MainaGate: The Blow to Buhari’s Anti-Corruption Agenda

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Like a bad coin that keeps coming up, the case of Abdulrasheed Maina, a former chairman of the Presidential Task Force on Pension Reforms Task Team, is now poised to destroy the anti-corruption credentials of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration, especially if not carefully handled

 

By Olu Ojewale

 

The story is not new. The main character in the story is known to everyone, perhaps, except for pretenders and visitors to Nigeria. What is playing out sounds familiar too. But some government officials in the President Muhammadu Buhari administration would want Nigerians to believe that they were ignorant that Abdulrasheed Maina, a former chairman of the Presidential Task Force on Pension Reforms, was a fugitive and a wanted person over alleged N2billion theft.

Mercifully, the issue surrounding Maina and the alleged embezzlement of billions of Naira resurfaced again this week, causing so much discomfort within and outside the government circles. What makes the matter so intriguing is that the so-called fugitive was back in the country unannounced and since been mixing, dinning and winning with the powers that be in Abuja, with the alleged stolen loot starkly kept in some secured places.

As if that was not bad enough, Maina reportedly returned to civil service with promotion to the next level, while the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, was still “looking” for him.

Now that bubble seems to have busted, those who have been shielding him and feigning ignorance of his presence in the country, have again disowned him thereby, once again, making him looks like an orphan. In turn, Maina, it is believed, once again, is on his heels. At least, that is what the nation is being allowed to imagine because since President Muhammadu Buhari ordered his sack on Monday, October 23, nobody seems to have sighted him anywhere or knows his whereabouts as the EFCC again launched a new manhunt for him as it did in 2014 when Maina bolted out of the country over the same allegation.

This time, the operatives of the EFCC has also sealed off some of his houses.

Indeed, the drama being played out makes a serious matter looks like a comic relief as government officials and opposition members continue to trade blames on Maina, the enfant terrible of the pension scheme.

The question which has been agitating the mind of Nigerians and discerning followers of the matter is how Maina could have been allowed to return to the country, to the federal civil service and even, gain promotion?

The family of the embattled former civil servant fingered the ruling party as the culprit in the matter. Reacting to the developments, Aliyu Maina, the spokesman of the Maina family, told newsmen in Kaduna, on Wednesday, October 25, that it was the APC-led administration that facilitated Maina’s return “to come back and assist its change agenda.”

He said that a “cabal” was out to tarnish the image of Maina in the media, noting that the family was in possession of facts that were against the cabal, which would be of great interest to the public. Those facts, he promised, would be disclosed to Nigerians soon.

The family spokesman said: “The entire family of Abdullahi Maina is hereby categorically stating that our son is not in any way a fraudster, rather he is a messiah who brought remarkable reforms into the Nigerian pension scheme, whose efforts saw the disappearance of pensioners roaming the streets of FCT, Abuja, and other state capitals.

“It is on record that Abdulrasheed Maina’s reform put a stop to the fraudulent withdrawal of huge sums from the Nigerian Pension Board and the Nigerian Police Pension Board.

“Perhaps it is his noble efforts that made him enviable to the present administration when they came into power to convince him to come back and assist in its ‘change’ agenda.”

Nevertheless, he disclosed that the family had contacted Messrs Mamman Nasir & Co, their lawyer, and instructed them to act appropriately.

“We equally know that Abdulrasheed Maina is in possession of so many facts that is against the cabal and interesting to the Nigerian populace, which he will disclose soonest. One must ask whether it is an offence for somebody to serve his father land faithfully,” he said.

That notwithstanding, President Buhari’s aides and loyalists of former President Gooluck Jonathan were practically on each other’s jugular on Wednesday, October 25, as they engaged in fierce war of words over who was responsible for the reinstatement of Maina into the Ministry of Interior Affairs.

Garba Shehu, senior special assistant to the president on Media and Publicity, on Wednesday, October 25, accused the administration of Jonathan as being responsible for his reinstatement into the service.

Apparently reacting to a statement by the Peoples Democratic Party on the matter, Shehu said: “Some influential officials loyal to the previous government may have been the invisible hand in the latest scandal that saw the return of Maina to the public service, despite being on the EFCC’s wanted list.

