By Ebuka Onyeji
The Nigerian government is investigating the leadership crisis at the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, has said.
Mr Mohammed spoke on a television programme on Sunday, over a week after the health agency spiralled into fresh upheaval following the refusal of its Executive Secretary, Usman Yusuf, to accept his suspension by the governing council of the agency.
The council announced the indefinite suspension of Mr Yusuf on October 18 and said it had set up a panel to investigate allegations of fraud and misconduct levelled against him.
Mr Yusuf told BBC Hausa Service on Tuesday “the governing board has no right to suspend me as the Executive Secretary.”
In his reaction last week Monday, the health minister, Isaac Adewole, who was the first to suspend Mr Yusuf last July, said the government would take appropriate steps to ‘restore peace’ at the scheme.
On Sunday, Mr Mohammed said, “The matter is being handled at the highest level”.
While speaking on Channels Television’s Sunday Politics Programme, Mr Mohammed listed Mr Yusuf’s issue among corruption cases the government is currently investigating.
“In the case of the NHIS, Dr Usman Yusuf, the matter is being handled at the highest level. The government is on top the matter and in a very short while, we are going to find a resolution to it,” the minister said.
But Mr Mohammed’s claim appeared to contradict an earlier reaction by the Presidency. On Tuesday, a presidential spokesperson, Garba Shehu, queried the powers of the council to sanction Mr Yusuf.
“Did the board follow due process in suspending this gentleman? There are opinions that said, ‘No, they haven’t,” Mr Shehu told the News Agency of Nigeria, NAN. “Again, we all have to do the right thing all of the times.”
The NHIS Act gives the president alone the power to appoint or sack the Executive Secretary.
But the Presidency has also been accused of being biased especially after a previous suspension of the same official by the health minister was initially voided seven months later by President Buhari.
“As usual, the Presidency is likely to have been misled to believe that Yusuf is fighting corruption. Hence, the Presidency has given the dangerous impression that the guy is untouchable,” Femi Falana, a lawyer noted on Friday.