain without any obvious benefit to majority of Nigerians who still have to pay for critical services from their pockets and are not treated well in hospitals.

This was the national embarrassment and injustice that no one had the courage to challenge until Prof. Usman Yusuf, a Bone Marrow Transplant Physician based in the United States of America was appointed the Executive Secretary in 2016. Prior to his appointments, no one was talking about the massive corruption perpetrated by Health Management Organizations (HMOs), the middle men paid by the NHIS to pay hospitals on behalf of contributors.

These HMOs were considered as untouchable sacred Cows because they are owned by strong and powerful politicians that are well connected to the corridors of power.

He was advised to tread carefully and not to “rock the boat” if he wanted to finish his tenure in peace. Little did they know the measure and resolve of this unassuming Patriot. He took time to do a thorough analysis of the situation. What he found shook him to the core and he vowed that he was not appointed to “rock the boat” but to “sink this boat of corruption “.

Prof. Yusuf started the cleansing process by reaching out to all stakeholders including Anticorruption and Security Agencies for help. He started cleaning the procurement, finance and ICT departments. He created a Department of Enforcement to go after defaulting HMOs. He started recovering NHIS funds from HMOs, Banks and Contractors.

At the time he came in, the State Security Services (SSS) was in the middle of an investigation of the Scheme’s corrupt practices. This investigation was completed and the report submitted to Prof. Yusuf in April 2017.

The report, which this writer was privileged to have seen at the time, indicted some top members of Management of the Scheme who colluded in compromising the database of NHIS by padding the number of enrollees to favour some HMOs.

The Management also paid over N1.5 billion to these HMOs in fraudulent financial transactions within a year. The scam is perpetrated by the insertion of non-existent hospitals and ghost beneficiaries in the database and using the corrupted data to release funds to HMOs who smile to their banks monthly. Of course, their accomplices at NHIS are carried along and adequately compensated.

This was the kind of work environment Prof Yusuf walked into and had to choose either to rock the boat or join the gang that had turned the NHIS into an automatic teller machine. Predictably, he chose to be a change agent and decided he was going to stop the rot, especially knowing very well the stand of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration on corruption.

Out of the six recommendations for executive action, two turn out to be the reasons Prof Yusuf incurred the wrath of some powerful interest groups.

The first is the recommendation that the ES should place all staff of the ICT Department on suspension to allow for a thorough screening of the NHIS database and find out those culpable in the scam.

The second is that all payments to HMOs must be put on hold until all irregularities in the NHIS database were rectified.

While he did not suspend all the ICT staff as recommended, Prof Yusuf simply redeployed these staff and seconded new people from other Federal Government Agencies including the EFCC to clean the organization’s database. The new staff in the ICT department discovered thousands of ghost beneficiaries of the scheme. More than 23,000 names of ghost enrollees were flushed from the database in a moth by these seconded staff resulting in savings of N23m fraudulently paid to to HMOs monthly. Not only that, dozens of hospitals were also fraudulently listed among those offering services to enrollees of the scheme.

The discovery led to sanction of some top guns at the NHIS and further re-gig of the administrative organogram. The status quo was torpedoed to pave way for a sanitization of the scheme.

But entrenched interests were determined to fight back, and they have been fighting back throwing spurious allegations at the NHIS boss and mobilizing workers to protest in their interest. Redeployment of new staff to hitherto ‘lucrative’ departments, especially ICT led to allegations of nepotism against Prof Yusuf. In the minds of his adversaries, he must have brought his own men to continue the milking of NHIS funds.

This explains all the recent unsubstantiated allegations by Unions who are merely foot soldiers of the corrupt. They accused him of seconding his ‘brother’ to the procurement department “so that he can prepare the ground for him to award contracts” to his brother’s company. How can you read only such a sinister meaning into a redeployment made to correct long-standing irregularities in the operations of NHIS? In any case, how can someone be found guilty of an offence he has not yet committed?

It is sad that labour unionism is today is bereft of all vestiges of patriotism and people-interest. Whether at the levels of national, state or organizations, labour activism has been reduced to promoting narrow interests of leaders and paymasters, and not the interest of the majority of workers. The welfare of workers and their families is no longer the motivation for protests, but the threat to the interests of a few.

Why has the labour union of NHIS not hold any demonstrations calling for the delisting and prosecution of HMOs that have fed fat on people’s Contributions?Why would a patriotic and worker-centered Union not call for the sack of any staff implicated in the corruption of NHIS database?