“Everything will be uncovered in due course. This just goes to show us the scale of corruption that this government is fighting. And, as we can all see, corruption keeps fighting back viciously.”

Besides, the president’s spokesman described Maina as one of the monsters created by the former PDP government and still rearing their ugly heads long after the party was defeated in the 2015 elections.

“Over and over again, President Buhari’s government has pointed out that the administration’s greatest problem is the mess left behind by the previous government. Maina is just one more example,” he said.

In the same breath, the SSA hinted that some influential officials loyal to the previous government might have been the invisible hand in the latest scandal that saw the return of Maina to the public service, despite being on the EFCC’s wanted list.

But what Shehu failed to say in his statement was that Abubakar Malami, attorney-general of the Federation and minister of Justice, had admitted that he advised that Maina should be reinstated ‘in public interest.’ Malami has yet to define what he called public interest.

Abdulrahman Dambazau, a retired lieutenant general and the minister of Interior, on Sunday, October 22, confirmed that, indeed, Maina had resumed duty as an acting director in his ministry. The confirmation contained in a statement issued by Ehisienmen Osaigbovo, the press secretary to the minister.

Dambazzau
Dambazzau

Nevertheless, former President Goodluck Jonathan was not amused that his administration was accused of being responsible for Maina’s reinstatement and return to the country.

First, it was during the tenure of the Jonathan administration that Maina was accused of fraud and embezzlement of public funds before he scampered out of the country when the EFCC was on his trail.

This, perhaps, prompted Jonathan, who spoke though Ikechukwu Eze, his media aide, to describe the presidency’s allegations as ridiculous. He said: “It is ridiculous to say that Jonathan’s loyalists brought Maina back into service. Is it his loyalists that are in government? Somebody who has left office over two years, his loyalists still brought in a fugitive to power? It is laughable.

“Is it his loyalists that also promoted him and made him an acting director from the position of an assistant director?  These are the questions they should answer… This was a fugitive that ran away from Jonathan’s government and it was Jonathan’s men who also put him in office? Someone who ran from the law? It doesn’t make sense.”

Also irked by the Presidency’s accusation, the PDP had in a statement said it was not surprised that the present administration could reinstate Maina, describing them as birds of a feather.

In fact, the party statement had said: “It is in the light of this that the PDP wishes to state that we are not too shocked at the steps taken by the administration of the All Progressives Congress in reinstating a supposed criminal and fugitive, Abdulrasheed Maina to office instead of getting him arrested. Birds of a feather flock together.”

In a statement by Dayo Adeyeye, national publicity secretary of the PDP, the party, on Monday, October 23, called for immediate arrest and prosecution of Maina.

Similarly, the party called for the arrest and prosecution of those who aided his return to the country after his disappearance for several years, and his restoration to his duty post with added promotion.

It also called for immediate sack of Danbazzau and Malami for having the audacity to restore Maina to the civil service.

A similar call has been made by a team of human rights lawyers under the aegis of Public Interest Defenders, PID. The lawyers said both Malami and Dambazzau should be fired from office with immediate effect for breach of public trust.

The group also called for the investigation and prosecution of the two ministers. The PID, in a statement issued in Jos, by Pelumi Olajengbesi, its chairman, both ministers could not be said to have acted in good conscience nor within the mandate of their respective offices.

The statement said in part: “It is also our collective belief that Abubakar Malami acted in a manner capable of mortgaging our trust, confidence and faith as a people. His involvement in reinstating Maina back into the ministry as a director is an act of betrayal and lack of patriotism for the country…

“While much has been inferred in extensor with regards to the Justice Minister, we unreservedly demand that Interior Minister be subjected to the same process as the Justice Minister: dismissed, investigated and prosecuted.

“The action of the interior minister is dishonourable and must be queried for its evil intent. It is time we properly sanitise the system, pick out the bad eggs within it and only then can our country be great again.”

In any case, according to observers, the Maina issue is likely to be a litmus case for the Buhari administration.

Oby Ezekwesili
Ezekwesili

a former minister of education, said that the controversy surrounding the reinstatement of Maina to the civil service would be the most lethal blow to the Buhari-led administration’s fight against corruption.

In a series of tweets, Ezekwesili described the Mainagate as a scandal too many for Buhari.

