– The Sun News

A comedy that stinks

The news that wanted head of the Pensions Reform Team, Abdurasheed Maina has been secretly reinstated, has come as a shock to many Nigerians.

But, to others, this is Nigeria, a country of anything goes, apologies to former army chief, Gen. Ibrahim Saliu. And for a government that claims to be intolerant of corruption, this should be an embarrassment. It is good enough that the anti-graft agency, the EFCC, has said Maina still has a case to answer.

For those who may be unfamiliar with the Maina story, I bring you excerpts of a column I did when the issue was in the front burner…

Maina is his name. He was the man appointed to fish out the men, who saw pension funds as their own manna from heaven, which they allegedly dealt with without conscience. Poor country. Like ferocious Rottweiler, Maina and his men went about their job, making discoveries that shocked us all. Billions of naira looted. Looted by men and women entrusted to superintend over the pension scheme. Good news? Not quite.

In an ironic twist, the hunter became the hunted. Maina was accused of fiddling with the loot he was expected to uncover, recover and remit. The Senate cried foul. It asked Maina to come over and shed light on some grey areas. How some of the billions that was supposed to be recovered was nowhere close to government treasury. He would not honour the Senate’s summons. They ordered his arrest. He refused to be arrested.

The Police claim they are still searching for him, even after declaring him wanted. From his hideout, the wanted man has said he was afraid for his life. He is uncomfortable with the fury with which the men in the red chambers are baying for his blood. The Senate would not allow one ‘scampering rascal’, whoever he thought he was, to treat its summons with levity. Believing the Presidency was behind the intransigence and belligerence of Maina, Senate President, David Mark, fired a shot at the Jonathan administration: Sack Maina or face the wrath of the Senate.

After initially foot-dragging and offering lame excuses, the president has done what he ought to have done in the first instance; he has ordered the Head of Service to discipline Maina for wilful absenteeism from his duty post, having gone underground in a bid to stave police arrest for refusing to appear before the Senate committee, investigating the Pension Team headed by Maina. End of story? No sir, just the beginning, the beginning of an ugly comedy. A comedy that stinks. Nigerians are waiting with bated breath to see how the whole drama plays out. A drama that shows how low this country has sunk in many respects.

There are many strands to the Maina melodrama, I am told. The first is that Maina was actually doing a good job until he became afflicted with the ‘Nigerian disease.’ In his foray into the pension scam, he allegedly saw too much cash that dazed him. He uncovered some for government and allegedly (according to Senate sources) uncovered the rest for himself. The Senate saw that what was hidden was far more than what was openly declared. When they asked too many ‘annoying’ questions, Maina proved impossible. Maina claimed some Senators asked him for a couple of billions for them to look the other way at the skeletons in his closet. Don’t ask me if that’s true or not. It is Maina’s words against the Senators’.

There is the other story, flying around that the Presidency became pleased with Maina after he made huge recoveries when he first began digging into the pension scam. With that feat, he had unfettered access to the Villa. When the Senate began to squeeze him, it provided Maina with a sanctuary to hide his head. That could possibly be the only explanation for why the Senate directed its arrow at the Presidency to fire Maina or risk altercation with it.

Maina, who failed to heed the Senate’s invitation, according to informed sources, was to be seen moving in and out of the presidential residence and entourage every now and then, to the consternation of the lawmakers. What other evidence (s) did it need to arrive at the conclusion that the man had transcended the boundary from civil servant to an untouchable, a sacred cow? The above are some of the undercurrents in the Senate/Maina tangle. Like I said, no one can swear to the absoluteness of the story.

But in between fact, fiction and fallacy is the true story. However, there are still some ugly issues that stick out in the whole sad story. First, it is indeed shocking and inconceivable that a public servant would refuse to obey the summons of the Nigerian Senate no matter its perception in the eyes of the general public. This is our highest legislative arm. How a Nigerian, who rose to the position of Assistant Director in the federal ministry and headed a panel as important as the Pension Reform Team would think nothing of treating the Senate with such disdain is truly saddening. If he did that, his drummers are not faraway.

He must be made to face the Senate at an open, public hearing to explain to Nigerians how he went about his job. If a case is established against him, relevant laws and sanctions should be applied. A sack for absenteeism or AWOL is not the same thing as asking him to explain what went down in the critical national assignment he handled. It is a sad commentary to note that more often than not, probe panels set up to unravel cases of sleaze end up either being compromised or discredited. The Elumelu power probe; the Farouk Lawan petroleum subsidy probe, to mention a few ended up in the stench of accusations.

Maina should have his day in the public arena to prove to Nigerians that his panel is not one of those panels whose works were marred by the lure of the filthy lucre. Running away from the law is not the way to go; it will only make even his sympathisers believe he has many things to hide. That he has his hands soiled. That he has billions, as alleged, stashed away. If that’s not the case, let him hand himself over to the law. Now.

Until quite recently, Maina was a quiet, anonymous and, if you like, faceless civil servant going about his duties in Abuja, the nation’s capital city where cash and sleaze unite in a dance of shame. Then, he suddenly shot into public consciousness with his appointment as the head of the Pension Team set up by the Head of Service, Professor Afolabi, to x-ray the management or rather, mismanagement of the nation’s pension administration.

Maina swung into action like a good cop determined to sniff out the rats and rabbits that had made a mincemeat of pension funds, running into billions of naira. For a couple of years or thereabouts, Maina and his team worked the system and traversed the nooks and crannies of the country and the globe in search of what went wrong with the pension scheme. He reportedly made a breakthrough initially.

He and his team allegedly stumbled on stolen billions of naira by some civil servants and made other interesting discoveries: the pension scheme, as Nigerians largely suspected, had been an elaborate scam, which impoverished those it was meant to benefit while enriching a few, fat cats with itchy fingers, which they dipped generously into the till. Did he himself engage in the free-for-all scoop? Big question. The answer lies buried in the womb of time.


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