Why is the focus of the Union on the Executive Secretary who has come to clean the system?

Who are the people that have turned the NHIS into automatic teller machines? Workers must start asking the leaders of their Unions questions and demanding answers.

I call on all well meaning Nigerian to speak up and support Prof. Yusuf in his quest to rid the NHIS of corruption.

Nigeria needs more of this fearless patriot.

LONG LIVE THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA.

Abdulaziz wrote in from Abuja

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OPINION

Man subjects pregnant fiance to genital mutilation before giving birth

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Photo showing genital mutilation....

Man subjects pregnant fiance to genital mutilation before giving birth in Edo State.

At a time in the world when cases are rife of oppressive and discriminatory tendencies against women and the world waking up to sustainable decisive measures against such, it must have come as a rude shock to beautiful Blessing Isoken who hails from Edo State that her own lover, with whom she had gone through a whole lot with would come out to suggest that she performs a female circumcision exercise at the delicate state of pregnancy.

The story did not actually begin there, so let’s go to the beginning.

Blessing is from a home which describes her beginning. She grew up with her parent and the burden of her education became pronounced as she embarked on her university education. It was tough enough to provide for food, shelter and other sundry needs of the family such that taking care of her university demands were out of reach for her father.

This strain was augmented by the fact that Mr. Osagie has known one chief iyamu who was his childhood friend seeing his state that he could not fend for his family needs offered to help him with a loan wherewithal to redeem so many commitment because the situation was becoming worrisome and embarrassing for him and his family.

To Osagie’s rescue came when his childhood wealthy friend with a measure of clout, decided to put a smile on his face by giving him the loan to pay back on a particular date so he can sort out so many things like his daughter Blessing’s who dropped from her university education, to be able to go back.

This must have sounded like good music in the ears of Mr. Osagie who up until that point was at a loss as to how to wriggle himself out of the financial knot. Not knowing that Chief Iyamu however, would only display such benevolence on one condition. And what was the condition? He secretly wants to marrying Blessing when she was through her university education as a befitting compensation for his kindness.

Mr. Osagie not having knowledge of chief Iyamu’s plans fell into his trap by accepting the help thinking it was free for friendship sake. With the help of chief Blessing went back to school and successfully finished her university education.

The chief who had patiently been bidding his time like a lion that was confident it very well had its prey by the jugular, came out and demanded Mr. Osagie pays back the loan by giving out Blessing to him in marriage, which at a point cause alot of disagreement between Osagie and Chief Iyamu

Blessing got furious and disappointed at her father for having accepted the ideal brought by chief becos he does not have money to pay back his loan even without her consent or knowledge.. She had a budding relationship with a guy named Aberiri Mofe, and on relating the whole ordeal to him, they decided to elope, as she would rather die than have her father’s age mate marry her.

She and her boyfriend got visa travelled to Turkey where they found a measure of peace, having left the problem of Chief Iyamu behind, but that peace became transient in the height of their preparation to plan a future for themselves

The boyfriend gave her money to come back to Nigeria to settle the debt chief borrowed the father, getting to Nigeria

The father, Osagie rejected the money that there is nothing he can do that chief has already paid bride price on her and insisted she must marry him , but things went in a
dramatic twist, Blessing found out she was pregnant she quickly called Mofe her boyfriend to give him the good news that she was pregnant Mofe was happy but later open up to her that she had to undergo female circumcision before she gives birth that its a tradition his people values and hold very important.

Apparently in a dilemma, Blessing’s mind was in a turmoil as she tried to brace up with the reality of what Mofe told her, not feeling comfortable with it one bit. Luckily for her, she opened up to a friend about it who dissuaded her in strong terms from such a practice.

Blessing’s friend was only light then in a dark tunnel and as they kept discussing, she sold the idea of her to travel to as an escape to all the rubbish her life seemed mired in, she made up her and ran with the money given to her by her boyfriend to settle the supposed debt collect from chief by the father to Canada where she finally found rest from all the troubles that threatened to swallow her. But as we speak the boyfriend has been causing alot of troubles going to fight the Blessing’s father saying since she did not perform the traditional rite during pregnancy the daughter given birth to in Canada will have to be brought to perform it so he is trying every means to make sure the innocent daughter comes down to Nigeria for the traditional rites.

As we speak Nigeria is a danger zone for both mother and daughter.

