Recent events have shown that those who took part in the scandalous reinstatement of the wanted former Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on Pension Reforms, Abdulrasheed Maina are acting out a script with a view to sweeping the shameful act under the carpet, writes Tobi Soniyi
The show of shame put up last week at the sitting of the House of Representatives’ adhoc committee probing the controversial resintatement of the former chairman of the Presidential Tasks Force on Pension Reforms, Abdulrasheed Maina, demonstrated clearly that the Muhammadu Buhari-led government has something to hide as far as this infamous act is concerned.
Nigerians were fed with half-truths and inchoate explanation that not only point to the fact that those who played one role or the other in the recall were not just incompetent but also shameless. When corruption is involved, a simple issue will suddenly become complex. That is what has happened in the case of Maina. It is a very simple and straightforward case but it is deliberately being made difficult because those involved are not being forthright. Simple.
Above all, the way each of them answered questions put to them at the public hearing shows that they have all agreed on what to say in order to avoid further bringing the government they work for into disrepute. If that was their intention however, then they failed woefully because their performance if anything, had further confirmed suspicion that this government deliberately and knowingly reinstated Maina. Nothing can be further from the truth.
Same Old Tactic
Right from when the scandal blew open, the directive by the president that Maina be dismissed from the federal civil service and that the Head of Civil Service should send him a report on the issue within one day was a plot to cover up and divert attention. If the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria does not know that a civil servant can not be dismissed from service just because he wanted him dismissed, then we live in a perilous time.
Secondly, the idea of asking for an administrative enquiry into a purely criminal matter is an old tactic that is often employed by those in power to buy time and divert public attention from the issue in question. Besides, Mr President does not have a good reputation for acting on reports submitted to him. It took our collective resolve before the president acted on the report submitted to him by the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo into the allegations of alleged corruption against the former Secretary to the Federal Government Babachir Lawal and the former Director General of the National Intelligence Agency, Ayo Oke. Even then, despite the damning report against the two, non of them is facing criminal prosecution.
Attorney General of the Federation Defends the Indefensible
Despite direct and uncontroverted statements by the Head of Service, Mrs Winifred Oyo-Ita and the Chairman of the Federal Civil Service Commission, Joseph Akande that the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation initiated the process leading to Maina’s reinstatement, the Minister for Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN claimed that the letters from his office did not emanate for him. He also seemed to have trouble identifying who wrote the letter in his office.
When asked by the committee to give a yes or no answer on whether the letter requesting Maina’s reinstatement came from him, the Honourable minister said no.
This is the way he put it: “As at 5th October, Maina’s issue in my office was a work in progress and not yet concluded and that can be associated with previous dealings in February, April and October so the letter giving specific and clear directives couldn’t have genuinely emanated from my office.”
Is the justice minister suggesting that someone in the ministry of justice wrote the letter and sent it out without his authorization? That obviously is a laughable suggestion because that simply can’t happen in Nigeria.
But a more forthcoming HoS pulled the rug of the feet of the AGF when she insisted that her office received letters from the office of the AGF for Maina to be resintated.
According to her, the AGF’s office wrote a series of letters to her office to press for the reinstatement.
She said: “Maina, from records available to us, was dismissed in the year 2013 from the Federal Civil Service for absconding from duty.
“From the beginning of this year, we started receiving series of letters written by the Attorney General and Minister for Justice, addressed to the chairman Federal Civil Service Commission and copied to the office of the Head of Civil Service of the Federation.
“As those letters came in, the Federal Civil Service Commission wrote to my office, directing us to request the Ministry of Interior to set up a Senior Staff Committee to review the directives from the Attorney General.”
You don’t need to be a first class student to know whose story is believable between the two.
The HoS also said she learnt of Maina’s final reinstatement through the media saying, “when I got hold of that letter of reinstatement, I held on to the letter because I needed more clarification of that letter, so I was surprised to find out that without officially conveying the letter of his reinstatement or any letter of posting whatsoever, the said Maina was absorbed into the Ministry of Interior which I learnt through the media.
“I want to place on record here that I still have the original letters here with me. My office will never convey such reinstatement letter to Maina, so there is no way he could have resumed work at the Ministry of Interior if he had not being officially notified of doing so by the office of the head of civil service commission.”
To add to the AGF’s woes, the chairman of the Federal Civil Service Commission, Akande, also told the committee that the letter requesting the reinstatement of Maina emanated from the office of the AGF. He said the commission started receiving letters from the AGF from early 2017.
He said: “Sometimes in 2014, Maina wrote to the commission appealing that they reconsider their decision and that they review the dismissal given to him.
