The appearing, disappearing, and reappearing of a former Chairman of the Nigerian Pension Reform Task Team, Abdulrashid Abdullahi Maina, has hitherto cast a shadow of doubt on the administration’s anti-corruption fight. However, with his recent arrest, perhaps, the story might begin to change. Shola Oyeyipo writes
In the record of corrupt public officials in Nigeria, no other person has earned the reputation of a former Chairman of the Nigerian Pension Reform Task Team (PRTT), Abdulrashid Abdullahi Maina. In his bid to evade justice for the alleged multi-billion-naira sleaze for which he had been indicted and charged to court on multiple counts, he easily absconds to avoid being brought to book.
Perhaps, now that the Nigeria Police has extradited him to Nigeria from Niamey, Niger Republic on Thursday, December 3, 2020, he could face the wrath of the law for his brazen act of corruption, a situation he obviously does not want.
The Federal High Court, Abuja, was compelled to declare him wanted after he jumped bail and a sitting federal lawmaker, Senator Ali Ndume (Borno, APC), who stood surety for him in the ongoing criminal trial was arrested and remanded in Kuje Prison, Abuja, for a few days.
The former pension reform boss is facing a 12-count money laundering charge filed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). He is believed to have used his firm to launder N2bn and invested part of it to buy choice properties in Abuja.
Earlier, EFCC investigation showed that Maina, who was the chairman of the pension reform task force during the era of former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, perfected the alleged diversion of billions of naira, from the pension fund through the office of the Head of Service, between 2010 and 2014 and a lot of Nigerians have waited to see him prosecuted for his corrupt acts to no avail.
In 2012, when his probe reached its crescendo, Maina gave various excuses such as ill health and tight schedule, and as such, refused to appear before the Senate Joint Committee on Establishment, Public Service and Local Government Administration, charged by the Senate to look into pension administration from 1999.
Miffed by his insubordination, the lawmaker committee tasked the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) at that time, Mohammed Abubakar, to ensure that he attended its next sitting. But he still didn’t show up, compelling the Senate to issue a warrant for his arrest. Instead of defending himself, Maina left Nigeria for Dubai.
He was away in Dubai for about four years and from there he released a series of videos, where he maintained that he did nothing wrong. He claimed that he was being persecuted and that his life was being threatened, because he helped the country recover billions of naira of public funds.
But in a most surprising move that cast aspersions on President Buhari’s anti-corruption crusade, Maina, a former Assistant Director in the Nigerian civil service, sneaked back into the country, earned himself a recall into the civil service, and was promoted to the position of Director in the Ministry of Interior.
The former Minister for Interior, Abdulrahman Dambazau; President Buhari’s cousin, Mamman Daura; and the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN), were fingered in the move that created widespread disapproval among Nigerians.
Following public outcry, President Buhari ordered his disengagement from the civil service, because he had been dismissed in 2013 for absconding from duty following a recommendation by the office of the Head of Service.
The incident embarrassed the Buhari government and caused friction between the late Chief of Staff to President Buhari, Abba Kyari, and then Head of Service, Winifred Oyo-Ita.
Oyo-Ita told the House of Representatives committee investigating his disappearance, reappearance, and reinstatement in the federal civil service that the letters came from the office of the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) to the Federal Civil Service Commission (FCSC), ordering his reinstatement. She said she was surprised to hear about Maina’s reinstatement.
In his usual character, he went on the run again and at a point when the EFCC released the names of 76 persons on its list of wanted persons, Maina ranked five among the seven most wanted, going by the nature of their crimes in the country, the size of their alleged loot and the profile of such persons.
He came after the former militant leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), Government Ekpemupolo aka Tompolo wanted for alleged diversion of the sum of N34,000,000,000; an Italian who was declared wanted in connection with a case of obtaining money to the tune of N989, 288,400 under false pretense, stealing and money laundering, Mariano Albino; Jerry Ogbonna Obike Philip, who allegedly withdrew a sum of N45 million erroneously deposited in his account and a Lebanese, Fady El-Daher.
Two years after the controversial reinstatement into the civil service despite a mountain of corruption allegations, he was however arrested by operatives of the DSS at a hotel in Abuja in October 2019, after allegedly sneaking into the country from Dubai. His son, his 20-year-old son, Faisal, was also arrested, and were both handed over to the EFCC for prosecution.
He was eventually arraigned before Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court, Abuja, on October 25 with his son. Though the EFCC kicked against his bail on the ground that he might escape, in July 2020 Maina was released from the Kuje Correctional Centre, where he was incarcerated for nine months.
As feared by the EFCC, Maina jumped bail in September, and in November, the court revoked his bail, and that of his son, and ordered their arrest. Justice Abang ordered a bench warrant for his arrest after the EFCC Lawyer, Mohammed Abubakar, told the court that the former pension boss, who got bail in the sum of N500 million with a serving Senator as surety, had jumped bail and fled to neighboring Niger.
The court had commenced trial in his absence. He last attended the court on July 2, 2020, during the cross-examination of the sixth prosecution witness by his legal team and didn’t attend subsequent proceedings since September 29, 2020, making the judge declare that he had jumped in his November 18, 2020 ruling. That was when he ordered Senator Ndume remanded pending when he produced the fleeing defendant in court or pay the N500m bail bond to the federal government.
A Federal High Court in Abuja also gave a House of Representatives member, Umar Sani Dan Galadima (Kaura Namoda Federal Constituency, Zamfara State), who stood surety for his son, Faisal, up till December 4, 2020, to produce him. He is also considered to have jumped bail.
The good news, however, is that Maina was traced to Niger’s capital, Niamey, and arrested on November 30, 2020, through the collaborative efforts of the operatives of the Nigeria Police Force led by CP Garba Umar, INTERPOL NCB, Abuja, and their Nigerien counterpart.
Now that he is back in the police net, it is best that justice is served once and for all in this lingering case, because the treatment so far extended to Maina by the Buhari, administration leaves much to be desired. One can only imagine how this was a member of the opposition party.
Besides, one can only but wonder why the same security apparatus that dealt ruthlessly with former National Security Adviser to the former president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, Colonel Sambo Dasuki, the like of former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen, and several other perceived enemies of this administration, is finding it difficult to make Maina face justice. Curiously, this has continued to question the anti-corruption crusade is not reliable.