So many questions than answers surely this piece would elicit; What choice else did the father have? Isn’t the lasciviousness of Chief Iyamu characteristic of the wealthy few in the midst of the many poor? Why did her fiance stoop so low to the whims of such barbaric tradition?

So so many questions but succinctly it portrays the audacity of desire and the folly of traditional beliefs in the 21st century. It may not be out of place to also say that such is the fate of many young girls in our society today with no voice for them and none to give a helping hand.

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OPINION

Imo: Evaluating the justice of the supreme court judgement in Hope Uzodinma, Emeka Ihedioha case, By Honesty Eguridu, Esq

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Honesty Eguridu

It is perhaps the most celebrated case of the decade and this is not surprising because of the politics of calumny by the Nigerian political class, the blame game by the two major political parties and politicizing of the issues leading to the removal of the former CJN and the appointment of the current CJN.

The social media community and the common man in the street jumped into the fray and everyone became a legal commentator berating the Supreme Court for perverting justice in favour of the ruling political party!

The views of political actors and their sympathizers notwithstanding, the decision of the Supreme Court in the instant case as usual is very sound and unassailable. My opinion on the soundness of the Supreme Court decision is not borne out of the age long maxim that “the Supreme Court is not final because it is infallible; it is infallible because it is final”.

The Supreme Court based its decision on the elementary principle of law that the court and the parties are bound by the issues joined in their pleadings.

Put in a lay man’s language, the court is bound to decide on the cases submitted to it by both parties. Senator Hope Uzodinma was the flag bearer of the All Progressive Congress (APC) in the March 8, 2019 governorship election in Imo State. RT. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) was declared the winner of the election while Senator Hope Uzodinma took 4th position in the result declared by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

Sen. Hope Uzodinma and the APC filed a petition at the Governorship Election Tribunal against the result of the election. Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, the PDP and INEC were made 1st Respondent, 2nd Respondent and 3rd Respondent respectively to the petition.

The crux of Sen. Uzodinma’s petition was that in the course of collation of results in the Ward, Local Government and State levels INEC incorrectly stated the votes of Rt. Hon. Ihedioha and reduced the votes of Sen. Uzodinma by unlawfully excluding the results from 388 polling units where Sen. Uzodinma scored overwhelmingly majority of the votes cast.

Sen. Uzodinma also stated before the Electoral Tribunal that when the votes from the excluded units are added to the votes of Sen. Uzodinma and Rt. Hon. Ihedioha , Sen. Uzodinma will score 310,153 while Rt. Hon. Ihedioha will score 260,162
Expectedly, Rt. Hon. Ihedioha denied the allegation of exclusion of results made by Sen. Uzodinma and alleged in his pleadings before the tribunal that Sen. Uzodinma has embarked on a scheme to introduce false result sheets into the result of the election.

INEC on its part also denied the allegation made by Sen. Uzodinma and asserted that the results relied upon by Sen. Uzodinma are false. They pleaded that they will tender the genuine results in the course of the trial. In other words INEC never denied that elections did not hold in the 388 polling units.

And as noted by the Supreme Court, this is very crucial! Now after pleadings (which is the preliminary stage of exchanging papers by the parties), it was time to call witnesses to prove the allegations or otherwise averred in their respective pleadings. Sen. Uzodinma called 54 witnesses and tendered Form EC8A – E series which include the statement of results from the 388 polling units and ward collated results.

Rt. Hon. Ihedioha on the other hand called just four witnesses and tendered certified true copies of the Form EC8 series showing the results with which INEC declared him winner of the election. PDP called one witness and INEC did not call any witness nor tender any document!

Recall that Ihedioha and PDP alleged in their pleadings that Sen. Uzodinma forged the results of the 388 polling units. By making this criminal allegation, the law requires them to prove the allegation beyond reasonable doubt, as required in criminal prosecution, but they failed in this duty. As the Supreme Court noted, they never called any iota of evidence to prove this allegation!

INEC on the other hand never called any evidence or tender any document to show that what Uzodinma tendered was fake. In other words, Uzodinma’s evidence on the 388 polling units was uncontroverted! And when evidence is uncontroverted a court of law is bound to act on it!

The question Nigerians should be asking is why did INEC’s legal team not call some of the presiding officers posted to the 388 polling units to testify that the result tendered by Sen. Uzodinma was fake and what stops them from tendering the genuine results as averred in their pleadings?

Nigerians should also ask the legal team of Rt. Hon. Ihedioha why they failed to call their polling agents in most of the 388 polling units to assert that there were no votes in those units or that the results were cancelled whichever be the case!

