The story of Alhaji Abdulrasheed Maina, the Chairman of the defunct Presidential Task Force on Pension Reforms, is like a tale straight out of a Hollywood movie. Like a Mario Puzo spellbinder, the plot is full of suspense, intrigues and surprises. As yet, the real life drama is still unfolding with dizzying speed and before the day runs out, this report may read like history as new developments may render it obsolete. In fact, the story is full of twists and turns but it actually started in 2010, when former President Goodluck Jonathan drafted Maina to clean up the corruption in pension system. In 2012 , the tables turned against Maina, when he was accused of embezzling pension funds. Vehemently, he had denied the allegation but the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission(EFCC) had dragged him to court on alleged Procurement Fraud and Obtaining by False Pretence. Maina, according to the charges, is allegedly complicit in the over N 2 billion Pensions Biometric Scam in the office of the Head of Civil Service of the Federation.
Disappears into thin air
Significantly, the pension Task Force boss became elusive as he never appeared in court to defend himself. In a bid to stop his arrest, Maina had approached the court, seeking an order perpetual injunction, restraining the EFCC from inviting, arresting or prosecuting him through a exparte motion dated February 14, 2013, pursuant to the fundamental human right enforcement rules 2009 and section 42 sub 3 of the 1999 constitution. Simultaneously, Maina was being chauffeur-driven with police escorts and was allegedly holing up in the presidential villa. Ironically, President Goodluck Jonathan ordered disciplinary action to be taken against Maina, following pressures from the National Assembly. Subsequently, he was dismissed from service for absconding from duty. In 2015, the anti graft agency had had declared Maina wanted and even secured an arrest warrant against him. Subsequently, the pension boss sneaked out of the country to the United Arab Emirate(UAE). Thereafter, nothing was heard about Maina until recently, when news broke that he had returned into the country, reinstated into service, deployed to the Ministry of Interior and even promoted to acting Director of Human Resources on October 23.
Claims and counter claims
After the expose, Nigerians were outraged by the brazen illegality of his return and the impunity of his reinstatement to service. Almost immediately, the Minister of Interior, Lt -Gen Abdulrahman Danbazau confirmed the resumption of Maina as an Acting Director, two days after the news broke out. However, he washed his hands off the entire process that led to his reinstatement . According to him, “Maina was posted few days ago to the Ministry of Interior by the Office of the Head Of Service, on an acting capacity to fill a vacancy created following the retirement of the Director heading the Human Resources Department in the ministry”. He added that ” for the avoidance of doubt, issues relating to discipline, employment, re- engagement ,posting, promotion and retirements of federal civil servants are the responsibility of the Federal Civil Service Commission and Office of Head of Service of the Federation”.
Significantly, the Head of Service, Mrs Winifred Eyo-Ita, denied the minister’s claim which linked her to Maina’s reinstatement. Speaking through her Assistant Director, Media Relations, Alhaji Mohammed Monga, she informed “the public that the reinstatement and posting of Alhaji Abdulrasheed Abdulahahi Maina never emanated from the office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation “. According to the statement, ‘’the purported reinstatement and posting by the office of the head of civil service of the federation is totally erroneous and misleading “.
Rather than shed light on the issue, the claim and counter-claim added fire to the anger of Nigerians.
Malami, Dambazzau aided his return
However, a series of alleged correspondences between the Ministry of interior, Ministry of Justice Abubakar Malami and the Head of Service, suggest that Dambazzau and the nation’s Chief Law officer might have aided the process that exonerated, reinstated and promoted Maina to Acting Director at the Ministry of Interior.
A letter signed by one Mustapha Suleiman dated September 17, 2017 on behalf of the Chairman of Federal Civil Service Commission (FCSC), made a strong case for Maina’s recall. Malami, according to the letter, had requested the FCSC “to give consequential effect to the judgement that voided the warrant of arrest issued against A.A Maina, which formed the basis for the query and his eventual dismissal “. Subsequently ,the FCSC deliberated on the Attorney General’s letter and requested the Office of the Head of Civil Service of the Federation (OHCSF), “to advise the permanent Secretary ministry of interior to consider the AGF’s letter, the officer’s case and make appropriate recommendation to the commission. ‘’ Reports indicated that “the OHCSF accordingly advised ministry of interior to consider the matter”. Thereafter, the ministry’s Senior Staff Committee deliberated on the issue and recommended Maina’s reinstatement into the service as a Director.
Afterwards, OHCSF forwarded the recommendations of the Ministry of Interior’s Senior Staff Committee to FCSC for necessary action. The FCSC then approved Maina’s reinstatement, according to the leaked correspondences.
Buhari weighs in
Probably concerned by the level of criticisms that greeted Maina’s reinstatement and the embarrassment that trailed the action, President Muhammadu Buhari had ordered the immediate sack of Maina from the federal civil service last Monday. Simultaneously, he directed the Head of Service of the Federation to submit a full report surrounding Maina’s reinstatement, promotion and posting to the Ministry of Interior, to the office of his Chief of Staff, Malam Abba Kyari that same day.
The president’s Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr Femi Adesina who broke the news of Maina’s sack, said that Mrs Eyo-Ita had already complied with Buhari’s directive.
Lack of inter agency cooperation
Speaking to Blueprint, elder statesman Alhaji Tanko Yakasai said that the Maina saga has shown lack of coordination amongst security agencies. EFCC declared Maina wanted and the commission even issued a warrant of his arrest, according to EFCC, the spokesman Wilson Uwujaren, ” wherever in the world”. But the said fugitive entered the country almost without notice, Yakasai lamented. In addition, the Maina story also shows the security lapse in the country. The question on most lips is, how did the alleged culprit sneak to UAE without being arrested? More so, reports indicated that Maina was protected by the operatives of State Security Service (SSS) and the police even when his name is on the wanted list of the EFCC. Similarly, Maina was allegedly given cover at the presidential villa by former president Goodluck Jonathan when an arrest warrant was issued against him .
