As usual, the government has handled the saga of the executive secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), Usman Yusuf, with spectacular lack of tact, or common sense.
A timeline of the debacle reads like a poorly scripted melodrama, and comedy of errors.
In just over a year, beginning from July 2017, Mr Yusuf has been investigated by the Senate, suspended by the minister of Health, applauded by the House of Representatives which demanded his reinstatement, indicted by a ministerial panel which recommended the extension of his suspension, recalled abruptly by the Presidency, and accused of investing N25 billion of the Scheme’s fund inappropriately.
Also, he has been rubbished by an interim management for alleged corruption and highhandedness, charged with padding the agency’s budget and misleading the new governing board, queried and again suspended, following which he vacated his suspension by storming the NHIS office with armed police. Mr Yusuf has announced that he will no longer be obeying the minister or any board, and is again being investigated by the House of Reps.
Expectedly, little work is being done in the agency these days as workers and unions range themselves on opposing sides of the divide, with each group threatening mayhem if its side is not favoured in the eventual resolution.
It is easy to fall into the temptation of taking sides in this matter, of blaming the secretary and his supporters in the Presidency for enthroning unruliness, and championing nepotism. And whatever the merits of his case, at the very least, Mr Yusuf has made questionable financial transactions and behaved with such arrogance as to make it impossible for him to remain in his position without further compromising the scheme.
However, he should not take all the blame. We must spread the blame around, and there is no shortage of deserving candidates.
The minister has serially been overruled and his attempt to discipline a subordinate thwarted, to the extent that riots frequently break out among staff in opposing camps.
He cannot therefore claim firm control of his agency, and his president has shown little faith in his judgment and less care for his honour, making his position almost untenable. The longer he tolerates such spite, the longer he erodes whatever altruistic motives he may claim for remaining in that office.
The Governing Council of the NHIS was supposed to bring policy direction to a place ruled by fractious groups but it has hardly succeeded in that regard. It naively approved for Mr Yusuf to invest N30 billion in securities only to turn back and accuse the man of misleading them. Had they read the Act setting up the Scheme and the fundamental principle of the Treasury Single Account, they might have avoided such pitfalls.
In a statement by the interim management set up to oversee the affairs of the Scheme during Mr. Yusuf’s suspension, a management that is itself now facing accusations of fraud, “the infraction alleged against us pales significantly compared to the enormous and grievous infractions that have been committed by Prof. Yusuf in terms of volume of funds involved…”
In sum, there are no heroes in this fight, only degrees of culpability. And the most culpable has to be the Presidency, which has again failed to demonstrate leadership.
It has conducted itself in a manner that has opened it to allegations of nepotism and crass incompetence. On the eve of a major election, this sort of failure of governance can hardly be expected to earn it more votes.
In the end, Nigeria is again the loser as a scheme meant to help make quality healthcare affordable to the people is again scuttled by bad administration.
Yet, something may yet be salvaged from this messy affair. President Buhari must abandon his habitual silence on matters of national import and restore sanity in the running of this critical health scheme.
If there is ever a time when silence is not golden, this is certainly it. Not to interfere is to condone the national disgrace that passes for governance at the NHIS.