She wrote: “There is no redeeming prospect in the colossal mess made by the officials of the federal government in the MainaGate. But at least start with a full disclosure.

“MainaGate is the most lethal blow yet to a struggling anti-corruption agenda that had the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission increasingly isolated by the AGF.

“Something is fundamentally broken in Governance and MainaGate is a mere Symptom. President Muhammadu Buhari’s usual aloofness on such matters won’t work. MainaGate is one scandal too many for President Buhari’s administration. The time has come for the President to own these scandals and act.

“If President Buhari took public confidence-building measure on MainaGate, SGFGate, NIAGate, he may yet revive faith in his Agenda.”

Akin Oyebode, a professor of International Law, in an interview on Wednesday, October 25, said Buhari needed to work hard on the fight against corruption. He warned: “Nigerians are beginning to lose faith in the president. He needs to act fast to regain the confidence Nigerians had in him.

“The Maina issue is a litmus test for the president. How he handles the situation is critical. The president must be assisted by his agents, his servants and his friends. He can’t fight corruption on his own. All the corruption allegations under this administration have raised serious doubts in the minds of Nigerians about President Muhammadu Buhari’s war on corruption.”

The Senate, on its part, on Tuesday, October 24, raised a committee to look into the matter while also expressing concern for the war on corruption.

The Public Service, Anti-Corruption, Interior and Judiciary committee of the Senate said it would look into how Maina was reinstated and promoted to director.

The resolution followed the adoption of a motion of urgent national importance raised by Isa Hamma Misau, a senator, representing Bauchi South, Bauchi State.

Misau said the circumstances of Misau’s return and reinstatement service had become a huge embarrassment to the country. Many of the senators who contributed to the debate asked the Senate to look into the matter with aim of saving the anti-corruption war and sanction all the erring public officials linked to the development.

The lawmakers singled out Malami and Danbazzau as two public officials that should be hammered by Buhari for their alleged roles in the Maina matter.

Misau said: “Going by the newspaper publications, somebody wanted by the EFCC left the country for so many years. He was dismissed from the service. He was out for a long time, but smuggled into the service. He left the country as an assistant director. Today, he is a director.

“We even heard that he goes about with police escort. I wonder how a government that claims to be fighting corruption will be involved in a matter like this.”

Olusola Adeyeye, the Senate chief whip in his contribution, reminded the Senate that the Maina case was being investigated by the seventh assembly before the fugitive fled from the country. He said it got to point that Senate thought that the then President Jonathan was protecting Maina, before some powerful persons ferried him out of the country.

Adeyeye said: “Papers have reported that two ministers were involved. Those ministers must be brought to justice. The president must ensure that those ministers are sacked. Corruption is not only about stealing money. Incompetence too is another form of corruption.

“I hope that this Senate will not forget its past resolutions on Maina. On it, we still stand. He must be made to stand and face the law. He is not above the law. Steven Oronsaye was accused. He did not leave the country. He stayed back and cleared his name. Maina must do same.”

After the matter had been discussed exhaustively with majority asking for the sack of the two ministers, Bukola Saraki, Senate president, asked the joint committee to do a thorough job and report back.

It would be of interest for the Senate to note that the dismissed chairman of the Presidential Task Force on Pension Reforms Task Team has been in the country in the past six months after sneaking in, notwithstanding that he is a wanted for alleged N2b pension funds fraud.

An unconfirmed report said that Maina was “smuggled into the country from Dubai, UAE, by some powerful forces” in the Buhari government. He was not only smuggled, he was also given special protection including police escorts.

But since the scandal over reinstatement broke out, his police and other security personnel have been withdrawn.

Incidentally, Buhari had on Thursday, April 20, 2017, in Abuja, signed nine international agreements that the Nigerian government says would strengthen its anti-corruption war, stabilise the economy and improve the security situation in the country.

President Muhammadu Buhari
President Muhammadu Buhari

One of the signed treaties was a mutual legal agreement with the United Arab Emirates, UAE, which would enable the extradition of Nigerians who abscond to the middle-eastern country after committing crimes in Nigeria.

The UAE, especially Dubai, one of its regions, is one of the major destinations of wealthy Nigerians including those who have been accused of various financial crimes.

