In a tone that must have smacked of despondency, Prof Isaac Adewole confirmed to a reporter of The Punch that he had indeed been overruled. Prof Usman Yusuf would be returning to the NHIS to resume from where he stopped and there is nothing the Minister will be able to do about it.
The Minister had, in July 2017, approved the suspension of Yusuf as recommended by a panel tasked to investigate an alleged N919 million misappropriation scam by the NHIS under Prof Yusuf’s say-so as Executive Secretary. In the intervening period, both men have faced the National Assembly in attempts to resolve their fractures. The lower House appeared to be in favour of the accused but it did not prevent the Minister from having his way with his desire to see Yusuf out of the way at NHIS.
However, it has only lasted for a while, and from emerging reports, Prof Yusuf has simply bided his time, knowing he would eventually be returned by the intervention of powers much higher than those of the Minister.
Apparently, no Minister can rightly order the sack or suspension of any Director-General of Executive Secretary even if such persons were heads of agencies under the supervision of the Minister. As explained in a number of tweets by Dr Joe Abah, the former boss of the Bureau of Public Service Reforms, President Buhari’s constitutionally-backed prerogative to directly appoint heads of agencies, such as the NHIS, grants him the sole authority to discharge them from their duties or order their suspensions. Hence, the reinstatement of Prof Yusuf by the President would appear to be a mere righting of an administrative and procedural wrong.
In that case, it throws doubts into a similar ongoing saga between the Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, and the now suspended Director-General of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Munir Gwarzo. Like Prof Yusuf, Gwarzo has been indicted by a panel set up by his supervising Minister on allegations of a questionable pay package. This case has been presented recently before a Committee of the House of Representatives, where Ms Adeosun expressly distanced the suspension from any connection with an investigation by Gwarzo into the dealings of Oando PLC.
Will the Finance Minister’s work be undone by the President to show consistency on the proper procedure for disciplinary measures?
But that is the secondary concern arising from the Yusuf reinstatement. The recall of a public servant accused of misappropriating close to a billion naira raises questions about the Buhari administration’s much vaunted war against corruption. It leads to the drawing of parallels with the still unresolved Maina scandal, lending credence to a popular suspicion that the President could not have been unaware of the former Pension boss’ return to the civil service.
Personality clashes are bound to occur amongst public officers, especially where there is competition among to please the boss. But the clashes between Ibe Kachikwu and Maikanti Baru, Adeosun and Gwarzo, and Adewole and Yusuf have involved accusations about corruption and the President has appeared to take the side of the accused on each occasion. Of course, there is the other matter of the exonerated accused being a “Northerner”, automatically embellishing that description of “nepotism bordering on clannishness”.