The Supreme Court clearly acted on the evidence before it! It is obvious the legal team of Rt. Hon. Ihedioha probably did not consider the petition of Sen. Uzodinma to be of a serious threat for obvious reasons.

Sen. Uzodinma was declared a distant fourth position in the election and in the electoral history of Nigeria a candidate with such a low score has never successfully challenged the result of an election let alone declared a winner to displace the number one candidate. But this is a big lesson for all lawyers and litigants never to consider any case as infinitesimal.

Many commentators have criticized the judgment of the Supreme Court for ascribing any probative value to the results of the 388 polling units tendered by a police officer instead of an INEC staff. Rt. Hon. Ihedioha’s legal team obviously based the strength of their defence on the lack of probative value of these result sheets because they were not tendered by an INEC official.

A Deputy Commissioner of police was called by Sen. Uzodinma on the basis of a subpoena duces tecum et testificandum to testify as PW54.

The result sheets of the 388 polling units were tendered in evidence through the police officer. Paragraph 22(c) (i) – (vi) of INEC Guidelines for 2019 General Elections clearly states the steps a presiding officer shall take after the result of a polling unit has been collated thus:
(c) The Presiding officer shall then:
(i) sign, date and stamp the appropriate EC8A forms;
(ii) announce loudly the votes scored by each political party;
(iii) request the candidates or their polling agents where available
at the Polling Unit to countersign;
(iv) refusal of any candidate or polling agent to countersign the appropriate form EC 8(A) series shall not invalidate the result of the Polling Unit;
(v) keep the originals of EC8 series and the first pink copies for the Commission;
(vi) give to the polling agents and the Police, a duplicate copy each of the completed forms

The above provision of the INEC Guidelines for the 2019 Elections clearly makes the case built by the legal team of Rt. Hon Ihedioha to fall like a pack of cards. They have argued that the results tendered were not certified trues copies and that the police officer is not the right person to tender them. These arguments are not tenable in law because the results, as can be seen from the provision of paragraph 2 2(c)(iv) above, are duplicate copies of the originals which require no certification and the police authority is empowered by law to be in custody of the results.

The decision of the Supreme Court also pointed out that this is not the first time the Court is relying on the copies of results in the custody of police officers to decide the validity of election results in Nigeria. The court cited the case of Nnadi Vs Ezike (1999) 10 NWLR (Pt. 622) 228 at 238. The tendering of the results through the police officer was to show that the scores recorded therein were excluded from the forms EC8B (ward collation results). It must also be reiterated that the police officer was summoned by the Election Tribunal to produce and tender the documents!

Lastly I must point out that Paragraph 12(2) of the First Schedule to the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended) places a burden of proof on the Respondent to an election petition of this nature. It states that “…. the respondent in his reply shall set out the facts and figures clearly and distinctly disproving the claim of the petitioners”.

And again the legal team of Rt. Hon. Ihedioha failed to discharge that burden of proof. According to them, Sen. Uzodima took 4th position so they don’t have to comply with that provision of the Electoral Act.

Once again the Supreme Court has shown by this landmark decision that it is indeed the last hope of the common man. What Nigerians and those having one interest or the other regarding this judgment should note is that the jurisprudence of justice dictates that there are three viewpoints of justice; justice from the viewpoint of the claimant, justice from the viewpoint of the defendant and justice from the viewpoint of the court.

But in all these viewpoints the substantive justice is the justice from the viewpoint of the objective man who is unbiased and having no emotional or sentimental attachment to the case. That justice from the viewpoint of the objective man is what the court is enjoined to dispense at all times and that is the kind of justice the Supreme Court has dispensed in this case.

It is obvious that most people berating the Supreme Court for this judgment are doing so without the right information. This article is intended to educate and correct the perspective of those with objective mindset.

Honesty Eguridu is a Legal Practitioner based in Lagos. He can be reached via his email address: honestyeguridu@yahoo.com

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OPINION

Reasons why Lagosians should embrace the restriction/ban on Okada, Keke Marwa

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That Governor Babajide Olusola Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State has gone ahead to implement the restrictions or as some people call it, ban of the movement of commercial motorcycles (okada) and tricycles (Keke Marwa) is no news.

The decision was met with criticism and condemnation of the government by several residents of the state owing to what they perceive as the inconveniences the policy or the decision would cause.

But beyond the inconveniences and disadvantages of the policy, it is necessary to trace the genesis of the restrictions and what it portends to the residents of the metropolitan city on the long run.

