To many Nigerians outside government, the anti-corruption crusade is a sham. But to the government, it is one of the best things to have happened to the country in its 57 years of independence. From the outset, President Muhammadu Buhari made it clear that he was going to fight corruption with all he has and he has been doing just that in the past three years.
But critics are not satisfied. They claim that the government is selective in the fight, pointing out that only those in the opposition are being arrested for corruption. Where those in government are involved, the case, they allege, is treated with kid’s glove and secrecy.
They alleged that it took the government too long to act on his case. The government, they added, would not have acted if the people had not spoken out on the matter. The government may also have played into the critics’ hands. The handling of the case of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) Executive Secretary Prof Usman Yusuf has again pitted the critics against the government. Yusuf was suspended by Health Minister Prof Isaac Adewole when the President was in London receiving treatment.
It was a tug of war before the minister suspended Yusuf, who heads an agency under his ministry. Yusuf had reportedly said he could only be suspended by the President from whom he directly takes orders. Then Acting President Yemi Osinbajo was said to have stepped into the matter and the minister had his way. Yusuf was suspended pending investigation into the allegations against him. But a few days ago, he was reinstated despite being under probe. The public was outraged, with many wondering why the hurry in recalling him when the panel has not submitted its report.
Lawyers, civil servants and the leading opposition party, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), described his reinstatement as a mockery of justice. The Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria (ASCN) said his recall could be interpreted to mean that the anti-graft crusade ‘’is selective and designed to deal with specific targets”. “How can an official being investigated for an alleged N919million fraud by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) be reinstated by a government that came to power promising to sanitise the system? This is unfortunate. We, therefore, urge President Buhari to rescind his action and allow Prof Yusuf to leave the system in peace’’, the group said.
To the PDP, the ‘’Presidency stinks of corruption and has lost all claim of fighting graft as long as it continues to protect alleged indicted officials of the administration’’. The government’s reaction to the criticisms seems absurd and laughable. According to media reports, the President ordered Yusuf’s recall because of the belief that the allegations against him “remain largely unsubstantiated”. Quoting a source, the report said ‘’the government’s position is that the committee constituted by the minister to investigate Yusuf is neither independent nor free from bias’’.
Twenty of the 23 allegations against him, the source said, were not backed with evidence while others appeared concocted because of evident alterations and mix-ups in dates, adding: “About N411,688,704 of the N919million alleged to have been mismanaged by the executive secretary was paid to NHIS staff as allowances and also to seconded staff as allowances and entitlements when he resumed.”
According to The Nation, from the foregoing, it is obvious that the government spoilt an otherwise good case by its handling of the matter. Why did it not allow the panel to complete its job? With the preponderance of evidence before the government, if we are to believe the reasons said to have been given for Yusuf’s recall, the panel would have found nothing against him and would have recommended that he be reinstated? The way Yusuf was recalled is untidy and this is why NHIS workers are divided over the issue. The government is to blame for all this. Its poor handling of the matter brought us to this pass.
If it really has information that could help Yusuf’s case at its disposal, the best it could have done was to pass such to the committee and allow the panel to do its job and arrive at its own conclusion. There would have been no fuss if the committee had recommended Yusuf’s recall. The government cannot be said to have acted properly by recalling him after it had raised a panel to probe him. Why did it set up the panel if it knew it was going to recall the executive secretary anyway? Did the government recall him because it was afraid of what the panel’s findings would be?
Truly, what the government did is a mockery of justice and due process. What becomes of the panel now? Can it still sit after the subject of its probe has been reinstated? What happens if it upholds the suspension of the executive secretary? If the government wishes to fight corruption, it should do so transparently and honestly without leaving room for doubts.