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Published On: Mon, Dec 4th, 2017

Maina’s can of worms

By OBINNA EZUGWU

At the hearing conducted by the Hon. Aliyu Madaki-led House of Representatives adhoc committee investigating the reinstatement of former chairman of the Presidential Task Force on Pension Reforms, Abdulrasheed Maina into the federal civil service last week, Nigerians were treated to a show of childish buck-passing.

One could draw a parallel between what transpired at the hearing and children lying to their parents that they had not stolen meat from the soup pot while making frantic efforts to clean the remnants of oil in their mouths. The tragedy here, however, is that these were not just adults, but highly placed individuals who run the affairs of the Nigerian state.

It is understood that Maina had been one of the financiers of the President Muhammadu Buhari campaign in 2014/15, and the idea of bringing him back was to pay him back, even as he is said to be interested in running for governor in his home state of Borno. However, some have wondered if his case couldn’t have been handled better. But even more bewildering is why everyone, including the civil society is largely mute.

During the proceedings which took place between November 22 and 23, the trio of the Head of the Service of the Federation, Winifred Oyo-Ita; Minister of Interior, Abdulraham Dambazzau and the Minister for Justice and Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami, took turns to deny any involvement with the fugitive Maina’s reinstatement in what was a feeble attempt to exonerate themselves despite available evidence to the contrary.

Since online medium, Premium Times blew the story in October, both Dambazzau and Malami had been making frantic efforts to pass the blame on the next available person. Initially, Dambazzau claimed it was Oyo-Ita, the Head of Service who reinstated Maina, a claim that prompted swift denial from her and consequently a burst up with the Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari at the Presidential Villa.

Contrary to his claims however, initial investigations suggested that Maina’s reinstatement had been at the instance of Malami who  wrote to the Federal Civil Service Commission (FCSC) requesting it to give consequential effect to a judgement that voided the warrant of arrest issued against him which formed the basis for the query and his eventual dismissal from the commission.

Yet, when asked whether the letter requesting Mr. Maina’s reinstatement came from him, Mr. Malami flatly denied, explaining that the last  letter he remembered to have written on the issue was dated January 19, 2017 and was meant to bring attention to all that was happening to Mr Maina.

“As at 5th October (when Premium Times first blew the story), Maina’s issue in my office was a work in progress,” Malami claimed. “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.”

However, Oyo-Ita in her own testimony, expressed surprise that Maina was reinstated without her consent, maintaining that she received letters from the office of the Attorney General demanding his reinstatement but she did not act on them.

“From the beginning of this year,” she said, “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.

“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 Mr Maina was absorbed into the Ministry of Interior which I learnt through the media.”

Similarly, FCSC Chairman, Mr. Joseph Akande  told the committee that the letter requesting the reinstatement of Mr. Maina emanated from the office of the AGF.

“The commission received a letter from the Attorney General dated 19th January 2017 demanding the reinstatement of Maina,” he said.

“Again, the AGF sent another letter to us 27th on 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 Judge of High Court in Abuja has revoked the warrant of arrest and therefore directed his readmission.

“The ministry of interior met through their SSC and recommended that he be reinstated. When we looked at it, we approved that he be reinstated.”

The falsehood in the initial denials by the said ministers was easily established, and apparently the repeated attempt to pass the buck at the hearing failed abysmally. The question on the lips of many Nigerians was, how is it that individuals occupying very sensitive positions in the country’s government cannot be trusted to tell basic truths? Again, how is it that Maina cannot be arrested even though it is obvious that his whereabouts is known?

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But perhaps more interesting is that Maina has continued to claim, with fact and figures, that Buhari and Malami were involved with his reinstatement. Yet, the presidency has kept silent. Attempts to reach presidential spokesman, Femi Adesina proved abortive, but according to Premium Times, he had instructed that every question regarding the case should be directed to the AGF.

It was also alleged that while the EFCC pretended to be looking for him, he was being protected by the DSS on the order of the presidency.

Rights activist and convener, Save Lagos group, Comrade Adeniyi Alimi Suleiman argued that both ministers, including President Buhari must have been aware of, and played roles in Maina’s reinstatement. According to him, their denial shows that the administration’s anti-corruption campaign is a mere charade.

“It is not possible in government to make that kind of appointment without the knowledge of Perm Sec, Chief of staff, including the Minister for Justice and the President,” he said.

“Before they planned his reinstatement, the president must have been aware. From the very beginning, it was obvious that the anti corruption effort of Buhari is only sensational crusade. He is not ready to fight corruption; he uses the EFCC to intimidate people that are against him. All we are seeing is propaganda.”

Suleiman insisted that the President had started off by ignoring several petitions filed against members of his cabinet, including Minister of Transport, Chibuike Amaechi and his Works, Power and Housing counterpart, Babatunde Fashola, and has since turned away from allegations against the Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai; the IGP of police, Ibrahim Idris; former SGF, Babachir Lawal and many others.

“So many people in the administration have been accused of corruption including the current Chief of Army Staff, but none has been investigated,” he said. “From the very beginning, there were petitions against Rotimi Amaechi and Babatunde Fashola, but nothing happened,” he concluded.

Maina who was dismissed from office over allegations of misappropriating billions of pension funds in what was a heated case between 2012 and 2013, following which he went into hiding, had meanwhile, been making a compelling case, explaining that those after him are the real corrupt people who wanted to stop his reforms as chairman of the pension fund.

