To cut a long story short, Alhaji Abdulrasheed Abdullahi Maina came into national limelight in 2013 when, as chairman of the Presidential Task Force on Pension Reform, he was accused of perpetrating a fraud running into over N100 billion. The senate committee probing the matter invited him to testify but he refused — while regularly driving in and out of Aso Rock to demonstrate his closeness to President Goodluck Jonathan. Maina thought he was untouchable. The pressure mounted, senate issued a bench warrant and he soon ran out of the country, absconding from duty and getting dismissed from the civil service in return. The EFCC also declared him wanted.
Four years later — and two years into “change” — top officials of the Buhari administration arranged an elaborate scheme to bring Maina back to the country in a blaze of glory. He literally rode on a donkey to the shouts of “Hosanna” — if we are to believe his family, who claimed the “pension messiah” was actually invited back from exile to be part of Buhari’s Team Change. He was reinstated and promoted from deputy director to director instantly. With a little luck, he was well on his way to becoming permanent secretary. He could even become a minister, an ambassador or a governor. He could become president, why not? This is Nigeria, remember?
From all the memos that are now available in the public domain, Mr. Abubakar Malami, the attorney-general of the federation, Gen. Abdurrahman Dambazau, the minister of interior, and Mrs Winifred Oyo-Ita, the head of service, all participated one way or the other in formalising Maina’s reinstatement. How much President Muhammadu Buhari knew about this perfidy will continue to be a subject of speculation, but at least he quickly seized the moral high ground by ordering the sack of Maina when Premium Times, the investigative online newspaper, blew the lid. It is impossible to cut this long story short, but that is the tragicomedy in three paragraphs.
The Maina story illustrates everything that is wrong with Nigeria. Most of the ingredients for the underdevelopment of Nigeria are contained in the saga. One, wickedness in high places. After workers have served Nigeria all their youthful and productive years, they spend their old age chasing their pensions up and down. Some are owed years in arrears. The regular excuse is that there is no money to pay them. In retirement, they usually face critical health issues — high blood pressure, diabetes, heart failure and such like. And, what a pity, they will have no money for treatment. Yet their pension is their right. It is their sweat, their blood. But who cares?
A pension reform chairman is accused of fraud running into billions of naira. Yet he lives in opulence, too much for a civil servant. But who cares? He is well dressed, well groomed and handsome-looking, and allegedly owns the best of mansions and all manner of property home and abroad — while the old, ragged pensioners struggle in pain and in vain, day and night, to collect their entitlements. My heart melted the day I saw a picture on the front page of Nigerian Tribune many years ago: a pensioner had collapsed and died at a verification centre, and — with his shrouded dead body serving as backdrop — the rest pensioners remained glued to the bench waiting for Godot.
The question you would ask yourself is: why on earth would anyone born of a woman see the sufferings of these old people and remain heartless? Why would anybody deny these hapless pensioners their entitlements in that old age under the guise of “no money” while stealing, wasting and mismanaging the resources? It takes a conscience seared with iron to be so callous. It takes a wicked conscience to be frolicking and gallivanting while denying workers and pensioners the legitimate reward of their sweat. Any country that treats workers and pensioners with this wickedness can never make progress. I want to be contradicted with hard evidence.
Two, the Maina story tells the story of impunity. You mean a man declared wanted by the EFCC can confidently return to the country with the help of top officials of a government that claims to be fighting corruption? You mean the police and the Department of State Service (DSS) could provide security for the fugitive? You mean he could be promoted instantly? Impunity is well captured in Yoruba language as “tani o mumi?” That is, “who the hell can touch me”? There is this air among the Nigerian elite that they can do anything and get away with it. Nobody can touch them. They kill and steal and get medals in return. Impunity is the name of the game.
When President Buhari assumed office two years ago, I wrote an article, “The One Thing Buhari Must Do” (July 5, 2015). I said if the president would have just a one-point agenda, it should be an all-out war against impunity. In place of “War against Corruption”, I proposed “War against Impunity”. There would always be corruption, I said, as there is no corruption-free country in the world. However, what gives Nigeria the gold medal is impunity. Impudence. Effrontery. The audacity with which laws are violated and corruption is implemented in Nigeria is incredible. Any country practising such impunity can never develop. I want to be contradicted with hard evidence.
The third aspect of the Maina story that captures Nigeria’s underdevelopment is shamelessness. In a civilised country, in a country where people have a sense of shame, those implicated in the scandal would have resigned by now. I am not even suggesting that they should be sacked — that is another matter entirely. I am saying on their own, having let this country down badly, they should have left government. But there is no sense of shame in Nigeria. If we had shame, Nigeria would not be where it is today. Most of the people in government are shameless. Show me a country ruled by shameless people and I will show you a doomed society. I want to be contradicted with hard evidence.
