In June of 2017 news came filtering in regarding the suspension of the Executive Secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), Prof Usman Yusuf, and the investigations that followed bore strong allegations of gross misconduct and fraud to the tune of N919m. Subsequently, the Minister of Health, Professor Isaac Adewole suspended the NHIS boss while investigations by EFCC and ICPC were underway.
The Minister’s own panel set up to investigate the said allegations found Yusuf guilty of nepotism and theft of public funds – leading to his suspension together with eight other top officials of the NHIS. From statements coming from official quarters, obviously a lot of malfeasance has for long been going on in that agency under the federal ministry of health, in that there had been a hoard of petitions pouring in – concerning some top officials of the NHIS.
But nine months down the line indications are that the suspended NHIS boss had begun moves to return to his position, probably because he has some sort of connection to some big wigs in high places. From every indication it is very clear that all has not been well with the running of the NHIS programme. Nepotism, theft and outright fraud have been the order of the day in an agency that was set up to enable a sense of purpose in national healthcare delivery.
A number of damning cases emanating from that agency have been in the public domain – following huge outcry about unending series of misdemeanour in a very strategic agency of government. Before now the news making the rounds concerning the NHIS also had to do with issues of this same nature. Dr. Femi Thomas, then immediate past Executive Secretary/Chief Operating Officer of the federal agency, and his successor in acting capacity, Mr. Olufemi Akingbade, were accused of being the brains behind massive fraud involving billions of naira, employment racketeering and other related malpractices suggesting abuse of office.
According to official sources, the former helmsman and his acting successor were accused of “flagrant abuse of financial rules and regulations, executive rascality, embezzlement of public funds and monumental diversion of government funds”.
Further investigations by the Directorate of State Services (DSS), which later referred its findings to the Special Duties Department (SDD) of the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC), corroborated these facts when they were done.
But alas, who is going to bell the cat? How are we ever going to achieve universal health coverage in the way and manner we are prosecuting the health insurance scheme in Nigeria? It is a well accepted maxim that, it is plain madness to continue to do a thing over and over again the same way and expecting a different result. Every year huge sums of money is committed to the agency in an attempt to ensure the NHIS Act, Cap N42, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 is achieved, i.e. the provision of easy access to healthcare for all Nigerians at an affordable cost through various prepayment systems.
As it is, no nation can be described as great when a larger percentage of its population is physically and psychologically unhealthy due to inability to access quality and affordable healthcare services. For all the many years the scheme has been in existence it has been a dreary and tortuous long walk to universal coverage, with just about 5 percent of the population being covered under the scheme. Ineptitude, as well as massive corruption has kept the agency crippled – we now know.
It will be foolhardy for anyone to expect magic to happen, or for any meaningful change to take place unless we tackle the bull by the horn. The Augean stable certainly has to be swept clean or else the NHIS will remain the drain pipe as well as the puddle of putrefaction which it has been all this while.
It is very evident that our failure to adequately punish erring public officers who have been indicted of massive corrupt activities has been the bane of governance as well as our society in general. It should not be surprising then that a public agency such as the NHIS has been unable to deliver right from the onset.