Suspension of the NHIS Executive jeopardizes House Committee’s investigation on HMOs By Levinus Nwabughiogu

Hon. Chike Okafor, member representing Ehimembano/Ihitte Uboma/Obowo Federal Constituency of Imo State, is the Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Health Service investigating the National Health Insurance Scheme, NHIS, which Executive Secretary, Professor Usman Yusuf, was suspended by the Minister of Health, Professor (ES) Isaac Adewole, last week.

In this interview, Okafor says the ES suspension was a distraction to his committee’s work.

How do you view the suspension of the NHIS Executive
If you believe that there is a need to move this country forward, believe the anti-corruption of the government of President Mohammadu Buhari; if you believe in that crusade and that we need to support it, then this is when you need to demonstrate it the more. We have been talking about the fact that health insurance in this country is not working as it should. About seven months ago, I took a motion to the floor where I was looking at health insurance especially contributory health insurance that is not working effectively. As we speak, we have not been able to cover more than 5 percent of Nigerians in the scheme. So, why is it not working? One of the things I set out to achieve when I became the Chairman of the Committee was to see that we have wider coverage; that we increased the scope of the coverage. Now, I have an Executive Secretary, Professor Usman Yusuf, who assumed office late last year and one of the revelations he has made to my Committee is that there is corruption in the scheme. Now, the House resolved to investigate the scheme vis-a-vis the activities of Health Maintenance Organizations, HMOs. And we say fine, let’s start with a public hearing. It was a two-day public hearing.

During the public hearing, Professor Yusuf  said this is fraud. And now, the licenses of the HMOs have expired. They are due for renewal or revalidation and the man is saying he will not renew the license of any HMO it get, a certificate of non-indebtedness from service providers. One week later, acting under some unfounded petitions, the Minister suspended him for 90 days. And we said no. We have our duty as a legislature to protect a man who came and testified before us. We have reasons to believe that the suspension for 90 days is because of the evidence he gave to us.

So, specifically, what has the House resolved to do?
Specifically, the House resolved that one: The Minister, Professor Isaac Adewole who I see as a fine gentleman should show cause while he shouldn’t be cited for contempt of the House for the suspension of the ES because we want to believe that the suspension came on the heels of the man’s appearance before the investigative hearing and revelations were made during that hearing. We see that this is an attempt to intimidate him and punish for testifying before the House and probably silence him from further testifying, giving evidence and helping the work of the committee because we are still working, we are still investigating. As I speak, our team of auditors are currently in Lagos, working with the HMOs because he had made some revelations: he said he had paid some XYZ amount of money to HMOs. HMOs did not pay to healthcare providers. These are allegations. So, we now have these documents, facts from him showing that he had made huge sums or the Scheme had paid these huge sums to HMOs. So, we will now go to the HMOs, let them also show us evidence of when and how they also remitted the money to the hospitals, the care providers so that we need to know who is not helping the scheme. Is it the scheme itself, the HMOs or service provider? Or are Nigerians getting Medicare and they are lying that they are not?

Judging from the petitions of financial misappropriations against the suspended ES, was it not right that he was suspended by the Minister to pave the way for proper investigations?
There are also allegations against the minister but the president has not suspended him. Today, ICPC is investigating the allegations on what happened between the minister and the former acting ES. Petitions are there that vehicles were bought for the ministry and the ministry officials and the minister are using the vehicles. These are petitions before the ICPC. And then the president has not suspended  the minister and the petitions which we think were sponsored against the ES are flimsy. Believe you me, by the posture of Professor Yusuf before, during and after the public hearing, I think that the man is working in tandem with the anti-corruption crusade of the president. How many chief executives have come publicly to say the agencies we are heading are corrupt and they are cleaning it? Over 23,000 enrollees are padded and the man found out and told the world. When you said enrollees, it means that capitations are paid on those ghost enrollees. Multiply the amount which they pay as capitation which is about N850 every month by 23,000. This man gave us the information. We didn’t find out.  He was on oath and couldn’t have lied at the two-day public hearing. And one week later, you woke and heard that the man had been suspended. No sane Nigerian will not believe that the witch cried in the night and the baby died in the morning. We don’t have the power to hire or suspend, but let the world hear that we think that the suspension of Professor Yusuf has to do with his anti-corruption stance.

At what stage is the report now because you did say at the hearing that it would be laid upon the House’ resumption?
Yes, we are still working and the suspension was more like a distraction. We are still working and, believe me, we will come up with our report. We will lay our report before we go on vacation. If you were present at the hearing , I said that out of the 59 HMOs, it is not possible that all of them are culpable. But it is very, very possible that quite a number of them have been collecting money from the scheme and, like that professor said, pocket them and walk away without remitting same to the care providers and that means Nigerians are not getting value for their money.

What if the Minister ignores the resolution passed by the House, what then happens?
Well, when we get to the bridge, we will cross it. We have done the first thing. We will take it one step at a time. As a responsible House, we have to do what we have to do and I want to thank the Speaker and members of the House for looking at the issue dispassionately.

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