It was drama on Monday at the headquarters of National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) in Abuja, as workers continued their protest over the reinstatement of Executive Secretary, Mr Usman Yusuf, prompting police intervention.
The protest was initially by workers in support of President Muhammadu Buhari’s decision to reinstate Yusuf, overriding the recommendation of Minister of Health, Mr Isaac Adewole.
But on getting to NHIS headquarters, they encountered another group of workers protesting the reinstatement of the embattled Executive Secretary, who Adewole suspended in June 2017, following allegations of gross misconduct, and who is under probe for alleged N919million fraud.
The minister’s committee of inquiry was reported to have found Yusuf guilty of alleged offences that ranged from nepotism to misappropriation of public funds.
Fearing things might degenerate further, the crack team of police officers were quickly drafted to take over premises of NHIS headquarters and dispersed the protesting workers.
But the statement issued afterwards by Unity Group/Concerned NHIS Staff and signed by the duo of Mr Uchenna Ewelike and Mr Mohammad Shehu Gajo, commended Buhari “on the reinstatement of Yusuf as the substantive Executive Secretary of NHIS, after confirming his innocence in all the unsubstantiated allegations leveled against him.
The group which claimed to be made up of staff of NHIS and active members of local branches of both Medical and Health Workers Union of Nigeria and Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria, however expressed concern about the recent happenings in NHIS, following the reinstatement of Yusuf.
Part of the statement read: “It is saddening that in the past 13 years following the official launch of NHIS formal sector programme we are still battling with single digit coverage.
Today, healthcare providers are not being paid promptly by the HMOs, enrollees are dissatisfied due to poor quality of services. We are also having low coverage of our population in the country when compared with countries at par with Nigeria. In this regards, Yusuf was appointed by the president to sanitise the system. This he has commenced in earnest and we must support him in this laudable objective. As it is anticipated, only people who are beneficiaries of the decayed and inefficient system are protesting because they are resistant to change.
“We all know that Yusuf has already brought to bear his expertise and wealth of experience acquired over the years, home and abroad to address the lingering problems of the scheme. We must all therefore give him the necessary support he may require to achieve this mandate for the benefit of all.
“The task of putting NHIS in the front burner of the Nigerian health system is enormous and the realisation of its mandate is critical in the attainment of Goal 3 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We must therefore as major stakeholders focus on the gains of providing Nigerians with easy access to healthcare needs.”
To this end, the pro-Yusuf group went on to make a number of demands including a call on “well-meaning Nigerians to support this focused and result oriented leadership in NHIS under Yusuf”; and urged “NHIS Staff to continue to discharge their normal duties without fear of intimidation and harassment by a faction of staff union”.
The group also called on all security agencies to act within the law and deal with anybody or group of persons with intentions of breaking the law and disrupting the peace within the work environment.
As public servants, the group stressed. “We are guided by the ethics of the profession and should not allow ourselves to be willing tools in the hands of corrupt stakeholders who are not comfortable with the reforms going on in the scheme which will match global best practices.
They also called on National Unions of MHWN and ASCSN, who are opposed to Yusuf’s recall, to “call the different factions of their local chapters in NHIS to order and advise them to re-channel their energy in helping the enrollees who are either poorly treated or denied access on regular basis.”
But speaking with journalists on the matter, leader of the joint leadership of the NHIS workers, Mr Omomeji Abdulrazak, made it clear that the executive secretary has a case to answer at EFCC and ICPC.
According to Abdulrazak, until Yusuf clears his name from the myriads of indictment before he can even be considered worthy for reinstatement or not.
He warned that while they support Mr Buhari, the recall of Yusuf could negatively affect the image of the administration and its anti-corruption war.
The union leader also accused Yusuf of victimisation of workers who are opposed to his return as well as alleging that his comeback is to cover his tracks.
He said: “We are collaborating the fact that Yusuf has a case to answer at EFCC and ICPC. We are tired of what is happening, its like the president does not know what is happening. We support the president but on this case something is missing.
“There are some workers who went as whistle blower at EFCC against Yusuf but they are being victimised. They should obey the civil service rule that if he is under investigation he should step aside. You can see that he is not working against the interest of the president. What we are telling the president is that we remain loyal to Nigeria and civil service. You see what is happening, this man has come back to cover all loopholes.”