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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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