It should be recalled that the restriction/ban of Okada operations as recently announced by the Lagos State Government is not a new policy.

The Policy predates the current government as it took off in 2012 during the tenure of former governor Babatunde Raji Fashola.

What the Sanwo-Olu Government did was just to effect the policy, which was neglected by the government of Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode from 2015 to May, 2019.

Going down memory lane, in March 2012, about eight (8) years ago, Governor Fashola announced a total ban of Okada from all major bridges and the whole of Ikeja.

This ban was instigated by the Nigeria Police, who had been hapless from the incessant rise in crime in the highly populated state.

Three months later, it was extended to parts of Surulere and Lagos Island. Specifically the Business district, parts of Victoria Island and Falomo, Ikoyi.

For the other areas, government decided to regulate Okada riders and came up with a licensing scheme which stipulated that Okada riders needed to learn how to ride bikes and must obtain a riders licence (As is applicable in most countries).

This they did in partnership with the FRSC. This scheme was ignored totally.

As a matter of fact the two main Okada unions took the government to court over this.

The FRSC ended confiscating over 15,000 bikes for non-compliance. Still, riders were going about undocumented.

At that time, there were just about 50,000 Okada’s in Lagos. The government also introduced the use of crash helmets due to incessant casualties from accidents. This too was largely ignored.

Today, there are over 250,000 Okadas with 78% of the riders being indigenes of Chad, Niger and Mali.

The significant rise was within the last 18 months. The most significant development that jolted the Lagos State Government was the recent influx of over 40,000 Nigeriens and Malians under the guise of looking for a means of sustenance as Okada riders.

They were all undocumented, with no form of identification whatsoever.

The Lagos State Government quickly set up a committee to look into this.

Early January, in trying to enforce registration in Apapa, Iganmu Orile, where we have the largest concentration of Okada riders from Niger and Mali, government ended up seizing about 150 Okadas, whose owners did not have riders permit.

Within a few hours, irate Hausa/Fulani youths invaded Apapa- Iganmu LCDA headquarters at Marine Beach, chased all the workers away and set the office complex ablaze and also vandalised vehicles within the vicinity causing millions of Naira in damage. No serious government would watch and not take action, most especially with the insurgency in the North East.

What we should note here is that there is a total ban on Okada in Kano, Katsina, Zamfara, Sokoto, Kaduna, Kebbi and Niger State for security reasons.

Those, who did not study the situation properly have been condemning the government of Mr. Sanwo-Olu for its action.

However, they ought to know that Sanwo-olu’s government didn’t just wake up and effect the ban! It was as a result of a report presented by the Lagos State Security Council and they sought advise from the OPS as well.

The Corporate Okada companies were given ample time to implement government policy on the management of their riders but they simply just took the government for granted.

They felt that this is Nigeria, where people believe that anything goes.

In their own thinking government would not be that audacious with an outright ban.

With the millions of dollars raised at start-up, all the corporate Okada companies were interested in, was the revenue. They were interested in the N3,000 daily they were charging riders.

The companies became reckless after the Lagos State introduced N25M as annual licensing fees for 1000 riders and then N30,000 per bike thereafter.

This means that the companies would paying N295M if they had 10,000 Okada riders including tax and VAT on revenue generated.

Meanwhile the companies were earning over N1m per rider annually. They became very greedy and complacent and ceased to keep any verifiable database of the their riders with the required background checks. (This was largely done, to avoid charges).

The main concern of the owner of Gokada’ Bangladeshi was how to roll out Gokada in the thousands rather than making sure there was value added and compliance.

So most of this companies have themselves to blame. The Corporate Okadas market share in Lagos is less than 5%. TBC.

What the Lagos State Government is to sanitize the system and restore the lost glory of the state and make things work better in the centre of excellence.

The Sanwo-Olu Government means well for the residents of the state and this would be noticeable in its progressive programmes for the generality of the masses.

Residents of the state should commend the sensitivity of the Sanwo-Olu government to provide succour with the release of 65 buses and ordering additional 550 buses to ameliorate the challenge facing commuters.

The Governor knows the implications of the restrictions of the movement of okada and Keke Marwa and he is thinking outside the box on a daily basis to provide succour.

The major reason for the restrictions/ban should not be lost on the discerning residents of the state, it is meant to reduce crime and protect lives and properties as hoodlums have reportedly perfected the use of okada to commit crime with impunity.

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