It is common knowledge that James Ibori, a former Delta State governor, had fled to Dubai when he was wanted both in Nigeria and United Kingdom for financial crimes. Ibori was eventually extradited from there to the UK where he was subsequently jailed for money laundering. He was recently released after serving his jail term in the UK.

Ironically, it was while Maina was in Dubai that Buhari, shortly after taking over as president visited the emirate. That is history now.

But it was apparent that the president was livid when the Maina’s reinstatement became a public issue. He, on Monday, October 23, in a memo to Winifred Oyo-Ita, the head of the Civil Service of the Federation, directed the immediate disengagement of Maina from service.

The president equally demanded a full report of the circumstances of Maina’s recall and posting to the Ministry of Interior, saying the report must be submitted to the office of the chief of staff to the president before the end of the day.

Oyo-Ita, on same day, submitted the report to the office of the chief of staff as demanded by the president.

In any case, a letter from the ministry of interior indicated that Maina resumed duty on September 28, but his resumption was not communicated to the head of the civil service of the Federation until October 16.

The letter, which was signed by Salihu A. Bala, deputy director, (Permanent Secretary’s Office), for the permanent secretary, said:  “I am directed to acknowledged (sic) the receipt of your letter Ref. No. 4029.82/Vol. III/ 179 of 18th September, 2017 on the above subject and inform you that the reinstated officer, Abdulrasheed Abdullahi Maina, deputy director (Administration) has resumed duty at the ministry of interior on Thursday, 28th September 2017. Please, accept the assurances of the permanent secretary’s warm regards.”

Maina was appointed by Jonathan as chairman of the task force in 2010 to check the corruption in the country’s pension system.

In 2012, the Nigeria Police accused him of misappropriating N100 billion pension funds in connivance with others. Later he absconded from work and then disappeared from the country.

Consequently, the Civil Service Commission reportedly dismissed him for “absconding from duty.”

Maina was arraigned in absentia by the EFCC, which declared him wanted in 2015. Wilson Uwujaren, the spokesman of the anti-graft agency in a statement at the weekend, said Maina remained on the commission’s wanted list.

That notwithstanding, Maina said in a live radio interview with Ahmed Isa of Brekete Family Reality Radio in 2015 that he recovered N282bn and handed it over to the then Ministry of Finance.

Abubakar Malami
Malami

He stated that Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the then minister of Finance, deposited the money in the Central Bank of Nigeria. He, therefore, stated that there was no way he would have stolen money since he was not a signatory to the CBN account.

He said Muhammadu Sanusi II, the Emir of Kano, who was the CBN governor when the money was recovered, could bear him witness.

That notwithstanding, in dealing with the Maina matter some Nigerians, perhaps, are not convinced that justice would be served; more so, because some persons of questionable integrity have found their ways into the Buhari government.

For instance, it was alleged that Danbazzau was fired as chief of army staff in September 2010, for alleged corrupt practices in purchasing of arms. That allegation has remained in the public domain even as he was appointed minister by Buhari in 2015.

Similarly, Mohammed Barkindo, a former group general manager of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, was removed from office by the then acting President Goodluck Jonathan over an alleged corruption in April 2010. He had only been in office for about one year. Barkindo was appointed on a three-year-term as secretary general of the OPEC by Buhari, with effect from August 1, 2016.

Zakari Bui, an assistant commissioner of Police, who was accused and dismissed for aiding Kabiru Sokoto, Boko Haram kingpin, to escape from detention was allegedly reinstated and promoted by Buhari.

In the same manner Ahmed Gambo Saleh, registrar of the Supreme Court, who allegedly stole N2.2bn belonging to the apex court and was caught red handed and dismissed by he is now the secretary of the committee monitoring corruption trials.

As if those are not bad enough, Timipre Sylva, a former governor of Bayelsa State, who was accused of financial crimes while in government, is today a free man. Even about 46 houses seized from him as proceeds of his alleged crimes have been returned.

With those cases still fresh in the memory, Nigerians cannot be blamed for being skeptical about the direction of the Buhari’s fight against corruption.

Indeed, Maina’s saga stands to be a litmus test yet for the Buhari administration.

– Oct 27, 2017 @ 20:07 GMT |

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