Two senior staff, Nana Mustapha and Akingbade Olufemi, whose names appeared in two separate training vouchers in the sum of N35 million and N21 million respectively, said they had no idea of the vouchers being raised in their names

The head of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) Usman Yusuf, who was recently reinstated by President Muhammadu Buhari after being suspended for alleged corruption, misused nearly N1billion of public funds within 90 days of taking office, and committed serial violations of federal procurement laws, NEXT EDITION can authoritatively report today.

The staggering amount could have helped save sick and dying Nigerians who desperately need healthcare insurance cover provided by the agency.

Instead, Mr. Yusuf, a professor of Haematology-Oncology and Bone Marrow Transplantation, lavished the amount on questionable training programmes.

For weeks, staff were trained on dubious programmes such as “defensive driving”, “risk management” and “communication strategy. ”

As they studied, the agency, under Mr. Yusuf, shelled out nearly half a billion naira as course allowance to the staff. Many of them received far less than recorded in the payment vouchers, NEXT EDITION found out.

Also, the trainers, mostly companies linked to Mr. Yusuf, got more than even the course allowances.

The spending has drawn close scrutiny from the health ministry and has alarmed public accountability activists who question the worth of a billion naira training, when millions of Nigerians remain without health insurance cover – the core mandate of the agency.

The actions of the reinstated NHIS boss have attracted scathing criticisms from workers, activist and the ministerial panel set up based on a directive by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.

Speaking on the mater, the Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee on Anti-Corruption, Itse Sagay, questioned the rationale for reinstating Mr. Yusuf after he was found wanting by a legitimate panel set up by the government.

Mr. Sagay argued that Mr. Yusuf should have remained under suspension pending the completion of investigation against him.

“If what is said is true, definitely there is a problem. There is a need for proper investigation and he should remain under suspension until such investigation is concluded,” Mr. Sagay, a professor of Law told this newspaper.

Millions without insurance

Planned since 1962, it was the military administration of Abdulsalami Abubakar that finally created the first national health insurance scheme for the military on May 10, 1999. In 2004, former President Olusegun Obasanjo signed into law the National Health Insurance Scheme Act, and also became its first enrollee in 2006.

While its goal is to provide universal health care coverage to Nigerians, the scheme currently covers only five percent of the population.

The enrollees are mostly federal, states and local government workers with only a few private organisations signing on their staff.

The scheme has suffered from bad leadership from its inception, and even President Goodluck Jonathan, who was accused of condoning corruption, sacked an Executive Secretary of the scheme, Femi Thomas, over allegations of fraud.

Shortly after Mr. Buhari was declared president-elect in 2015, some concerned staff sent a petition to him, detailing how Mr. Thomas laundered over $2.2 million from the scheme.

The letter which was received by his then Chief of Staff and current Customs boss, Hammed Ali, was minuted back to Mr. Jonathan, who immediately set up a panel to look into the allegations.

Mr. Thomas was not only sacked but was handed over to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for prosecution.

In August 2016, President Buhari appointed Mr. Yusuf, who is from his hometown to head the NHIS.

But just about a year after, Mr. Yusuf seemed yet another chapter of the agency’s jinxed corrupt leadership.

By July 2017, the NHIS boss had done enough to warrant the intervention of the Minister of Health, Isaac Adewole, who promptly suspended him and ordered an investigation.

The decision came after the minister had received several petitions by concerned unions, activists and threats of industrial action by workers, the ministry said.

Details of the report were telling, and in most cases, corroborated independent investigations by The NEXT EDITION.

Whiff of fraud

The N920 million trainings were conducted between October and December 2016, documents obtained by this newspaper show.

Curiously, while the NHIS has only 1, 360 staff on its nominal roll, our investigation showed a total of 2,023 staff were trained during the period.

Also, a total of 1,992 payment vouchers were raised by the insurance body, approved by Mr. Yusuf and remitted to staff.

Amidst the jagged numbers, some staff received training allowances multiple times, while training fees were paid to the consultancy firms engaged by Mr. Yusuf.

