FORMER Executive Secretary of the National Health Insurance scheme, NHIS, Usman Yusuf, has said that the N5.4 billion recently recovered by the Economic And Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, for the Scheme is a tip of the iceberg, as there is still over N100 billion of similar funds trapped in Nigerian banks.
In a statement released on Sunday night in reaction to the recovered funds, Yusuf, a Professor of Haematology/Oncology who headed the Scheme from July 2016 to July 2019, said the recent recoveries were as a result of the work done by him and his team years ago.
“The reported recovery of N5.4b by the EFCC, though commendable, is just a tip of the iceberg. There are billions more unaccounted for,” he said in the statement.
“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,” he stated further.
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When The ICIR called to confirm if he, indeed issued the statement, Yusuf answered in the affirmative.
He said although he had refrained from speaking or writing about the NHIS after his exit in 2019, he was forced to issue a statement after the news of the funds recovery broke because he had “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)”.
He said that he found out that several banks were illegally holding over N100 billion of NHIS funds shortly after he resumed as the Scheme’s Executive Secretary in 2016 and that he told several senior government officials who were either not interested in listening to him or would do nothing about it.
He found out about the trapped funds through a forensic audit, which he ordered when nobody in the NHIS could provide information about the Schemes financial status, Yusuf stated.
“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.
“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”.
The officials of government Yusuf said he contacted to enable the NHIS recover the trapped funds included the then management and board of the Scheme; former Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole; CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele; former Chief of Staff to the President, late Abba Kyari; the Accountant General of the Federation and the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal.
But nothing came out of his spirited interactions with these powerful public officials, Yusuf said.
“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 Adewale) 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 former NHIS boss stated.
Yusuf said he also reached out to the Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, who repeatedly refused to grant him an audience.
“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 statement also asserted that the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, and Adewole appointed a “whistleblower” to recover the funds.
“The Attorney General of the Federation was also aware because he and the Honourable 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”, Yusuf said.
Subsequently, he noted, the whole process of recovery was transferred to the office of Asset Forfeiture of the Federal Ministry of Justice headed by a Deputy Director.
The former NHIS chief lamented that he and his team were not given any credit in the story of the N5.4 billion recovered by the EFCC which he said was made possible only by the work they did years ago.
In support of his claim, Yusuf provided to The ICIR a letter written by former Acting Chairman of the EFCC, Ibrahim Magu, to the current NHIS Executive Secretary on October 10, 2019 in which he acknowledged that N3,677,665,851.50 of NHIS funds had been recovered from two banks following a report of embezzlement made to the anti graft agency by Yusuf.
In that letter, Magu stated that while N2,052,357.50 and N704,137,574 had been released to Garki General hospital and the NHIS, the anti graft commission still had the sum of N2,971,475,920, which would be paid into the NHIS account with the CBN.
Contacted to react to Yusuf’s assertion that the EFCC still has a lot to recover for the NHIS, Wilson Uwujaren, the commission’s spokesperson, said that the information he has was what was disclosed by the Scheme’s current Executive Secretary, Nasir Sambo, when he visited last week.
“The Executive Secretary visited the commission last week and said it himself that the EFCC had recovered about N5.4 billion out of N12 billion belonging to the NHIS from various institutions. That is the only information i have. It was from what he said that I issued a statement that N5.4 billion had been recovered by us,” Uwujaren stated
The ICIR also tried to reach out to Magu, the former acting chairman of the EFCC, to find out how much was recovered for the NHIS under his watch but he was unreachable on all his known mobile numbers.
In concluding his statement, Yusuf raised seven questions, which he says officials of the government need to sincerely answer.
1. What is the status of recovery of the rest of the funds?
2. How much has the Federal Ministry of Justice or any other government agency recovered so far and where is the money?
3. How did the National Assembly (NASS) allow this to happen in spite of its oversight (functions)?
4. How did the office of the Auditor General miss this?
5. How did the office of the Accountant General miss this?
6. How did Organised Labour (NLC & TUC) who have a seat on the NHIS Council miss this?
7. Has any person or bank been sanctioned?