Three months after being sacked by President Muhammadu Buhari, the immediate past Executive Secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme, Prof. Usman Yusuf, has yet to return five vehicles worth about N150m to the agency.
The vehicles include a Toyota Land Cruiser with registration number, NHIS FG01Y12, worth N58m; a Toyota Camry marked NHIS FG02Y12 worth N22m; two Toyota Corolla vehicles marked NHIS FG21Y12 and NHIS FG46Y12 worth a combined N38m and a Toyota Prado marked NHIS FG06Y12 worth N32m.
Commenting on Yusuf’s refusal to release the vehicles, anti-corruption groups, including Transparency International Nigeria, condemned the Federal Government for the ex-NHIS boss’ action.
The PUNCH had reported that Yusuf, who was accused of fraud to the tune of N919m and sacked for several other alleged infractions, had failed to return the vehicles and other equipment including Apple laptops belonging to the NHIS.
In a letter dated July 1, 2019 signed by the Permanent Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Health, A.M. Abdullahi, the Federal Government asked Yusuf to hand over all of the agency’s property.
In the letter with reference number C.4051/T3/80 titled, ‘Termination of appointment,’ the sacked NHIS boss was informed that his termination was with immediate effect.
It read in part, “I am directed to convey the approval of the President, commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria of the termination of your appointment as Executive Secretary, National Health Insurance Scheme.
“Accordingly, you are to hand over the agency’s property in your care to the overseeing director. Please note that the termination of your appointment is with immediate effect.”
The PUNCH learnt that the new NHIS boss, Mohammed Sambo, asked Yusuf to return the vehicles as he needed them.
Rather than return the vehicles, Yusuf was said to have demanded that he should be paid his severance package before returning the vehicles.
A top source at the agency said, “The new executive secretary sent a team of policemen and senior officials to Yusuf’s home in Maitama to recover the vehicles but he refused to open the gate. The men were sent there on more than three occasions to no avail.”
Yusuf, who hails from President Buhari’s state of Katsina, has been under investigation by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission as well as the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission.
His passport was seized by the EFCC, but it was returned to him after his suspension was controversially lifted by the Chief of Staff to the President, Abba Kyari, in February 2018.
Efforts to speak with Yusuf proved abortive on Sunday as he neither responded to phone calls nor a text message.
TI flays ex-NHIS boss
The Head, Transparency International Nigeria and Executive Director of Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, Auwal Musa, popularly known as Rafsanjani, told The PUNCH on Sunday that it was wrong of former political appointees not to return vehicles and other government property in their possession.
According to Rafsanjani, the refusal of former appointees to hand over vehicles is the reason for the high recurrent expenditure.
He further stated that there was a need for the National Assembly to wake up to its oversight responsibilities.
The TI boss said, “This act reeks of impunity. When you are leaving office, you are expected to submit everything in your possession to the government. It is not your personal property but belongs to the government.
“Failure to do this is nothing but impunity. It shows the level of corruption in the Nigerian public service.
“The National Assembly ought to be alive to its responsibilities as regards oversight. It is because public officers keep taking away government property that we see provision for vehicles and computers in the budget every year.”
Yusuf should face prosecution – CACOL
Commenting on the development, the Executive Chairman, Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership, Mr Debo Adeniran, said that Yusuf could take away the five vehicles in the first place showed that there were governmental lapses.
Adeniran said Yusuf should not only be made to return the five vehicles but he should also be prosecuted.
He said, “I see this as governmental weakness to the extent that inventories are not properly taken or monitored; otherwise, he would not have been able to drive away those five vehicles. If the government had been strong and there are checks and balances, it would also not have taken this length of time to retrieve those vehicles and even prosecute the person involved because I don’t see it as ordinary taking away of vehicles.
“He should be prosecuted for the sins he committed in his official capacity because there are a number of corruption allegations that are hanging on him and taking away five cars should be added to the charges. He should be properly investigated and if found culpable, he should be diligently prosecuted and adequately punished.”
The National President, Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, Mr Malachy Ugwummadu, said if it was true that Yusuf went away with five vehicles belonging to the NHIS, he could be prosecuted.
The lawyer said the attorney general of the federation ought to have taken actions.
Ugwummadu said, “It is unfortunate but it is not too far from what has become the disturbing trend of public officers who approximate public offices to private estates and behave in like manner. There is this sense of entitlement deeply entrenched in the psyche of the Nigerian public officers in such a manner that they do not consider their retirement benefits as the only legitimate earnings. They do see that office itself as an extension of their private estate in a manner that short changes the country.”
He said the attorney general should take appropriate steps to ensure that such actions were checked in the public service.