But reviews conducted by this paper, as highlighted in internal files and government investigation, show the majority of those who received multiple payments never attended the trainings and did not refund the allowances paid to them.

Worse, all the training consultants engaged by the scheme were directed to remit a part of their consultancy fees into some dedicated accounts.

One of the training firms, GK Kanki Foundation, was directed to pay N2.8 million into a Skye Bank account number: 1040569204, belonging to one Magaji Garba.

The NEXT EDITION could not reach GK Kanki Foundation and Mr. Garba to comment on the matter.

In all, Mr. Yusuf paid N508 million as fees to consultancy firms while about N412 million was spent as training allowances to staff, many of which were not in the agency’s nominal roll.

Even when the cost of the training programmes was above his approval limits, the NHIS boss still went ahead to cause the funds to be spent without seeking the approval of the minister of health, who supervises the health insurance agency.

A source in the agency, who pleaded not to be named for fear of victimisation said besides awarding the training contracts to firms owned and operated by his cronies, the embattled NHIS boos also violated extant procurement laws.

“I can tell you the reinstated ES (executive secretary) unilaterally awarded the training contracts and most of them went to his people,” the source said.

“He never followed laid procurement processes and was also spending above his approval limits so that between August 2016 and when he got suspended; Mr. Yusuf has spent billions of workers’ healthcare servings and brought in his relations and friends to help him destroy the NHIS.”

Details of violations found by this newspaper have been corroborated by a report released by the Ministry of Health, which established multiple cases of fraud and mismanagement against the NHIS boss.

The panel, headed by the Permanent Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Health, Binta Bello, was set up to probe allegations of mismanagement, nepotism and theft against Mr. Yusuf.

Fraudulent training schemes

The government report says the NHIS boss breached the procurement law in the award of contracts and payments for the training programmes.

In its executive summary, the panel said, “The procurement department of the NHIS was not involved in the engagement of consultants for all the training programmes, as transactions were basically between the suspended ES and human resource department. This is a contravention of the procurement process.

“The payment processes were not in compliance with financial regulations. Some payments were made without supporting documentation. No single payment voucher was raised in favour of the training consultants. Instead, their payments were lumped with participants’ training allowances and a composite voucher raised in the name of one of the participants, making it look like a normal staff claim.”

The panel also uncovered under-deduction of withholding tax in the sum of N25 million based on a total payment of N500 million to the training consultants engaged by the agency.

It also found that Mr. Yusuf approved all the trainings in connivance with the NHIS’ Executive Management Meeting, although they lacked the statutory powers to do so.

The report indicated that the trainings conducted by the scheme were above the approval threshold of the embattled executive secretary and should have been approved by the minister of health.

Case after case, the panel found instances of mismatch between amounts recorded after names, and what was actually received by the beneficiaries.

In one case, Ahmed Sanusi, a senior manager with the scheme, confessed to receiving N200, 000 for attending the training, when the records showed he was given N18.9 million.

The ICT General Manager at the agency, Nasiru Ikharo, told the panel that while management took the decision to conduct the training at zonal levels, no procurement processes were followed in the award of contracts to the consultants engaged for the training.

The panel found that instead of adhering to the provisions of the Public Procurement Act, the agency rather dumped the consultant fee and staff training allowances of staff.

Without prior information, the NHIS boss caused a voucher to be prepared and the money paid out in the name of Mr. Sanusi.

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More questions

Giving insight into some of the fraudulent training programmes at the agency, the scheme’s Assistant General Manager Training, Aliyu Lawal, admitted he only handled three pre-retirement training programmes for general managers.

In the case of AMA Health Consult that got the highest chunk of funds for staff training, Mr. Lawal said he was handed a proposal by the company and directed by his GM to nominate officers for each of the training programmes.

He said the course fee per participant was earlier fixed at N290, 000 but was reduced to N250, 000 when he complained that it was too high.

AMA Health Consult is said to be owned and operated by three former top officers of the scheme and friends of Mr. Yusuf, who retired from service in 2014.

