The treatment so far extended to a former Chairman of the defunct Pension Reform Task Team, Mr. Abdulrasheed Maina, by the current government of Muhammadu Buhari, not only calls for concern, but despises the fight against graft, writes Shola Oyeyipo
Nothing makes it more evident that the President Muhammadu Buhari-led All Progressives Congress (APC) national leadership is only paying lips service to its anti-corruption drive than the news making the rounds that the name of the Chairman of the defunct Pension Reform Task Team, Mr. Abdulrasheed Maina, indicted in the N2.1bn pension biometric fraud is no longer on the watch list.
As at press time, the government and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) are yet to publicly deny reports by reputable newspaper organisations that the anti-graft body might have backed down from searching for the former pension reform boss.
Reports had it that he was a beneficiary of some high level protections within the system and that the nation’s anti-corruption watchdog was compelled to look the other way, because except on paper, he is practically a free man.
Since July 21, 2015, when he was charged alongside a former Head of Service of the Federation (HoSF), Stephen Oronsaye, Osarenkhoe Afe and Fredrick Hamilton Global Services Limited before a Federal High Court with a 24-count charge bordering on alleged $2.1bn procurement fraud and obtaining by false pretence, Nigerians have been treated to series of episodes showing unpreparedness of government to dispense justice in the matter.
During the hearing of his bail applications, Maina’s counsel, Esther Uzoma, maintained before the court that his client was not at large rather she said the EFCC had never invited him. The EFCC counsel, Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), told the court to prevail on Uzoma to produce Maina in court, because the EFCC lacked information on his whereabouts.
Even when the court granted Rotimi’s prayers, Maina continued to ignore court proceedings, hence the EFCC had no other option but to declare him wanted.
Though there were allegations that Maina converted pension funds for personal uses in secret accounts at the detriment of thousands of pensioners, Justice F.O.G. Ogunbanjo, was of the view that it was unlawful for the commission to declare Maina wanted. In the upper chamber of the National Assembly, the Senate Joint Committee on Public Service and Establishment and State and Local Government Administration, which investigated the allegations, also indicted Maina and issued a warrant of arrest against him. He was subsequently dismissed from the civil service for allegedly absconding from duty in his bid to evade arrest and be charged to court.
Characteristically, Maina took the Senate and the then Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar to court, after which he went back into hiding. Then, the police authority had declared him wanted.
While still on Absence Without Official Leave (AWOL), news filtered in through the social media that the fugitive had been smuggled back into the civil service in 2017.
Then Head of Service of the Federation, Mrs. Winfred Oyo-Ita, told the House of Representatives committee investigating the disappearance, reappearance and reinstatement of Maina in the federal civil service that letters came from the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) to the Federal Civil Service Commission (FCSC), ordering his reinstatement.
Even as the HOS, Oyo-Ita, in her shocking revelation said she was surprised to hear about Maina’s reinstatement in the media just as anyone else, adding that she never received any notification that Maina challenged his dismissal from civil service in court since her appointment.
“Maina was dismissed in 2013 from federal civil service. Sometime this year, letters began to come from AGF to the Federal Civil Service Commission, copied to my office. AGF gave directive that Maina should be reinstated.When I got hold of the letter, I held on to it. I learnt through the media that he had been reinstated. Those are the clarifications I have to make on this.
“No ministry has the authorities to issue reinstatement letters. When I learnt through the media and a letter from the Chief of Staff that Mr. Maina had been reinstated, I wrote a letter to Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Interior. The permanent secretary never acted on any letter from my office. The Federal Civil Service Commission has its own mandate.
“It is surprising that without my conveying this letter, the ministry of Interior went ahead to reinstate Maina. I decided to hold onto that letter to seek further clarification. I was concerned that the decision to reinstate Maina may not have been in the interest of the present administration. I held on because Mr. Maina may not have cleared the issue with the security agencies.”
The president, who called for a full report into the circumstances that led to Maina’s recall and posting to the Ministry of Interior immediately, ordered for his disengagement after he was secretly recalled and promoted to the position of Director in charge of Human Resources in the Ministry of Interior.
The president’s Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, said Buhari’s directive was contained in a memo to the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation and that the report on the reinstatement was to be submitted to the office of the Chief of Staff to the President, Mallam Abba Kyari, but nothing concrete has come out of that yet.
Call him sacred cow or a cat with nine lives you will not be far from the truth, because even in the in the heat of the controversy – when the Senate ordered his arrest, he was reportedly spotted walking into former President Goodluck Jonathan’s office with security escorts while other senior government officials who have been waiting were still seated.
This corroborated public perception that during the Jonathan administration, some top government officials protected Maina. It raised concerns among well-meaning observers that those looting the county’s treasury are getting presidential protection and are allowed to roam the streets free from arrest and prosecution, whereas petty thieves are being given penal servitude and imprisonment with hard labour!
Though the Buhari administration castigated the Jonathan administration, describing it as corrupt, the government has not done anything extraordinary to convince the citizenry that it is prepared to bring the former pension boss to book as well.
He soon showed an obvious affinity, when he recently congratulated President Buhari and Vice President and Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo on their victory in the 2019 presidential election.
The man, who has been on the run for years, didn’t leave it at that; he promised that he would continue to give President Buhari’s administration the “necessary support.”
He wrote thus in the paid advertorial: “We shall continue to give you and your administration the necessary support while you continue making Nigeria great again and taking us to the next level.” Notable Nigerians, including the Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN), and renowned lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN) had tasked government to arrest Maina since he returned to the country.
But since October 2017, Maina had granted several television interviews from his hiding place, detailing how he helped the federal government to recover trillions of naira stolen by top public officials and urging Buhari to grant him an audience to prove his innocence. Speaking during an interview on “Brekete Family”, a reality talk magazine programme that usually airs on Human Rights Radio, 101.1 FM, Abuja, on Friday, Maina reiterated his readiness to come out of hiding only if President Buhari would assure him of total protection.
He said “the cabal” was earnestly searching for him and that his sources told him he would be “injected” once he comes out in the open, because of information at his disposal.
It was then that he said Oyo-Ita operated bank accounts that were not linked to the Treasury Single Account of the federal government as directed by President Buhari, and that was why she worked against his reinstatement in 2017.
Maina said he was willing to disclose to President Buhari some clandestine accounts being operated by all his ministers, saying “President Buhari, I want you to open your eyes and ears, there is a lot of money in your government. All your ministers, I can give you the accounts of what they have operated, who is doing what, and where the monies have gone to. I can show you on the system.”
Whatever the issues are, it is unacceptable that a government that hinged its campaign promises on fighting corruption has been dilly-dallying with a man, who has a reputation for converting public funds for personally uses.
While not being prejudice, it is important that the Buhari administration takes a step further by getting to the bottom of the issue and stop embarrassing the government with the Maina issue. Indeed, if need be, the president could grant him audience and hear him out.
However, if he has been exonerated of all the allegations against him necessitating the expulsion of his name from the watch list, it is equally important that government furnishes the nation with details of the investigations and not passing such moves through the backdoor.