The sudden cancellation of investigation into an alleged scam in the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) by the House of Representatives Committee on Health is creating ripples among its members, as some of them have alleged that the leadership of the committee might have compromised to scuttle the probe.
Worried by what a member of the committee described as “the stink in the NHIS”, the committee had, in a letter with reference number NASS/7HR/CT.42/09 and dated February 1, 2012, invited the executive secretary of the NHIS, Dr. M B W Dogo Muhammad, for a public meeting, which was billed to take place at 2pm on Thursday, February 2, at the House Committee Room 236, New Building Extension, National Assembly Complex.
The invitation letter was signed by the committee chairman, Hon. Ndudi Godwin Elumelu. But to the surprise of many stakeholders who turned up for the meeting, it didn’t take place.
A member of the committee said: “There are new uncommon things happening in the House of Representatives Committee on Health; equipped with enough evidence and documents over the rot in the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS); we summoned the executive secretary of the scheme, Dr. Waziri Dogo Muhammad and other stakeholders for a meeting on February 2, 2012, at the National Assembly.
But on the day of the meeting, the chairman told us that it had been cancelled. No explanation was given.
“When we started asking questions about the sudden cancellation of the meeting, some of us (House committee members) were bombarded with phone calls from unexpected quarters for us to tread cautiously over the matter. Some of us suspected strongly that the leadership of the committee may have compromised.”
In line with its oversight function, the House committee was expected to look at the challenges confronting the Health Insurance Scheme, the alleged corrupt practices by the leadership of the scheme and the misapplication and misappropriation of the scheme’s funds.
For example, when the federal government led by former President Olusegun Obasanjo launched the scheme in 2005, the agency was given the responsibility of covering all civil servants across the country and ensuring that all states folded into the scheme.
“Under the MDGs, the NHIS was supposed to be operating in at least 24 states as I speak to you; but it’s only operating in a few states. It has not been able to get the states to pay their counterpart fund to get the programme going,” the lawmaker who spoke to LEADERSHIP in confidence stated.
“It is amazing the way things are being done in the NHIS; in the 2011 budget, we appropriated N4 billion for the implementation of the scheme but the money has not been accounted for.”
Going by the schedule of the NHIS, over 150 million people are supposed to be covered by 2015, but records show that only 3 million people are covered across the country.
At recent meeting with registered health maintenance organisations (HMOs), the Dr. Dogo Muhammad-led NHIS was told that federal and state employees were vehemently opposed to any deduction from their salaries because of the “inefficiency and bogus claims” on the part of the NHIS leadership.
In an interview with some selected journalists in Abuja recently, the executive secretary of the NHIS attributed the challenges facing the scheme to poor legal framework. He said however that the journey had been quite exciting for him.
“I was initially assigned to the NHIS as its coordinator by former President Obasanjo to run its affairs for two months. I was mandated to reposition the agency in record time, owing to my track record in the Federal Ministry of Health. I quickly did a SWOT (strength-weakness-opportunities-threats) analysis and I identified about 24 different activities that were necessary to reposition the organisation,” he said.
He said that, within the time frame, the scheme had been able to accomplish so many things including the amendment of the Act establishing the NHIS.
But contrary to Dr. Dogo Muhammad’s claims, records show that most of the HMOs that have enjoyed NHIS allocations have limited their operations only to the formal sector, with only 61 accredited HMOs benefiting from scheme; 14 were said to have not benefited at all.
A member of the House Committee on Health who is not happy with the subtle move by the NHIS’ leadership to scuttle the House’s probe of the matter had threatened to petition the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Meanwhile, the leadership of the House of Representatives has stopped a motion seeking the removal of the minister of petroleum resources, Mrs Diezani Alison-Madueke; the group managing director, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Mr. Austen Oniwon; and other heads of agencies in the oil sector.
LEADERSHIP had exclusively reported on Monday that, except for possible last-minute adjustments, about 100 members of the House would move a motion last Tuesday asking the NNPC boss to step aside while investigation into subsidy management was ongoing.
The executive secretary of the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA), Mr. Reginald Stanley and that of the Pipeline and Products Marketing Company (PPMC), Mr Haruna Momoh, were also among the people the lawmakers wanted to step aside so they do not use their offices to influence the investigation by the ad-hoc committee.
They said that it was also a move to free the chairman of the committee, Hon Farouk Lawan, from executive pressure, as he himself attested to.
But a lawmaker, who is the arrowhead of the sponsors of the aborted motion, confided in our correspondent that the leadership of the House had prevailed on them not to raise the motion, assuring them that the recommendations of the Farouk Lawan-led probe would be devoid of influence from the executive.
The lawmaker who craved anonymity because he was not authorised to speak on the issue said: “The leadership of the House met with us immediately the story was published by your newspaper and appealed to us to forget about the motion because of the effect it will have on the country.
You know, the party put pressure on them to stop the motion from being moved. And that is in addition to the pressure from the presidency urging the leadership to ensure that the issue doesn’t come up during the plenary.
“We let it go because we were given the assurance that, since the interested parties could not interfere during the probe, when the revelations were indicting the executive, then same will apply with the recommendations of the committee.”
The source further claimed that the leadership also expressed worries that the recommendation of the motion might be tantamount to being pre-emptive because many people will view it as a conclusion that the affected people were culpable, which might lead to their removal rather than a move to stop their possible interference in the investigation of their involvement in the management of fuel subsidy.