In addition, the claim by the Nigerian Immigration service (NIS) that it did not get any official notice for Maina’s arrest , and that it was unaware of his exist from the country and re-entry, further exposed the lack of collaboration among relevant government institutions towards achieving a common goal. According to NIS, the service merely read about the Maina’s arrest warrant on the pages of newspapers, just like other Nigerians. NIS spokes man , Mr James Sunday feigned Ignorance on how the fugitive former pension boss came into the country, in spite of INTERPOL’s international warrant for his arrest .
According to Mr Sunday, ‘’the controller general of Immigration would have acted promptly on it if such order was ever communicated to the service; when such orders are given, our officials act promptly and such wanted individuals will hardly escape”. The spokesman however said that fugitives can escape ‘’ if they use any of the several illegal entry and exist points which are not manned by immigration officials” .
APC, PDP trade blames
As expected, there was a war of words between the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) over the Maina saga. Specifically, the verbal warfare was triggered by the PDP which accused APC of complicity. In a press statement, PDP said it was not surprised that the present administration reinstated Maina, describing them as birds of the same feather. For this reason, ” we are not too shocked by the steps taken by the administration of APC in reinstating a supposed criminal and fugitive ,Abdulrasheed Maina to the office instead of getting him arrested. Birds of a feather flocked together”, the opposition party had declared.
In a swift reaction , APC’s National publicity Secretary, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi, described Maina as one of the toxic elements that was left behind by the opposition PDP. In a statement, the spokesman reminded PDP of Maina’s original sin. The fugitive, according to him, ‘’ has been accused of one of the most monumental act of corruption in the nation’s history but that was only possible under a PDP government. ‘’
Similarly, Maina’s family rose to their son’s defence in Kaduna, saying he is not a thief but a Messiah who was engaged by the Buhari administration to cleanse the Nigerian pension scheme. Family spokesman Aliyu Maina also alleged that it was the APC-led administration that facilitated Maina’s return, ” to assist its change agenda “. Aliyu blamed his brother’s travails on a cabal which is bent on tarnishing the image of Maina in the media and that the family is in possession of facts that will expose its motive .
Presidency denies claim
However, the presidency has denied Aliyu’s claims, especially that the government invited Maina to help in the change agenda. Garba Shehu, a presidential spokesman, had described the claim as ridiculous and ‘’ a freshly minted falsehood. Nobody should believe that”. The spokesman advised Nigerians to ignore Aliyu’s statemen.
Senate, House set up committees
Significantly, the senate has directed its Committee on Public Service and Establishment to investigate how Maina, who was on security watch list, got into the country after absconding for some years without being arrested. In addition, the Senate also ordered an investigation in the circumstances leading to Maina’s reinstatement into the public service and promotion to the level of a Director. In addition, Chairmen of Human Rights and Legal Matters, Financial Crimes and anti corruption, and Internal Affairs were co-opted into the investigative committee.
Similarly, the House of Representative also set up an ad-hoc committee to investigate the matter and to recommend strong sanctions against any person or persons implicated in the scandal.
Attorney General Malami keeps mum
On his part, the Minister of Justice has assured Nigerians that they will know the truth when he obtains clearance from the president to appear before the senate. ” I believe that Nigerians are entitled to know the truth in the entire saga, and I am ready to speak directly to them when I appear before the senate. I will not however talk until I get clearance from my principal”. The minister also denied any wrong doing in facilitating Maina’s return, describing the whole issue as a “grand conspiracy ” and that his actions didn’t breach public service interest.
However, there are genuine concerns that the planned probe by the National Assembly might not yield any positive result going by precedents. Like previous probes, recommendations will be made but they will not be implemented . According to Malam Adamu Shehu, a Kaduna-based public affairs commentator, ‘’this is not the first time that the presidency will institute probes but the findings will not be made public.’’ He pointed out that the HOS has sent her report on how Maina was reinstated for close to a week now but nothing has been heard about it. ‘’Like the Babachir report, this one will also be left on the shelves to gather dust,’’ he lamented.
Where is Maina ?
Surprisingly, Maina is still elusive as even his counsel, Barrister Esther Uzoma does not know where he is. Last Friday, Blueprint Weekend called her and she said ‘’no comment.’’ . However, Maina spoke last Tuesday, via telephone, to an Abuja-based Human Rights Radio, on its popular programme, ” Brekete family ” . The fugitive said he was ready to spill the beans with documents on the pension fraud in the police and the civil service . He added that he was ready to come out of hiding if the president would provide him with adequate security. In 2015, on the same programme, Maina had earlier stated he had recovered N282 billion and handed it over the Ministry of Finance and that the then Minister of Finance, Mrs Ngozi Okojo-Iweala had deposited the money in the Central Bank of Nigeria.
However, as at last Friday, Buhari had neither given Maina the security that he had requested nor has the former pension boss come out of hiding. Reports indicate that Maina has fled to Niamey, the Niger Republic capital. In his absence, However, supporters have been ‘’telling his own side of the story on social media’’ but Maina is still at large . Meanwhile, EFCC operatives have been sealing his properties, starting from last Monday. In particular, officials of the anti graft agency sealed a $2 million mansion at Jabi district of Abuja. The next day, they descended in Kaduna and marked six properties allegedly belonging to the elusive Maina. Certainly, the last has not been heard of this story with no end in sight.