“In 2017, the commission received a letter from the Attorney General dated 19th January 22017 demanding the reinstatement of Maina.
“Again, the AGF sent another letter to us 27th April. The third letter informing us that he is the chief legal officer of the country and that the basis of our dismissing Maina cannot stand because a judge of high court in Abuja has paused the warrant of arrest and therefore directed.
“The ministry of interior met through their SSC and recommended that he be reinstated. When we looked at it, we approved that be reinstated.”
Interesting, contrary to claim contained in the AGF’s letter, Maina was not dismissed on the basis on the judgment referred to. That was a deliberate mis-representation. The judgment in question was against the Senate. Justice Adamu Bello had held that the Senate did not follow the proper procedure in summoning Maina.
To buy time, the AGF also employed the old tactic of asking for more time to enable him investigate what transpired in his office. One thing was clear from the responses of the AGF: he simply was not making sense.
Even the Director General of SSS
In one breadth, the Director General of the Department of State Security Service, Mr Lawal Daura said no agency wrote to the DSS to inform the department that Maina was wanted. Yet, in the another breadth, he said he advised the AGF to meet with Maina in company of a third party. If he did not know that Maina was a wanted, person why advising the AGF not to meet Maina alone? That piece of advice presupposed that the Daura knew that Maina had issues with the law. It is a confirmation that Daura knew who Maina is and that it was not safe for the AGF to hold meeting with him without a third party. The cover up continues, but further revelation in the future may shed more light on what roles the DSS played in the Maina saga. Certainly, Nigerians have not heard the last on the DSS role in the issue.
Permanent Secretary Playing the Fall Guy
Thinking that if he took responsibility for the role the Ministry of Interior played in the scandalous recall of Maina, the Permanent Secretary of Ministry of Interior, Mr Abubakar Magaji said he accepted the blame for what happened.
While testifying before the House of Representatives committee investigating Maina’s controversial reinstatement, Magaji said the reference letter made to inform the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Winifred Oyo-Ida, that Maina had resumed duty was a letter sent to the Federal Civil Service Commission.
“When I observed this upon resumption from sick leave, I quickly replied to the Head of Civil Service of the Federation, Mrs. Winifred Oyo-Ita, apologising to her about the reference letter.
“But service is an institution, whatever happened in the process of the minutes, the permanent secretary is the head of the administration and I am here to take responsibility.
“Whatever the Interior Ministry has done wrongly in the way the administrative matter has been done to the end of this matter, I take responsibility because I cannot reject.
“I am the permanent secretary, head of administration and I take responsibility for any administrative wrongdoing that Ministry of Interior has done.”
What a smart move. But it does not explain the whole ignominious role played by the ministry in the recall. It also does not absolve the present administration of liability from the shameful act.
As rightly pointed out by a candidate for the office of the national publicity secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party, Mr Faruk Adejoh-Audu, the lackadaisical way with which the Presidency is handling the Maina scandal would come back to haunt the All Progressives Congress-led government.
He noted that before the ovation could die down from the directive by the president that Maina be instantly disengaged from service, a flurry of damning revelations directly implicating the president came to light as the scandal was unravelling .
He said: “First was the HoS, who in a leaked memo revealed that contrary to the innocent and righteous indignation exhibited by the president, he was well aware of the dubious reinstatement of Maina long before the scandal exploded and did nothing.
“More than one month after Oyo-Ita revelation, Maina has also exposed the fact that the president actually personally approved his (Maina) dubious engagements with officials of government led by the AGF.
“Is it possible that Mr President, his entire team and even his party, the APC do not consider explaining his role in this infamy an imperative as custodians of public trust? Or are they under the delusion that if they ignore this it will just fade into oblivion?
“Whatever is their reason for the ominous silence they have succeeded in reducing Nigeria to a new low on the global corruption perception. But more importantly this silence is a tacit admission that Oyo-Ita and Maina were telling the truth when they said contrary to the impression that had been sold to the public, Mr President had been involved in the mainagate all along.”
The President Deserves a Benefit of the Doubt
Despite claim by Oyo-Ita that she briefed the president on the brewing scandal over Maina’s recall, it is possible that the president did not have a full briefing on the issue or had not had the time to fully digest the import of the unfolding drama. This is because one pattern that has emerged since the government came into power in May 2015 is that people in government are taking advantage of the apparent lack of control by the president. People in this government are doing what they like with or without the president’s approval. An instance will suffice. When the president appointed Ibrahim Magu as acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, the DG SSS thoroughly embarrassed the president by sending a security report against Magu to the Senate. Even former President Olusegun Obasanjo was taken aback by the development. As a former president, Obasanjo found that to be awkward.
