Revelation: Former NHIS Exe. Secretary owns $2.1m seized at Lagos Airport
The man the Economic and Fiancial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is seeking to question over the $2.1 million cash seized at the Lagos Airport yesterday denied that he was on the run.
A former Executive Secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), Dr. Olufemi Thomas, said he was ready to be at the EFCC whenever he is invited.
His media aide, Mr. Sola Adeyemi, in a statement in Lagos, said: “Dr. Femi Thomas is a law-abiding public individual that has traceable addresses in Lagos and Ekiti. He is a man that I work with and I know him for his words and actions. As I speak, we are yet to receive any formal invitation from any quarter on the allegation.
“For the avoidance of doubt, my boss is not on the run, he is in Nigeria, he is available and ready to present himself to the EFCC as soon as he is invited.”
But an EFCC source yesterday said investigators were awaiting Thomas, who reportedly could not be located in the last three weeks.
It was gathered that the EFCC was considering calling on the International Police (INTERPOL) to arrest him, after watch-listing the former Executive Secretary of NHIS.
Even as the EFCC seeks to quizz Thomas, there is a fresh revelation that the NHIS bought a plot of land for N990 million.
The seized cash is suspected to be part of the inflated land deal, The Nation learnt.
A source, who spoke in confidence, said: “There is pressure on the former Executive Secretary of NHIS to surrender to EFCC. I think he has decided to go to the anti-graft commission voluntarily to ‘protect his name and family.”
The National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) on July 3, 2015 arrested a bureau de change operator, Ibiteye John Bamidele, at MMA Terminal 2 (MMA2) Lagos with the $2.1 million.
The Head of Public Affairs, NDLEA, Mitchel Ofoyeju, said Bamidele was arrested by anti-narcotic officials, who suspected that the cash was for money laundering.
The NDLEA handed over the suspect to the EFCC on July 8, 2015, following his “confession” that he was on a money laundering errand for the ex-NHIS boss.
Besides the $2.1 million, the EFCC is said to be probing how NHIS bought a plot of land for more space at its headquarters in Abuja for N990 million.
A source said: “When a former Executive Secretary, Mr. Waziri Dogo-Muhammed, was in charge before Thomas came on board, he refused to buy the same plot at N350million.
“In order to evade scrutiny by the Federal Executive Council (FEC), NHIS bought the land at N990 million. Any expenditure from N1 billion upward goes to FEC for consideration.
“This is still a major accountability challenge facing NHIS. The anti-graft commission has received complaint on this too.”
Dr. Thomas, speaking through his aide on July 26, said the land near the NIHS’ Abuja Head Office was acquired to solve the acute accommodation challenges facing the scheme, the need to have enough space for future expansion and the appreciating value of land in the highbrow Cadastral Zone.
Besides, he described “as total falsehood that due diligence was not followed in the acquisition of the landed property”, pointing out that NHIS’ supervising Health Ministry approved it.
His words: ‘’When the management wanted to buy the land, as it is the practice, we called the Federal Ministry of Works, and they sent their evaluation department to evaluate the property and the report by the ministry put the value of the property at N1.5 billion.
‘’Beyond that level of due process, the purchase was approved by the Ministerial Tenders’ Board because it was beyond the approving power of the NHIS Tenders Management Committee.
‘’The negotiation was so tight that we could not pay agency fee. The evaluation report by the Federal Ministry of Works showed that the landed property, which is about 4000 square metres, has a piled foundation for the development of a seven-storey building valued at N300 million.”
Adeyemi said it was news to the former NHIS chief that the management before his turned down offers.
The allegation, Adeyemi said, was a calculated attempt to discredit his boss and tarnish his image.
“My boss was not aware of previous offers made to his two predecessors at N300 million and N450 million,’’ he noted, adding that “the need to purchase the land was necessitated by the acute shortage of space for staff. In the office, two or more staff were sharing a desk and we realised this may hamper operation and efficiency.
‘’We also know it made a sense of economic of scale to buy this parcel of land, which has two plots beside our head office than having another headquarters extension in Gudu. We were also conscious of the rate at which the value of land in Abuja appreciates. So, we believe it is not a bad investment for the scheme’’.
The statement described as “unfounded” that N49.5 million was paid as agency fee to a firm believed to be owned by Thomas’ associate, saying no agency fee was paid on the property.