The Abdulrasheed Maina story is a mosaic of sorts. Quite colourful. Quite confounding. It is like the different parts of a jigsaw puzzle. It will be a daunting task for President Muhammadu Buhari to disentangle it but it is a task he must perform if he wants to retrieve his anti-corruption campaign or what is left of it, from those who wish to bury it.
From the pictures of him I see in the newspapers Mr. Maina is a huge and handsome man who wears nice, designer suits. He looks more like a banker or a rich corporate executive working for an oil company, a telecommunications company or for Aliko Dangote. I don’t know how he does it, but money shows on the body of this former Assistant Director of Nigeria’s poorly paid civil service. Well, in spite of their poor pay senior civil servants can live big because they have a gilt-edged opportunity to put ghosts on the payroll. That is a story for another day.
Mr. Maina was assigned the heavy responsibility of cleaning up the perceived corruption mess at the Pensions office. He was appointed chairman of the Presidential Task Force on Pension Reforms by President Goodluck Jonathan in 2010. Barely three years into his new task, word seeped out that the man was helping himself to the Pension Funds. The figures thrown around ranged from N2 billion to N100 billion. If this allegation was true (and I am not saying it was true), it meant that the reformer would succeed in deforming the retirees instead of rehabilitating them.
The Senate set up a committee to investigate the allegations. They summoned him but he ignored them. They issued a bench warrant for his arrest. He was not arrested. He fled the country and sought sanctuary in Dubai, the playground of Nigeria’s high profile thieves. He was dismissed by the Jonathan administration for absenteeism on February 21, 2013. The Police declared him wanted. EFCC declared him wanted in July 2015 and kept his name on its wanted persons’ list. In February 2016 the International Police Organisation also declared him wanted. The EFCC charged him to court for alleged stealing of about N2 billion along with three other persons. The others appeared at the Federal High Court, Abuja. Maina did not. He went missing.
In the above scenario there were five institutions involved in the attempt to bring this man to account for his deeds or misdeeds: Senate, Police, EFCC, Federal High Court and Interpol. All of these efforts failed. The man must be the cat with nine lives. He simply disappeared into thin air, watched events in Nigeria and made appropriate contacts with his co-conspirators. He knows Nigeria well having been a civil servant for years and watched the gerrymandering that goes on within Nigeria’s corrupt system. He plotted his way back into the country and according to reports he has been around for about six months. I cannot say through which route he got in: Abuja airport, Cotonou route or NADECO route. But he got in.
According to reports he has been given royal treatment since he got in: police escort, siren and all the other trappings of bigmanism in Nigeria. Then according to the script, this dismissed Assistant Director on grade level 14 was suddenly recalled to service, catapulted to Acting Director on grade level 16. The icing on the cake was that he was paid the sum of N22 million covering the period he was absent from duty. We haven’t been told but apparently they must have apologised to him for the discomfort caused him. They may have also told him that it will never happen again. The conspirators thought they could cover the sun with their palms but the sun is too big for their tiny palms.
The story got out. Hell broke loose and Buhari surprisingly got so angry that he took decisive action. He asked for the man to be sacked and for all the persons hiding behind Maina’s finger to step forward and tell their story. The hope is that he would use this episode to revive his fading anti-corruption crusade. This would be an appropriate time to deal with the cases of the suspended Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Babachir Lawal and Ambassador Ayo Oke, the former Director General of the NIA. Those two cases are an unswallowable bone in Buhari’s throat, and a question mark on his anti-corruption agenda.
Maina seems to have perfected a four-episode routine in the choreography of disappearing and reappearing. First he appeared on the scene. His family calls him a messiah, a Moses. Other people called him a fraudster, a Judas. Then he disappeared for a few years. And he reappeared with a bang and when he could not withstand the noise pollution he disappeared again. This is not his swan song. If I know this country well, it will rehabilitate him, turban him and roll out the red carpet for him in 2019. This man seems to have an awesome conglomerate of power. It is not that he has the organisational genius of a field marshall to be able to perform the magic of his safe return and quick promotion. It is simply the power of his money, the ability for money to make mountains in Nigeria into molehills. To even conceive of the plot and work out its fine details from conception to execution means that all those involved have the confidence level of a lion. They fear nothing. They fear nobody. Even Buhari’s reputation does not intimidate them. That is how dangerously off track the anti-corruption campaign is right now.
On the Maina matter it is not even the huge corruption involved in its execution that worries me. It is the fact that we do not have a security service that can be trusted to stand guard over our country. If you try to answer the following questions you will get my message (a) How did Maina get into the country when our entry points are manned by multiple security outfits. These security outfits know that he had been declared wanted by the Police, Senate, EFCC and Interpol. (b) How did he apply for Police detail, by himself or by proxy? From here or from abroad? And who authorized the police detail for him? (c) Where did he lodge for six months before he resurfaced in the Director’s office at the Ministry of Interior that nobody in the security service could detect? (d) This man was on the EFCC’s wanted people’s list. Why didn’t the EFCC seize his properties before now or is that Maina just brought back the properties from Dubai, and the EFCC then made these sudden discoveries. Did the man put these properties in his pocket when he fled to Dubai?
The staple of daily conversation in the country now is not merely what has happened but what will happen next. The question is: will Buhari take the bull by the horns and deal with the culprits expeditiously or will he sit on the report? That is the anxiety of common people like us who are invariably the victims of this high level of impunity and the audacity that goes with it. The entire Maina episode is the very definition of impunity. That the entire coup was eminently successful puts us all to shame and makes a laughing stock of our security agencies.
There has been a rectangular toeing and froing among four parties in this matter: Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Minister of Interior, Head of the Civil Service and Civil Service Commission. They, one and all, have some explaining to do. Maina’s family have claimed that he was invited by the Federal Government. Some people may think that is a credible story because of his almost seamless transition from exile into a higher office. But they must be asked to give more details of their assertion. Maina is said to be ready to open a can of worms on the matter. Nigerians are ready, I believe, to look into the can and see what size of worms are in it. If the worms are of the size we have already seen we will not be shocked. If they are bigger, that will increase Buhari’s headache. Unfortunately the Aso Rock Clinic being short of even basic analgelsics will not be able to heal him of that headache. There are some bitter, bitchy remarks and a lot of buck-passing among the parties in this matter. Nigerians are ready to hear all the sides and what the President, looking at all the presentations, has found. There ought to be a sense of urgency about the investigation especially the corruption and the security lapses. Nigerians are living right now in a paroxysm of fear, fear of the stark insecurity state of the country as exposed by this matter. Buhari’s prompt decision will dispel the fear.