by ‘Fisayo Soyombo
Abdulrasheed Maina cannot hide forever. Neither he nor the people who helped him circumvent justice in 2013 gave this a thought when he escaped to Dubai. But as he must have found out already, retreating from justice is big damage to self rather than the law; and no matter the wealth of cash, power, connection and legal arsenal at anyone’s disposal, clean hands remain the only guarantee of freedom.
Maina — once the manna from heaven
Although he was already Director of the Customs, Immigration, Prisons Pension Office (CIPPO), Maina was in obscurity until he was plucked in 2010 by Steve Oronsaye, then Head of Service of the Federation, to chair the Pension Reform Task Team (PRTT) after a verification exercise in June of the same year revealed the biggest fraud, till date, in the federal civil service. In that position, he helped uncover the looting of more than N100billion pension funds at the pension offices of the Head of Service and the Police. From then on, Maina has gone against everything he seemed to have stood for.
Sani Teidi Shuaibu, former Director, Pension Unit, Head of Service of the Federation (HOSF); Phina Ukamaka Chidi, his deputy; Aliyu Bello, Personal Assistant to Shuaibu; Abdul Mohammed, Assistant Cash Pay Officer, HOSF Pension Unit; and some 30 other civil servants worked in cahoots to loot more than N100billion. To do this, they paid millions of naira to ghost pensioners by recalling the names of dead workers and opening fictitious accounts; they recruited their friends, and friends of their friends as pensioners; conducted fictitious verification exercises for which N400m was spent monthly; awarded multibillion-naira fictitious contracts to companies and individuals who took a cut and returned the rest; and registered fake companies of their own to which they paid billions for doing nothing.
In that moment, Maina was just like the Biblical manna from heaven. His team found the looters and handed them over to anti-corruption agents and government prosecutors. The success of the team, many people agree, was due largely to Maina’s brilliance. But brilliance was soon tinged with greed, and Maina became obsessed with enriching himself. For starters, he duplicated the thieving model of the looters he helped government to apprehend. It is still hard to imagine how he exposed others yet thought he would never be.
Guilty in the eyes of the public
Till date, Maina is innocent in the eyes of the law. But that’s where it ends. In the court of the public, his guilt is a long-established fact — because of his public conduct in the aftermath of the allegations against him.
On numerous occasions at the peak of his probe by the legislature in 2012, Maina concocted all manners of excuses, including ill-health and tight schedule, to avoid appearing before the Senate Joint Committee on Establishment, Public Service and Local Government Administration, mandated by the upper chamber to investigate pension administration dating back to 1999. After reaching its wits end, the committee mandated Mohammed Abubakar, the then Inspector-General of Police (IGP), to compel him to attend its next sitting. Not even the IGP could bring Maina to the Senate, leaving the Senate with no other option but to issue a warrant of arrest against him. Rather than defend himself, Maina travelled to Dubai the following year, never to make a return (although he has sneaked in and out of the country a few times). Since becoming the fugitive that he now is, Maina has been declared wanted by the EFCC and INTERPOL.
A shocking rehabilitation
Despite spending almost all of the last four years in Dubai, Maina, formerly an Assistant Director in the civil service, has managed to earn himself a recall — and unbelievably — a promotion — to the post of Director at the Ministry of Interior. It was supposed to be a secret affair until Premium Times found out. There is a plan to rehabilitate Maina; and those who should know have named Abdulrahman Dambazau, Minister for Interior; Mamman Daura, President Muhammadu Buhari’s cousin and Abubakar Malami, Attorney-General of the Federation, as the protagonists. It is a shame that this is happening in an administration that sold the anti-corruption project to the electorate in 2015. How, then, is Buhari better than Goodluck Jonathan, who granted state pardon to convicted looter Diepreye Alamieyeseigha?
Buhari’s hard-line supporters have argued that the appointment must have happened without his knowledge, but even that is big indictment. If such controversial figure is made Director and the President is unaware, then he is a spectator in his own government! Dambazau, the HoS and the Federal Civil Service Commission could only have colluded to sneak Maina into the Interior Ministry because they knew they could get away with it. And, if, two days after Maina’s promotion became a media item, the President is still unaware, or is aware but hasn’t taken action, Nigerians can count themselves victims of political fraud by President Buhari and the APC.
From grace to grass
Most corruption cases in public offices are black-and-white affairs. The culprits are usually people who deliberately set out to amass wealth for themselves at the expense of the people. If they enjoy some public goodwill, it is because of the extent to which they have used their ill-gotten wealth in ingratiating themselves with the people. It is usually the case of darkness embarking on an inordinate search for light. Rarely does it happen, as it has with Maina, that light drowns its own luminousness with darkness.
That Maina began so well as an anti-corruption crusader only to end up the way he has, should worry anyone genuinely interested in this country’s progress. If policemen are found engaging in armed robbery, it would be hard to sell the argument that we aren’t all thieves. The Maina example makes it more difficult for the few conscientious individuals in power to earn public trust. In fact, the incorruptible among us could start wondering if they would someday be consumed by the very ill they’re fighting. The peculiarity of this case to the mental setup of this government’s anti-corruption war is one reason the President must invalidate this promotion. Buhari cannot afford to handle Maina in the same manner he did Babachir Lawal. Nigerians are watching, and counting.
Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija
Soyombo, Editor of the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR), tweets @fisayosoyombo