Could it be that some powerful people within the Buhari government took advantage of the president’s weakness to orchestrate Maina’s recall into the civil service? The president still has enough time to clear himself moreso, when Maina had claimed that the president approved his resinstatement.
To further prove that he did not approve what had taken place, the president must relieve those ministers who played key role in the reinstatement of their appointment. If he retains the ministers involved, the president will be sending a clear signal to the world that he tactically approves the recall.
Otherwise Adejoh-Audu will be right when he asked, “Where else in the world will the president of a country knowingly participate in surreptitiously returning a fugitive to office in the garb of a hero with double promotion even while he’s still in hiding from the laws of the land?”
Confidence in Anti-Corruption Waning
It is unfortunate that there are people in the government who don’t seem to understand the fact that the success the government has recorded in its anti-corruption war is made possible by the EFCC. May be they fear that the commission will eventually turn out to be their albatross when they leave government. They have therefore continued to undermine the commission.
While the AGF was quick to seek advice from the DG SSS on whether to meet Maina in Dubai or not, he chose to ignore the EFCC, the agency that investigated Maina and the whole pension scam. The action of the AGF in the whole process that led to Maina’s reinstatement shows that Malami was out to undermine the anti-corruption agency. He eventually did so at his own peril. If he had sought advice from the commission when Maina asked to see him in Dubai, he would not have found himself in this mess.
Apart from the deliberate attempt to shut out the EFCC, the Maina saga has again exposed how inter-agency rivalry and lack of coordination among these agencies continue to undermine the war against corruption. With one agency trying to undercut the other, it is difficult to see the anti-corruption war succeeding.
The implication of the above scenario is that public confidence in the anti-corruption war is waning. Different reports have shown that anti-corruption war succeeds when the process is owned by the citizenry. Now that members of the public have become sceptical, driving the process is going to be very difficult.
The Chatham House in a report released in May and tilted, ‘Collective Action on Corruption in Nigeria. A Soial Norms Approach to Connecting Society and Institutions’ found that collective action was sometimes impeded because people had misconceptions about what other people really think.
The report states, “If people were aware of how commonly held their personal beliefs are, they would be more motivated to act collectively against corruption.
“Anti-corruption efforts may have the greatest chance of success if they stem from a shared sense of responsibility and urgency – and thus foster collective grassroots pressure.”
The report noted that Buhari was certainly not alone in his high-profile stance on corruption adding that a significant number of Nigerians agreed that it was morally unacceptable.
“The crucial step is translating this shared belief into an effective and sustainable coalition for collective social action,” It added.
Another key finding of the report is that leadership on anti-corruption can only be successful if it is by example.
It stated: “The behaviours and actions of Nigerian political actors play a major role in setting social trends, forging public trust and inspiring positive behaviour. As key trendsetters, political actors and officials must measure up to higher standards of integrity, honesty and transparency in order to send a powerful signal regarding the government’s commitment to changing negative social norms and regaining public trust.”
As it is, those hired by the president to set the trend for his anti-corruption war appeared to have their own agenda which is different from that of the president. It is not too late for the president to send them out of his government.
Where is Maina?
Now that DG SSS has admitted that his men were protecting Maina from those who wanted to harm him, can he now hand him over to the EFCC for prosecution? Or is the DSS still waiting for a formal letter to inform it that Maina is wanted? We as a people have been subjected to embarrassment by the handling of this case. The only way to stop the embarrassment is to allow the law to take its course. Buhari’s officials are in contempt in the people’s court.
Apart from producing and charging Maina to court, the president should also add on the report submitted to him by the HoS. Luckily, the president’s party, the APC had declared Maina’s reinstatement as an embarrassment.
When the scandal broke out in October, APC, through its National Publicity Secretary, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi, described the incident as a huge embarrassment to the Buhari administration and the ruling party which rode to power on the mantra of change.
He said: “We are all shocked like any other person. It is almost unbelievable that such a thing can happen. However, we are all delighted that President Buhari has taken a very decisive, punitive action against those that are involved.
“We are also delighted that he has ordered a full scale investigation into the circumstances that led to this individual being reinstated into public office. We believe as a party that whoever that was part of this or found to have been part of this must face appropriate consequences because it is an embarrassment to the party, government and it is unacceptable.”
If he retains the ministers involved, the president will be sending a clear signal to the world that he approves the recall.
The behaviours and actions of Nigerian political actors play a major role in setting social trends, forging public trust and inspiring positive behaviour.