When we discuss the underdevelopment of Nigeria, it is usually the story of wickedness, impunity and shamelessness in high places. It takes absolute wickedness to see the suffering of the people and not be bothered, and continue to loot and rape with impunity and shamelessness. I am forced to ask and ask again and again: who in government really cares about the plight of Nigerians? Across the length and breadth of this country, only a few states consider payment of salaries and pensions as priority. They would rather mould graven images or go for lesser hajj or build ultra-modern governor’s lodge than meet their basic obligations to the people.
Meanwhile, Buhari’s government is beginning to lose it — as evident in the incredible attempt to hold Jonathan’s “loyalists” responsible for the recall of Maina. It is getting ridiculous. For some of us who are not interested in the silly politics between PDP and APC but are more anxious about the progress of Nigeria, it would be most catastrophic if the Maina scandal ends up as a political game. No. This cannot be treated as politics. We are discussing the present and the future of Nigeria. PDP and APC can burn to ashes for all I care. We are discussing wickedness, impunity and shamelessness in high places. Both the PDP and APC have these vices in their bones. Nobody can fool us.
Maina and Malami could well be archetypes of the kind of characters that preside over the affairs of Nigeria, from federal to state and council levels. They are everywhere. But I find it most heartbreaking that President Buhari has watched this perfidy without plucking out the culprits and crushing them. The biggest credential Buhari brought to this game was his anti-corruption resume. But in his cabinet are many ministers who ordinarily ought to be in jail as we speak. Since Buhari cannot jail them, he can at least fire them and hand them over to the EFCC. But maybe we are asking for too much. The Babachir Lawal saga remains a low point for this government. What a shame.
I have not said Maina is definitely guilty. That is the job of the courts. However, the manner of his reinstatement clearly suggests something is not right. Something is horribly wrong with those who thought they could have gone away with such treachery in this day and age. What the hell were they thinking? By the way, every administration faces a turning point. It is the point where things tip over irredeemably, where opponents, neutrals and die-hard supporters come together. The widespread reactions to the Maina saga suggest this could be the tipping point for Buhari. Many Nigerians have been too accommodating and too considerate. They are being taken for granted.
I would, therefore, leave Buhari with these words: Mr. President, your government is falling apart. You need to act fast. You came to office with a promise to change the way things are done, to give us a new direction, to heal our wounds, to belong to nobody, to belong to everybody, to make Nigerians dream again. Mr. President, go back to your inauguration speech, the speech you delivered so eloquently on May 29, 2015 at the Eagle Square, Abuja. Read the speech again, word-for-word. Reflect over it. You renewed our hopes. You made us feel it was the dawn of a new era. It has become extremely urgent for you to retrace your steps. Tomorrow may be too late.
AND FOUR OTHER THINGS
Senator Hamman Isah Misau has been making a series of damaging allegations against Mr. Ibrahim Idris, the Inspector General of Police. Ordinarily, these allegations are enough for Buhari to suspend Idris pending investigation. Instead, Idris went to court to stop the senate from investigating him. And the attorney-general has even filed a libel case against Misau. Quick question: can the libel case stand given the “parliamentary privilege” that prevents a lawmaker from being sued for statements made in the chamber of the National Assembly? Furthermore, I thought many courts have ruled that you cannot stop the legislature from doing its job? Wonders.
It has happened again. Another appointee has rejected his appointment. Justice Ayo Salami, former president of the Court of Appeal, has turned down his appointment as chairman of the Corruption and Financial Crime Cases Trial Monitoring Committee (COTRIMCO). The National Judicial Council (NJC) had named Salami as head of the committee in an initiative aimed at helping the anti-graft war. One big challenge of the war is the way judges and lawyers conspire to delay cases forever and ever. Many Nigerians, including President Buhari, welcomed the idea of CONTRIMCO. But was Salami not informed before his name was announced? Astonishing.
There is something I will never understand even if I live for 200 years — why on earth a governor would spend hundreds of millions of naira to build a statue in honour of an enemy of Nigeria. I would understand if he had tarred the roads, electrified rural communities, provided the villages with water, put public schools in good shape, paid every worker and every pensioner, put the hospitals in good shape and built a legacy that will outlive him. In building a graven image for President Jacob Zuma of South Africa and asking his critics to go to hell, Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo state has hit an all-time low. Nonsense.
Folarin Falana, the multi-talented entertainer better known as Falz, touched a raw nerve in me recently when he said Nigerian artistes are not to blame for the poor lyrical content of their songs. According to Falz, “Music of today truly lacks content, but it is hardly the fault of the musician, as Nigerians just want to dance.” A day earlier, I was lamenting to my wife over the reduction of music to just women, cars and money and she said “this is what the current generation wants”. Falz is obviously right, but I am convinced this generation can raise its own Felas and Bob Marleys to arouse its conscience. There is more to life than Ferrari and Gucci. Values.