How the federal government handles the case of a former chairman, Pension Reform Task Team, Abdulrasheed Maina, who was last week arrested, remains a test case for President Muhammadu Buhari’s commitment to the fight against corruption, writes Shola Oyeyipo
There are so many celebrated corruption cases in Nigeria, but despite successive government’s avowed commitment to tackling the endemic correction crippling the country on all fronts, perpetrators of many of these heinous crimes often walk free.
One of such persons is a former chairman of the Pension Reform Task Team (PRTT), Abdulrasheed Maina, who has remained evasive until men of the Department of State Security announced last week that he had been arrested.
His story was both shocking and embarrassing. It started in 2013, when Maina was accused of masterminding a N2 billion pension biometric fraud. The Federal Civil Service Commission dismissed him that same year and the reason was that he absconded from duty following recommendation by the office of the Head of Service.
He ignored the Senate Joint Committee on Public Service Establishment, which issued a warrant of arrest to compel him to appear before the investigative panel.
He was also declared wanted by the Police after he went into hiding, explaining why he got the appellation ‘fugitive’ in some national dailies. He evaded arrest for four years in what would pass as a lackluster manhunt.
Then, very surprisingly and without clearing his name of the allegation of financial misconduct, in 2017, Maina resurfaced under controversial circumstances and was reinstated as a Director in the Ministry of Interior under the current administration.
The development naturally gave the All Progressives Congress (APC) national leadership away as one not truly committed to its anti-corruption drive.
Until his recent arrest in an Abuja hotel by operatives of the DSS at the behest of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), after he purportedly sneaked into Nigeria from Dubai, Maina had operated as an untouchable that enjoyed the understanding and protection of some forces within the presidency.
Only recently, a national daily reported that Maina was no longer on the watch list as Nigeria’s anti-graft body was suspected to have given up search for him.
What is more? Maina has continued to show that he was close to the Buhari government in many ways. He even congratulated the president and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo on their victory after the 2019 presidential election. The man, who has reportedly been on the run for four years, went further by promising to continue to give President Buhari’s administration “necessary support.”
In the paid advertorial, Maina wrote: “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.”
Without prejudice, many Nigerians wanted Maina brought to justice, at least, to explain his role in the mismanagement of the pension money – a commonwealth of retired Nigerian workers. So, it was a big relief, when the DSS announced his arrest and that he might be handed over to the EFCC for trial over his alleged involvement in the fraud. From his body language, Maina has shown that he has some things to say to defend the case against him and Nigerians are waiting to hear them.
Since October 2017, he has granted several interviews from his hiding place, detailing how he helped the federal government recover trillions of naira stolen by top public officials and urging Buhari to grant him audience to prove his innocence.
In one of such interviews on “Brekete Family”, a reality talk magazine programme on Human Rights Radio, 101.1 FM, Abuja, Maina reiterated his readiness to come out of hiding only if President Buhari would assure him of total protection. He said “the cabal” is earnestly searching for him.
The Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN), renowned lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN) and other well-meaning Nigerians had tasked the government to arrest Maina on several occasions, when he returned to Nigeria.
The widespread opinion has been that perhaps he enjoyed some protections, understanding and sympathy within the executive and that the nation’s anti-corruption watchdog was compelled to look the other way, because except on paper, he was practically a free man until his last week arrest.
On July 21, 2015, 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 on a 24-count charge bordering on alleged $2.1bn procurement fraud and obtaining by false pretence, but government seemed unprepared to dispense justice in the matter.
During the hearing of his bail application, 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.
Maina’s issue has remained a dent on the promise by President Buhari’s administration to fight corruption. In fact, 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.
The 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 Oyo-Ita, in her shocking revelation, said she was surprised to hear about Maina’s reinstatement in the media just as anyone else. She said she never received any notification that Maina challenged his dismissal from civil service in court since her appointment.
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.
Definitely, one of the highest points in the controversy was 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 had been waiting were still seated. This further aroused suspicion some top government officials protected Maina. It raised concerns among well-meaning observers that those looting the county’s treasury were getting presidential protection and are allowed to roam the streets free, free from arrest and prosecution, whereas petty thieves are given penal servitude and imprisonment with hard labour! GEJ was the high priest of thievery and malfeasance.
The Buhari administration didn’t mince words in tagging the Jonathan administration corrupt. This is yet another opportunity to convince the citizenry that it was prepared to do things differently by bringing the indicted former pension boss to book or at least dig deep into the matter to let Nigerians know what really transpired.
Thus, the sacred cow syndrome must stop. There must be deterrence if Nigeria truly intends to end the scourge of corruption.