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Does NHIS governing council have powers to suspend Executive Secretary?

The Governing Council of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), on Thursday, placed the scheme’s Executive Secretary, Usman Yusuf,  on an indefinite suspension over allegations of corruption and other sundry offences.

However, the development has thrown up another controversy on whether the Council has powers, according to the NHIS Act, to suspend the Executive secretary.

The arguments also stem from the fact that Yusuf had been suspended by the Minister of Health, Isaac Adewole, in June 2017, but President Muhammadu Buhari upturned the suspension and reinstated the NHIS boss.

On Twitter, Joe Abah, former Director General of the Bureau of Public Service Reforms, wrote: “A Governing Board/Council has no powers to suspend a DG/ES on its own. They can RECOMMEND suspension to the President through the SGF but they can’t suspend.”

However, many disagreed with Abah, recalling the situation at the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) where the former Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, suspended the commission’s DG on allegations of corruption and abuse of office. That suspension still stands till date.

What the NHIS Act says

According to the NHIS Act, the Executive Secretary also serves as the Secretary of the Scheme’s governing council.

The first part of the Act (section 4) stipulates what could lead to the cessation of a person’s membership of the governing council. It reads thus: “A member of the Council shall cease to hold office if … he is guilty of serious misconduct in relation to his duties.”

It continues: “A member of the Council may be removed from office by the President on the recommendation of the Minister if he is satisfied that it is not in the interest of the Scheme
or the interest of the public that the member should continue in office.”

Section seven – in the second part – of the NHIS Act also speaks about “the functions of the (governing) council”, but among the many functions listed there, none empowers the council to even oversee the actions of the Executive Secretary, much less probe or suspend him.

Perhaps the closest to that is the provisions of subsection 7(j) which states that “the Council shall have power to… carry out such other activities as are necessary and expedient for the purpose of achieving the objectives of the Scheme as set out in this Act”.

In fact, the word “suspend” does not feature in the NHIS Act, and the word “suspension” appears only once but has nothing to do with the Executive Secretary. Similarly, the word “removed” is featured only once in the document, and that was in the section already quoted above.

From the foregoing, it is clear that going strictly by the provisions of the NHIS Act, neither the Minister of Health nor the governing council has sole powers to suspend or remove the Executive Secretary from office. The minister may only recommend such actions to the President in whose hand it is to wield the big stick or not.

Meanwhile, the Chairperson of the NHIS Governing Council, Enyenatu Ifenne, while announcing Yusuf’s suspension on Thursday, said that a panel has been set up to investigate the allegations against him and submit its report within three months.

Ifenne also said that the council “consulted and got the approval of the Honourable Minister of Health (Isaac Adewole) before this suspension”.

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