NHIS: The House Of Reps And The Rest Of Us, By Nuhudeen Idajili
Wonders shall not cease in the country called Nigeria. I say this because of the myriad of issues we are grappling with in recent times. In all, my conclusion is that personal interest surpasses national interest. Ethnicity and religion are so rife that common sense in now not common. We are now used to phrases like “they don’t like us” or “ it is because I am this or that.”
This piece is as a result of a piece of news I stumbled on. And guess what? It is again about the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) and the House of Representatives Committee on Health chaired by one Mr. Chike Okafor representing Ehimembano/ihitte Uboma/Obowo federal constituency of Imo state. He is such an amazing chap. And he also has an ambition to govern Imo state. But guess what? He is for sale to the highest bidder. Also worse, is the fact that he is the chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Health Services.
As they say, there is no smoke without fire. Hon. Chike Okafor came into limelight when the committee he heads summoned the Honourable Minister of Health, Professor Isaac Adewole to appear before it to explain the circumstances that led to the suspension of the former executive secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), Prof Usman Yusuf by the honorable minister of health. It didn’t end there.
The distinguished member granted an interview in Vanguard newspaper of 16th July 2017, where he stated that the suspension of the executive secretary of the NHIS was a witch-hunt. At some point, one began to wonder what it was that made the member of the house of reps the trumpeter of the suspended executive secretary. You can guess that something really good must have exchanged hands because I know Hon. Chike Okafor is not a cheap chap. He is smart, very smart that he won’t drag his name in the mud for a common plate of porridge.
Those not in the know of his antecedents would assume he is a patriot working for the good of Nigeria. But I have it on good authority how some good amount of money exchanged hands between the suspended executive secretary and the house committee on health. Little wonder why the committee immediately issued an “order” asking the minister to reinstate the suspended ES? A committee chairman is asking a substantive minister of the federal republic of Nigeria to undo the suspension of an errant chief executive in one of the agencies under his purview. Wonders shall never end. However, I have some concerns with the way some of the legislators carry about their supposed oversight functions.
They carry on like they are an authority, issuing “orders” and the likes. No sir, there are three arms of government. The executive, legislature, and judiciary and their roles and responsibilities are spelled out. I do not see the effectiveness of the so-called oversight function of the legislators. For the likes of Hon. Chike Okafor, funds for his governorship ambition must be financed by agencies under the federal ministry of health because he is the chairman of the almighty House of Representatives Committee on Health Services.
For being the chairman of the “powerful” committee, his stock in trade is to harass chief executives of these agencies in the name of oversight visits, demanding for contracts and the likes. This fact is verifiable in places like the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency, National Health Insurance Scheme, National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, etc. So in whose interest has he been granting interviews and issuing legislative orders?
Like I stated earlier, I stumbled on a piece of news where it was said that the House of Representatives moves to withhold the budget of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS). The first question I asked was why the House of Representatives would do such? Then I read further and realized it was the same House Committee on Health Services and chaired by the same Hon. Chike Okafor that was behind the news. And what was his reason?
“Following the refusal of the Minister of Health, Isaac Adewole, to recall the suspended executive secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme, NHIS, Usman Yusuf, the House of Representatives may not pass the 2018 budget of the agency. This is part of the recommendations contained in the report of the House Committee on Health Services, which investigated allegations of corruption and mismanagement of funds at NHIS.”
“The committee has recommended that the House give the minister benefit of the doubt by issuing another seven-day ultimatum for him to recall the suspended executive secretary pending the conclusion of its investigation into the rot in the scheme.” I do not know what to call this. Legislative oversight? Patriotism? Personal interest? National interest? You just name it.
However, the consolation in the piece of news was that the committee is going to submit its report and ask the House of Representatives to give the Honourable Minister of Health another seven-day ultimatum to recall the suspended executive secretary. Well, I am comforted to realize that it was only a recommendation. However, we must not lose sight of something here. Which is the fact that the Health Services Committee is not superior to the Federal Ministry of Health? And by extension, the Honourable Minister of Health is not answerable to the House of Representatives or a committee for that matter. This point should be clear in our minds before we can understand the anomaly in the statements credited to Hon. Chike Okafor.
It might also be useful to remind us that the then acting president issued a memo for the suspended executive secretary to be investigated. In essence, common sense tells us that he has to leave office pending the outcome of the investigative panel setup. Let me give an example. Babachir Lawal was suspended as the Secretary to Government of the Federation (SGF). He vacated office while investigations were ongoing. This is the norm and not any different in the case of the suspended executive secretary of the NHIS. Let me continue. The investigative report was submitted to Mr. President for further action on the SGF. This is also the norm because he is an appointee of Mr. President and he has the final say.
Same is applicable in the case of the suspended executive secretary. As at the last time I checked, the suspended ES is not an appointee of the House of Representatives. So why the “orders”? Isn’t this too much interference? Isn’t this overstepping boundary? And to think that a committee would use its position as an agent of destabilization is worrisome. To think of not passing the budget of the National Health Insurance Scheme, in my opinion, is of poor taste. I have not convinced the Honourable Speaker, Yakubu Dogora would want to be associated with such anomaly.
We are patiently watching and waiting for the resumption of the distinguished members of the House of Representatives.
*Idajili can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org