Nigeria and the Maina case
The unfolding drama over the exploits of former chairman of the Presidential Task Force on Pensions Reforms, Abdullahi Abdulrasheed Maina, and the revelation of notorious corruption within the precincts of power must have pushed the anti-corruption machinery of President Muhammadu Buhari to its wits end. In its classic demonstration of impunity, cronyism and ridiculous government patronage, the Maina incident has become the latest test of this administration’s commitment to fighting corruption.
Appointed in 2010 by the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan to sanitize the corruption-ridden pension office, Maina, three years later, was alleged to have misappropriated pension funds to the tune of billions. A senate committee set up to investigate the allegation, summoned him, and issued a bench warrant for his arrest, but to no avail. Whilst it is a fact that no court conclusively prosecuted him, the charge of impropriety seemed to have weighed on him hence he fled the country, and was thus dismissed from the civil service and declared wanted.
Despite the fact that law enforcement institutions such as the Senate, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the Federal High Court, the Nigerian Police and the Interpol had been on Maina’s trail for years to cause him to defend himself, Maina, surprisingly, still found his way into the civil service, got his job back with accelerated promotion from level 14 to level 16. He also got a backlog of salary arrears to the tune of N22 million paid by the government. Maina must have been heading towards becoming a hero of sorts before the anti-climax of this drama. News about this impunity got to the public and the media became the catalyst that caused the administration to enforce the law.
While his temerity and swagger has given a peculiar twist to this impunity, the story is getting twisted by the day. In reaction to his alleged witch-hunt, Maina has threatened to open a can of worms and implicate what he called a cabal in the Muhammadu Buhari government. Now viewed as a persecuted prophet of sorts by his family, Maina is claiming to be vilified by the cabal for putting a halt to indiscriminate fraudulent withdrawal of huge sums from both the Nigerian Pensions Board and the Nigeria Police Pensions Board.
Notwithstanding, the seamlessness with which Maina carried out his exploits shows the level of assistance offered him at the top echelon of power. Three possible events give credence to this position. First, as informed persons are aware, government establishment is a multi-layered bureaucracy. For Maina to have successfully played out his script the way he did suggests that he must have traversed all these layers. Besides, this drama has spanned over seven years, meaning that it involves the government of former President Goodluck Jonathan and Muhammadu Buhari. And then, Maina is not alone, for in all this, the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Minister of Interior, Head of the Civil Service and the Federal Civil Service Commission, have been complicit. Little wonder he has threatened to open a can of worms.
That he is not alone would be appreciated within the context of the questions raised by this whole saga: How did Maina get into the country when the nation’s entry points are manned by multiple security outfits which all know that he had been declared wanted by the Police, Senate, EFCC and Interpol. 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? Where did he stay for six months before he resurfaced in the Director’s office at the Ministry of Interior that nobody in the security service could detect? This man was on the EFCC’s wanted people’s list. Why didn’t the EFCC seize his houses before now or is it 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?
When Nigerians begin to attempt answering these questions, they would wonder whether they are not doomed if these are the kind of people fighting corruption.
Viewed with awe by those who admire him for his dexterous combination of audacity, impunity and flamboyance, loathed by genuinely scrupulous traditional moralists who relish change, and demonized by a multitude of pretentious rabble-rousers, Maina exemplifies the character of the typical Nigerian: one who is neither afraid nor ashamed of being a living contradiction; one who is at once a reformer and a deformer; one who flaunts impunity like a lifestyle, yet runs to the paternalistic arm of the law in order to obviate the wrath of the law; one who treats the government with disdain, yet seeks to remain part of that government. Maina is the very representation of the emboldened Nigerian conceit that emerges from the cesspool of a weakening, spent, pretentious and apparently toothless anti-corruption machinery.
In circumstances such as this, there is usually a predilection to trade blame along party lines or invoke primordial sentiments that are unknown to the public. However, concerning this moral upset which the Maina case has caused the state and the infringement it has had on the collective sensibilities of Nigerians, President Muhammadu Buhari must have the greatest share of culpability. Apart from the fact that the buck stops at his desk, this is not the first time supposedly ‘powerful’ public office holders would carry on with sickening impunity amidst the watchful eyes of law enforcement agencies. Maina, in all the celebration and grandiloquence of his tactful impunity, had his charge of impropriety sufficiently publicized for the president to be aware earlier than when he did.
It has been argued in certain quarters that Maina, being an Assistant Director in the ministry, would ordinarily not attract the attention of the President. In other words, the President might not have been aware of the matter. However, if truly he did not know, then Nigerians should shudder at his ignorance of such magnitude of corruption. Sadly too, within the inner power circle of this administration, the same institutions that should call Maina to order seemed to have aided and abetted his infamy. This leads to further queries about the workability of the anti-corruption crusade. If this administration seems not to have succeeded in addressing the systemic rot which it met, what then can it boast of in its kitty of change?
When at inception President Buhari took a very long time and delayed in the appointment of his cabinet, Nigerians thought he was going to appoint diehard, scrupulous and morally sound persons, albeit, saints and angels. But it is so clear now that he brought in some of the most ill-suited persons for the most inappropriate positions. This leaves Nigerians to wonder how many more Mainas there still are to contend with in the system! It is in this regard that the First Lady, Aisha Buhari’s description of the members of the famed Aso Rock cabal as hyenas, reptiles, rats, who have taken over the presidency, is a very illuminating metaphor. Nigerians would now understand that, judging by the quality of the aides he chose or was inflicted with, the president seems encircled by scavengers and predators.
What seems to be revealed by the chicanery called the Buhari anti-corruption drive, is that the real anti-corruption fight is fought within the insular enclosure of President Buhari himself. In other words, the anti-corruption drive subsists only in the mind of the president. He is just alone.
He must, however, be helped to sustain whatever is left of his integrity, and to dismantle the iniquitous cabal plunging this country into the inextricable abyss of degeneracy. This is where the media remains relevant. Commendation should go to the media for their prompt response and relay of public outcry to the criminal impunity that the Maina case has exemplified. Once again, the vital role of the media in providing the enabling environment for citizens to be free and self-governing is proudly expressed by the candour and social awareness of the informed public. It is this kind of citizen education that Nigeria needs to be able to engage the government in the running of the state and to interrogate policies and practices that are detrimental to public morality as well as collective well-being.
Notwithstanding this bleak reputation management crisis that has beset this administration, President Muhammadu Buhari has arisen to redeem his weakened image by ordering Maina’s sack and calling for a probe into his recall and posting. This is a gesture that partly erases the impression that Buhari, by his earlier silence over such matters, was merely being president, rather than acting as the president. Though belated, this is the least that is expected of the government.
Just as he has begun, he should see the Maina issue through to the end, and also use this case to thrash out outstanding issues of corruption. The temperament displayed at this moment is most auspicious in dealing expeditiously with other allegations of corruption that have marred this administration.