By Soni Daniel, Regional Editor, North
Abuja—The insistence of the Senate that the Chairman of the Pension Reform Task Team, Abdulrasheed Maina, should appear before them and answer questions on the way he has been managing pension funds, may soon spark a row between them and the Presidency.
Vanguard gathered from reliable sources that the Presidency was unhappy with the manner the PRTT was being treated by the lawmakers and was considering appropriate response to the treatment being meted to the pension officer.
One source said that the Presidency had been made to believe that Maina was the saviour to rescue the pension system from fraudsters, having been presented to him by the Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, as one he could rely upon to salvage the decay in pension administration scheme.
Jonathan’s interest in Maina
The source said that Jonathan took a special interest in Maina from the day the finance minister presented him to the President and presented a cheque of N74 billion, which Maina reportedly recovered from pension thieves.
It was gathered that arising from the way the man was presented to the President, Jonathan has virtually adopted Maina as one of his trusted aides and given whatever he has requested for to enable him to ‘’shut out” pension thieves from the system.
“I can tell that the kind of security built around Maina by the Presidency is so formidable that not many top-ranking officials of this administration can boast of. Even the number of sophisticated gun-wielding officers and men detailed to protect Maina alone, is intimidating enough to scare his opponents,” the source noted.
It was learnt that when the lawmakers started to ‘’harass” Maina again this year, an influential minister and close confidant of President Jonathan took him to the President to offer necessary support to be able to ward off the bluff of the politicians.
Maina’s entourage is largely made up of heavily armed Department of State Security Service, DSS, Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, and Nigerian Prison Service, NPS, snipers, who do not hide their lethal weapons as they move around with him.
Although Maina has won the heart of the President and that of the finance minister, the Senate is yet to be convinced that the man has any value to add to the pension system in Nigeria, going by the report submitted to it by its Pension and Establishment Committee, which investigated the operations of the PRTT’s handling of various pension accounts.
The Senator Alloysious Etok-led committee, had reported that Maina did not recover any pension funds as claimed but merely mopped up pension funds from banks and fraudulently transferred same to his preferred banks for pecuniary reasons.
Maina accused of misappropriating N6 billion
The committee accused Maina and his team of misappropriating over N6 billion mopped up from banks without any approval and ordered him to appear before them and answer questions on the amount expended.
However, Maina has consistently been running away from the Senate, accusing the Senators of bias and attempt to harass and intimidate him.
In a bid to escape the ‘harassment’of the lawmakers, Maina on Wednesday filed a suit at the High Court in Abuja, asking to be paid N1.5 billion compensation for being declared wanted by the Senate and Inspector General of Police.
It was learnt that the decision by the embattled pension task force boss to resort to legal challenge against the Senate and Inspector General of Police was spearheaded by senior government officials who have also assembled a formidable team of legal luminaries to confront the lawmakers and stall their bid to bring him to accounts for his operations at the pension office.
The aim of the unprecedented legal affront by a director in the federal civil service against the federal legislature, it was gathered, is to secure a long-lasting injunction similar to what Justice Buba Ibrahim of the then Federal High Court, Port Harcourt granted former Rivers State governor, Peter Odili, against the Economic And Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, from investigating the activities Of the governor while in office. EFCC has not been able to vacate the historic injunction till date.
Maina’s backers worries Senate
But the Senate is worried that those backing Maina to ridicule the National Assembly of the Federal Republic of Nigeria would live to regret their actions.
The lawmakers are worried that the undue power and attention given to the PRTT had made him to see himself as being too powerful and above the laws of the land.
Co-chairman of the Senate Joint Committee on Public Service and Establishment and State and Local Government Administration investigating the alleged pension fraud, Senator Kabiru Gaya, said: “We are really worried that an individual can be proving to be above the law of the land. We asked the police to arrest Maina for refusing to appear before us on several occasions.
” The Senate president, who is the number three citizen in this country, issued a warrant of arrest and we learnt that the police declared him wanted.
“But the following day, Maina addressed a press conference that he was around and that the police could arrest him if they wanted to do so.
”But up till now, we have not heard of his arrest. How can an ordinary assistant director be so powerful that when we asked the permanent secretary to re-assign him to another position, he (the permanent secretary) said he could not re-assign him to another position unless he was cleared from the above. Where is the above?”