Two other senior staff, Nana Mustapha and Akingbade Olufemi, whose names appeared in two separate training vouchers in the sum of N35 million and N21 million respectively, said they had no idea of the vouchers being raised in their names.

Mrs. Mustapha, a senior audit staff, said she was working in the finance and accounts department before being moved to her present office, saying it was illegal to include the course fee in the voucher that was raised in her name.

On his part, Mr. Olufemi said at the time the voucher was raised in his name, he had already been transferred to the Benue State office of the scheme.

He admitted receiving training allowance which was paid to all participants but complained that the programme was not commensurate with the cost paid by the NHIS.

The General Manager, Finance and Accounts, John Okoh, confirmed the NHIS failed for follow the due process in the award of contracts for staff training.

Mr. Okoh also confirmed that while the scheme made payment for foreign training in report writing, no such training took place.

The contract was awarded for N150 million to a former director of the scheme, Kabiru Yar’Adua, who is said to be related to Mr. Yusuf.

Trainings for cash

Investigation showed under Mr. Yusuf, the NHIS paid between N80, 000 to N520, 000 per person for the training programmes organised for staff of the scheme.

While the training for drivers and clerks cost N80, 000 per person, other classes of training was found to cost between N120, 000 and N520, 000 per staff.

A document seen by this newspaper showed training fee paid to First Digital Tech-Law Forensic Limited differed from venue to venue.

In the training held in Ibadan, Ilorin and Benin, the training fee per person was N265, 000 while the same training by the same firm in Lagos cost between N270, 000 and N520, 000 per participant.

Risk management training was awarded to four different firms viz; Coral Spring Consulting Limited, Rotex Consulting Limited, GK Kanki Consulting and Zaramat Global Consulting Limited was given at the cost of N250, 000 per participant.

A total of 180 staff were alleged to have been trained in four centres with each of the centres accommodating 40 participants.

The scheme paid a scandalous sum of N88 million to the consultancy firms excluding the allowances that were paid to staff.

Again, the contract for the training on public procurement featured 55 staff and was awarded to two companies, Messrs. Altin-Batai Nigeria Limited and CPP Partnership Limited at the cost of N250, 000 per participant.

A total of N20.7 million was paid to the two firms excluding the allowances paid to each of the participants.

Companies and cost of the training of NHIS staff approved by Mr. Yusuf from October – December 2016

Violations of the Procurement Act

Ironically, while the agency trained staff on procurement, its leadership was not ready to practice what it preached.

The panel report said Mr. Yusuf for awarding a N28 million contract for the supply of e-library equipment and the purchase of project vehicles without composing procurement planning committee and technical evaluation committee as provided for in section 21 of the Public Procurement Act, 2007.

Corruption fights back

Attempts by this newspaper to speak with the spokesperson of the scheme, Ayo Osinlu, failed as he would neither pick calls nor respond to text messages to this telephone.

Similar attempt to speak with Mr. Yusuf failed. When contacted on phone, the embattled NHIS boss twice told this newspaper he was attending meetings.

He, would not also reply a text message requesting him to speak on the alleged breach of rules, misappropriation of funds and nepotism in the award of contracts and secondment of staff to the scheme.

Mr. Yusuf later spoke publicly last Thursday about his recent travail.

He described his punishment as an example of “corruption fighting back.”

He, however, said he would not be discouraged from discharging his duty which he said was in the best interest of the Nigerian populace.

Mr. Yusuf who spoke in Sokoto at a public hearing on a bill to provide for Contributory Health Care Management scheme organised by the state’s House of Assembly urged Nigerians not to be dissuaded by the negative press he had suffered.

His words:  “Don’t be distracted by what you are hearing on the media. The real thing, it is corruption fighting us and we will fight back to keep faith with our responsibilities to Nigerians.

“We are here to work for our people and the country, and anybody who thinks we are doing it for ourselves or our office that person is missing the point.”

Mr. Yusuf said he would not in any way be discouraged in his efforts at providing the required services to Nigerians.