President Goodluck Jonatha
Chuks Okocha, Onyebuchi Ezigbo, Omololu Ogunmade and Yemi Akinsuyi in Abuja
President Goodluck Jonathan has ordered an investigation into allegations of misconduct levelled against the Chairman, Pension Reform Task Team (PRTT), Mr. Abdulrasheed Maina, THISDAY gathered Thursday
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Public Affairs, Dr. Doyin Okupe, told THISDAY that the president had directed the Head of Civil Service of the Federation, Alhaji Isa Bello Sali, to probe the sundry allegations, including that of contempt levelled against the embattled chairman by the Senate.
Speaking against the backdrop of Wednesday’s threat by the Senate that the president should choose between maintaining a cordial relationship with the legislature or Maina, Okupe and Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati, who also spoke on the issue, said the president had no reason to shield the pension task force chairman.
The Senate while debating a motion moved by the Senate Leader, Victor Ndoma-Egba, and supported by 107 members, over Maina’s persistent refusal to honour the legislature’s invitation, had also demanded that the president should order Maina’s dismissal from the public service and he should be arrested and prosecuted for fraud.
To demonstrate that their threat was not an empty boast, the Senate Thursday rejected a motion aimed at commending the president on his commitment to polio eradication in Nigeria.
However, the presidency said inasmuch as Jonathan would want to maintain a cordial relationship with the legislature, the Senate’s demand for Maina’s sack could only be done by following civil service rule. Maina is an assistant director in the federal civil service.
Okupe said: “Let me say categorical that President Jonathan will not condone any act of insubordination or any act of lawlessness or tend to undermine the Senate and indeed the National Assembly.
“In the case of Maina, the repeated invitations for which he faulted, has led the president to instruct the Inspector General of Police to declare him wanted and I think this was done last week. The relationship with the leadership of the Senate and the President of the Senate, David Mark, is such that cannot be tampered with on the altar of favouritism to anybody.
“The president and the presidency hold the leadership of the Senate in the highest esteem and will not do anything to spoil that relationship. The issue of Maina has been referred to the Head of Service. Maina is a civil servant and I believe that the matter will be thoroughly investigated and disciplinary action would be effected.”
On his part, Abati dismissed insinuations that the president was backing Maina against the Senate, pointing out that the lawmakers could summon anyone they so wished.
He said: “As a man that believes in the rule of law, the president believes that laid down procedure should be followed in addressing issues. The Senate has constitutional power to summon anybody. If such a person failed to appear before them, the lawmakers are also empowered to issue a warrant of arrest against the person.
“The president has not in any way stood in the way of the Senate in inviting Maina. You will recall that the police even declared him wanted.
“Maina is a civil servant. If he has done something that amounts to a breach of the civil service rule, the appropriate office to do the right thing and ensure that due process is followed is the office of the Head of Service of the Federation. Nobody should suggest that the president is backing Maina.
“There are laid down procedures for handling a situation like this. The president believes in due process. It is a matter for the civil service to handle.”
The police, which had earlier declared Maina wanted, explained yesterday that he was still on the run.
The police spokesman, Mr. Frank Mba, a Chief Superintendent of Police (CSP), told THISDAY the police were still searching for Maina and appealed to the public to assist with information that could lead to his arrest.
According to him, “If you are conversant with policing tradition, you will understand that the declaration of any person wanted is usually necessitated by a need.
“In this instant, he was declared wanted because he went into hiding and made it difficult for the force to execute a warrant of arrest that was legitimately issued against him.
“The Nigeria Police Force remains irrevocably committed to finding him and as soon as we lay our hands on him, we will arrest him and take him before the Senate as mandated in that warrant of arrest.”
The face-off between the Senate and the president over Maina played out at yesterday’s plenary as senators rejected a prayer commending the president on his commitment to polio eradication in Nigeria.
The rejection of the prayer followed a motion by Senator Ifeanyi Okowa (Delta North), condemning the recent killing of health workers in Kano and Borno States.
While reading the resolution of the Senate after the motion, Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu sought his colleagues' approval for four prayers that would serve as the Senate's resolution.
The three initial prayers included observing a minute silence in honour of the deceased, sending condolence messages to the governments of North Korea, Kano and Borno States whose people were killed as well as the Senate's support for the fight against polio.
While the three prayers were unanimously upheld by the senators, the lawmakers rejected the last prayer, which read thus: “Senate commends President Goodluck Jonathan as head of polio eradication initiative team on the country's resolve to stop the transmission of the polio virus.”
Upon the first presentation of the prayer by Ekweremadu, the voices of senators who opposed it overshadowed those of the supporters.
Ekweremadu repeated the prayer the second time and the voices of its opponents even rose much higher and the prayer was thrown out.
Meanwhile, the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) has urged the executive and the legislature to team up in tackling the unprecedented corruption scandal in the country's pension scheme.
In a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Chief Emma Eneukwu, the party asked the Federal Government to reconsider its stance on Maina’s continued disobedience to honour the Senate’s summons in the interest of the war against corruption.
“Let the relevant agencies work in concert with the National Assembly and ensure this pension affair is settled once and for all,” he said.
He said there was no way the fight against corruption could be taken seriously if some people were being treated like sacred cows.