By Prof. Usman Yusuf
I have refrained from saying or writing anything about the NHIS since my exit as the Executive Secretary/CEO on 1st July, 2019. But, since the story about the recovery of the sum of N5.4b NHIS funds broke out last week, I have been inundated with a lot of inquiries from the Press, some mischievously insinuating that I was complicit in this supposedly “trapped funds of NHIS ” recovered by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
The news did not acknowledge or credit the efforts of my team which led to the recovery of these funds. Thankfully, the then Acting Chairman of the EFCC Ibrahim Magu in a letter to the ES/CEO of the NHIS ref: EFCC/EC/NHIS/81/03 dated 10th October 2019 (three months after my exit) graciously did so.
When I assumed office as the Executive Secretary of the NHIS in July 2016, no one in the Scheme could tell me the exact amount of money the NHIS had and where it was lodged. I, therefore, employed the services of an independent accounting firm to do a forensic audit of all NHIS accounts.
Bear in mind that the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) had directed all Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) to transfer all their funds from commercial banks to Treasury Single Accounts (TSAs) with the Central Bank (CBN) by the end of September 2015. This was nearly a year before I assumed office.
This independent accounting firm worked diligently for months, going through all of the Scheme’s books, I gave them letters to all the Banks that had NHIS funds authorizing them to forensically audit all of the Scheme’s accounts.
The firm’s work was resisted all the way by the Scheme’s General Managers (GMs) in charge of its funds over the years. The Accounting Firm however, worked diligently day and night for months giving me periodic interim reports.
They presented the final report to me in the last quarter of 2017. The report showed that thirteen (13) commercial banks had outrightly refused to remit over one hundred billion Naira of NHIS funds to its TSA Account in the CBN in direct violation of FGN’s directive.
I first presented the forensic audit report to the NHIS management. I then presented it to NHIS Governing Council at its maiden meeting in March 2018. The then Honourable Minister of Health (Prof. Isaac Adewole) was also made aware. The Chairman of the Governing Council through a third party, reached out to the CBN Governor for help in recovering the funds.
I personally met with the late Chief of Staff to the President (Mallam Abba Kyari) in his office and gave him a copy of the report. I also reached out to the Accountant General of the Federation on the matter. The then Honourable Minister of Finance (Mrs. Kemi Adeosun) refused to meet with me to discuss the matter in spite of my repeated requests for a meeting.
I reported her refusal to see me to the then Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) Engr. BD Lawal who called her in my presence and asked her to please see me but she never did until she left office.
The Attorney General of the Federation was also aware because he and the Honorable Minister of Health (Prof. Isaac Adewole) issued separate letters of appointment to a gentleman who presented himself to them as a so-called “whistleblower” offering his services to recover missing government funds.
The Accounting Firm that did the forensic audit had no knowledge of this fake whistleblower’s outreach to the two Honourable Ministers. Based on whatever falsehood he presented to the two Honourable Ministers, he was appointed to recover the funds which would have entitled him to get his cut as a legitimate “whistleblower”.
The whole process of recovery was subsequently transferred to the office of Asset Forfeiture of the Federal Ministry of Justice headed by a Deputy Director.
All this happened while I was away on an illegal suspension by the then Honourable Minister of Health. When I was reinstated back to office by President Muhammadu Buhari in February 2018, I found these two letters of appointment to the fake” whistleblower”.
I raised objections to his appointment and to the takeover of the recovery of NHIS funds by the Federal Ministry of Justice.
There is no hospital in this country that functions optimally that is why those that can afford it, seek healthcare outside the shores of this country. For the teeming majority of Nigerians that don’t have such choices, especially the most vulnerable among us, it is unconscionable for commercial banks to illegally hold onto this quantum of NHIS money.
NHIS money, still held illegally in the vaults of commercial banks six years after the FGN directive to the contrary, is money that can make an impactful difference in the lives of our people and in mitigating the daunting challenges in our healthcare system,
The reported recovery of N5.4b by the EFCC, though commendable, is just a tip of the iceberg. There are billions more unaccounted for that need to be recovered.
Recovering and utilizing this money for the good of our people should be made an urgent national priority.
The nonchalant and unsupportive body language of the senior administration officials I ran to for help and some Bankers willingness to make illegal deals instead of returning the whole money back to the NHIS, were very disappointing and depressing experiences to say the least. I felt alone and abandoned in the trenches without covering fire in this government’s fight against corruption.
- What is the status of recovery of the rest of the funds?
- How much has the Federal Ministry of Justice or any other government Agency recovered so far and where is the money?
- How did the National Assembly (NASS) allow this to happen in spite of its oversight functions?
- How did the office of the Auditor General of the Federation miss this?
- How did the office of the Accountant General of the Federation miss this?
- How did Organized Labour (NLC & TUC) who have a seat on the NHIS Council miss this?
- Has any person or Bank been sanctioned for this?
- A lot more questions than answers
Usman Yusuf is a Professor of Haematology-Oncology and Bone Marrow Transplantation.
Former Executive Secretary NHIS (2016-2019)