In an interview with an Abuja based Berekete Family radio station in October, he opened a can of worms on the endemic corruption in the country’s public service, claiming that he went into hiding to save his life from “pension thieves” who he said “vowed to silence him for asking the former Finance Minister, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, to stop multi-billion naira monthly allocations being shared by them under the guise pension payment.”

Buhari had acted swiftly by ordering that Maina be dismissed when the news first broke suggesting that he had not been aware of the reinstatement, but last week Maina in an interview with Channels let the cat out of the bag, disclosing that the President was, in fact, the person who asked Malami to recall him.

“Now I did not return to office but when this government came in, the president gave his note that go and sit down with Maina, I’ve given you the approval. They sat down with me after the security agencies cleared me of any wrongdoing,” he said, indicating that his recall process began after Malami visited him.

He added that the process of his reinstatement started after the Attorney General, Mr. Malami, visited him.

“As soon as this present government decided to sit with me, I told them I will not allow them to go back to Nigeria without putting something in their pocket. The Minister of Justice said what are you going to give us as a gift? I gave him a document and said, go here, there’s N1.3 trillion they are going to steal it because they have been stealing every year. He was shocked, he said it is not possible. I said sir, with all due respect, could you please try it, this is a gift I’m giving you.

“I’m not a saint but I tried as much as I can to help the system. The minister thought that won’t be possible, but when he got back, he realized I gave him correct information. Now, after giving him this information he asked me, when are you coming back? I said I will soon be back, that I have a court order.

So, I asked my lawyer to write a petition. He wrote a petition to government and the Minister set up a committee to look at the petition. They looked at the petition and recommended that this is a court order that there’s no question of going back on it, nobody has appealed it since 2013 so government must obey it.”

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In the video, he went on to allege that although Buhari is a good man who stands for the truth  he has surrounded himself with people who are lying to him. Addressing the president, he said there were things people were not telling him, and that if given the chance, he was willing to prove his innocence by helping to recover N1 trillion in three months.

“Listen, I am not afraid of anybody, I am saying the truth. People portray themselves as if they are saints around the President; it’s a lie, they are not. We recovered as a team, N282billion cash. Aside from that amount, we were able to bring information and caught 43 pension suspects.

“They have threatened me, they have threatened my lawyer, they have threatened my brother, sister; they have threatened us all that I will be killed.

“Mr President, I will give you information and documents that will fetch you over N3trillion now in Nigeria, give me nine months. Within the first three months, I will show you N1trillion just like I showed you N1trillion in this 2017,” he said.

The evidence of Malami and Dambazzau’s roles in the recall seem believable some have said, and for them, Buhari must show seriousness in his anti corruption fight by taking action against them and investigating Maina’s claims.

“The issue of Maina is a very well known case, even during Jonathan’s time. He declared him wanted. Only God knows how he escaped out of the country only to come back and certain people approved his reinstatement into office in this country after embezzling pension fund,” said Reverend Austin Ehiemere, Abia State chairman of APGA.

“The president on hearing that acted promptly, and I commend him for taking that action.

“You know, many people have said he is being selective in the anti corruption crusade. If that is the case, I would also expect the president to let people know he is not selective by making sure he does the needful on anyone involved in corruption either presently or in the past, so that people will not look at him as being selective.”

Lagos based lawyer and activist, Mr Wale Ogunade also notes that there is complicity in the whole affair and therefore the heads of those involved must roll.

“There is some complicity in it, which is in form of his coming back through the back door. But be that as it may, the president taking a swift action to sack him has solved the problem,” he said.

“Obviously, the government is not a one man show. Before Maina could have done what he did, one or two people must have been involved. People like Malami, Dambazau, the Accountant General…all those that the file passed through their table are culpable in this, and for me, heads must roll.”

Last week Thursday, the hearing continued with as much denials and finger-pointing. Although the information in the public space has it that Maina was promoted to the post of director in the civil service with full entitlements upon his reinstatement, Finance Minister, Madam Kemi Adeosun insisted that according to the records of the ministry, Maina had not been paid salary since his dismissal in 2013.

In another bizarre twist last week, and allegation emerged that about N17billion pension cash was traced to Maina, with a long list of highly-placed beneficiaries. The said cash, it was alleged, was diverted by him from the N24billion budgeted by the Federal Government for payment of pension liabilities through the task force he headed.

The funds were said to have been stolen in five years from 2008 to 2013 in tranches of N2.7billion and N14.374billion respectively. While the N2.7billion was allegedly converted to personal use through the connivance of banks and family members, N14.374billion was shared by him and those in the chain of pension management in different Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs).

Maina and his cohorts were accused of dipping hands into the funds under the guise of phantom biometric verification. Those allegedly implicated in the scam included a former Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), a former Acting Chairman of ICPC, a former Inspector-General of Police, two former Heads of Service, Permanent Secretary (State House) and top directors in the civil service, 18 slush companies, some operatives of the EFCC and the National Intelligence Agency (NIA).

Other alleged beneficiaries included some officials of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), bankers, Bureau de Change owners, family members, top officers in the Budget Office and the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation (OAGF).

The EFCC has so far filed 12 cases against 19 of those said to have been implicated, including Maina; a former Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Mr. Steve Oronsaye; Osarenkhoe Afe; Fredrick Hamilton Global Services Limited and others.

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