August 5, 2020

As we debate the NDDC and Magu, let’s remember Abdulrasheed Maina

By Rotimi Fasan

The plethora of corruption sagas involving appointees of President Muhammadu Buhari continues to generate debate among Nigerians even through the Eid holidays.

This is as things should be. Rather than getting excited over and being distracted by the unimportant details of these sagas, Nigerians should constantly remind themselves that the issues raised by the corruption cases must not be swept under the carpet.

We must get to the root of these new cases and see them all to their logical conclusion. The problem with us is that we are no sooner exercised by one event involving both public and private citizens than we are distracted by another even while we are yet to know the outcome of the initial event.

Where, as often, the issue is about corruption or some other violation of our collective integrity the culprits know all they have to do is to stay the course and endure the immediate hullabaloo, their time out in the cold before reprieve comes by way of another distractive scandal.

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The problem is always about lack of follow-up which is an unflattering commentary on the Nigerian character to public issues, our propensity for collective amnesia.

Thus as we mulled and harangued one another over the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, and Niger-Delta Ministry, NDM, affairs; as we debated the corruption charge against erstwhile Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the thick air of corruption allegation swirling around Abubakar Malami, the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, we have probably not heard or forgotten that Abdulrasheed Maina.

He was a former chairman of the Pension Reform Task Team, PRTT; the man who turned pension savings, running into billions of naira of millions of Nigerians, into his family patrimony and absconded to the United Arab Emirate where he enjoyed a life befitting royalty, before returning home to take up a higher appointment for his criminal heist.

In the noisy euphoria of the Eid el Kabir celebrations or perhaps in the spirit of universal goodwill, as we are such forgiving people, Nigerians probably chose not to pay attention to the fact that Maina has been let out of jail to return to the coziness of his home after just nine months.

Abdulrasheed Maina was the gatekeeper, the reputable cashier who was supposed to keep safe but ended up helping himself to the till. He was supposed to help put in place a reformed pension scheme that would better the lot of our army of hapless pensioners.

But Mr. Maina saw this as the rare opportunity of a lifetime to fleece the very people whose interest he was appointed to protect. In league with others, he defrauded Nigerians to the tune of N24 billion and went around town in plain sight of his victims and scandalised Nigerians under the protective watch of heavily armed security agents.

Maina was only considered a person of interest for criminal prosecution after a near-national outcry and a public spat reminiscent of what we are again seeing among many of Buhari’s appointees, between Winifred Oyo, the then Head of Service of the Federation and Abba Kyari, the deceased former Chief of Staff to President Buhari.

That was how high Maina’s reach went – into the inner recesses of the presidency. A civil servant! During one of his court appearances, he showed up in a wheelchair and actually wanted the court under Justice Okon Abang to grant him reprieve on account of his staged ill-health. Like Olisa Metuh and Diezani Allison-Madueke, Maina checked himself in ill, wheelchair-bound, and armed with a doctor’s report, as he sat before Justice Okon Abang.

Professor Keme Ponbei can, therefore, be told to take a chill pill: Nigerians are well too familiar with his script. “Let’s not forget.

He, in cahoots with others, is alleged to have looted about N24 billion of pensioners’ funds. These are mostly senior citizens, old Nigerians whose life savings Maina and company decimated, sending them to their unhappy graves after decades of slavish labour.

Had they led one of the murderous groups that prowled the killing fields of Kigali at the height of the genocidal war in 1994, Maina and his collaborators could not have been more effective as mass murderers.” These were my words here in this space on Maina and his collaborators during his trial.

One hopes his nine months in jail is not being seen as sufficient sanction for the evil he perpetrated against Nigerians. And now he is out of jail, we must be constantly reminded that he has close to N24 billion in the worth of properties and money to return to Nigerians. He still has a lot to answer for.

Just as we are calling attention to Abdulrasheed Maina, we should not lose sight of the NDDC, the NDM, and Ibrahim Magu. The president himself had a word to share about the allegations of massive corruption against his appointees in recent times and their prosecution by relevant agencies such as the Justice Ayo Salami panel.

Buhari spoke during the Eid el Kabir festivities and he expressed disappointment that people he trusted abused the trust he had in them. The betrayal of trust could indeed be a painful thing. But in this instance, the matter could not just be quietly dismissed.

While a leader, either as president, governor, or what-not, ultimately takes responsibility for people they choose to work with, being the overall boss, they may not ordinarily be held personally liable for the action of their appointees.

But in the case of President Buhari, the situation is somewhat different. The reason being that the president more or less stood as guarantor or surety for his appointees.

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He all but vouched for them and Nigerians were again and again told to accept the fact that the president was free to and could only work with those he knows, people he could vouch for. And when many wondered why such appointees had to be mostly of a particular gender, religion, and from a particular part of the country, the response was still the same: the president can only work with people he knows.

Trust is good and central to human relationships and where it is lacking everything else loses its value. But even when we trust, we should watch.

To the extent that the president took a long time selecting his appointees and stood by them in a manner that most leaders would be hesitant to, to that extent must he bear responsibility for his choices and accept that he was wrong.

The good thing is that nobody has pointed an accusing finger at President Buhari himself even though nobody can as equally vouch for other members of his immediate and extended family.