Mainagate: How long before President Buhari has to speak?

by Alexander O. Onukwue

Five weeks after the announcement of the disengagement of Abdulrasheed Maina from the civil service, the nation is no closer to knowing how the scandal actually started in the first place, particularly who did what and why.

The hearings of the House of Representatives ad hoc Committee have so far produced denials and strenuous attempts by the invited Government officials to avoid self-incrimination. The Attorney-General, Abubakar Malami, has denied culpability as the architect of the letters directing Maina’s reinstatement at the Ministry of Interior. The Head of Service of the Federation, Winifred Oyo-Ita, has held firm on her stance that it was neither her choice nor her assent which brought Mr Maina back to the civil service. Finance Minister Kemi Adeosun has explained that Maina did not receive salaries since 2013 and trivial matters about Maina’s American citizenship have also taken up airtime.

If this was happening in America, Maina’s ‘other country’, it probably would be called, so far, a waste of tax payers’ money. National Assembly hearings have historically generated media buzz in Nigeria but the aftermath in terms of action and consequences for the indicted usually leave much to be desired.

The hearings will arguably produce the greatest attention if Mr Maina himself were to be allowed to testify. He has asked for this, appealing directly to President Buhari to grant him the opportunity to tell him what nobody else would. Maina complained, in the video interview released this week, that he had not had the opportunity to sit down with the president, a strange claim that has made Buhari not as innocent and oblivious of the facts of the matter as he was painted to be by State House media men after the news of the scandal broke.

The former pension reforms administrator also did mention that it was Buhari who asked that Malami begin talks with him (Maina) towards a return to the country and reinstatement.

While acknowledging the adage that a drowning man would clutch at anything to save himself, there is no reason not to consider Mr Maina’s claim as bearing some possibility of being true.

Eventually, someone in the administration would have to take responsibility for the mishap and admit that grave mistakes have been made. The admission by the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Interior that he approved Maina’s reinstatement is not the grand-scheme admission, insofar as he did not order it in the first place. The upper echelons of the Executive, where the idea was borne and the process initiated, is the place where the duty lies for taking responsibility.

President Buhari’s hands-off approach and restricted use of direct communication to the public means he will keep himself away from the scandal as much as possible. It may have been easier to say something were the 2019 elections not about 60 weeks away. The tactic of the presidential advisers would be to say as little as possible on the matter, hoping it dies naturally and ceases to be of interest to the public.

Attending the meetings of the AU provide a welcome distraction for him at the moment, while also joining the flow of congratulations to Wizkid and David O to buy goodwill.

But Mainagate, as long as it remains open, will remain a scandal capable of imploding on this Government. With every revelation made by Maina in which the President is mentioned, his credibility diminishes and his future jeopardized. Adding to the already eroding confidence of the public on the fight against corruption, the Maina scandal, if not owned by the president as a mistake a la Ronald Reagan’s ‘Iran Contra’ affair, could be further evidence that Nigerian institutions are nothing but what a President want them to be.

“Error of judgment”, “A product of hasty conclusions” or “Inaccuracy in the considerations of the terms of service”, the ability of those at the top to come forward with a settling explanation for Maina’s reinstatement could save us all the distraction and cost of National Assembly hearings which may eventually produce nothing. There are many important matters to discuss, such as the evaluation of the 2017 Budget and passing the one for 2018. Insecurity in the country and the Libyan migrant crisis are other issues deserving of serious intervention at this time.

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