From ADETUTU FOLASADE-KOYI, Abuja
The face-off between the Senate and Chairman, Pension Task Team (PTT), Alhaji AbdulRasheed Maina, took a new dimension yesterday as the lawmakers gave President Goodluck Jonathan an ultimatum to sack the pension boss. The bone of contention is the N469 billion pension funds fraud and pension boss’ alleged shunning of summons to appear before the lawmakers. Besides, the Upper Legislative Chamber is threatening a “no confidence vote” on the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Abubakar, over his alleged role in the crisis.
“Last month, Senate President David Mark signed a warrant of arrest on Maina which the IGP allegedly failed to execute. The lawmakers had mandated its Committee on Police Affairs to summon him (IGP)” to give reasons he did not act on the warrant issued by the Senate President. The Senate yesterday demanded that Maina be arrested, investigated and prosecuted if found culpable. The lawmakers resolved that “Maina be dismissed from the public service immediately and be disengaged from all acts relating to public duty.”
Senators were incensed that President Jonathan included Maina on his entourage to the Habitat Conference in Mexico, Niger Republic and even received him at the airport from a foreign trip at some point but conveniently ignored Senate summons on pension funds. Maina had engaged in a hide-and-seek game with the Senate over the whereabouts of N469 billion pension funds discovered to be missing during investigation by the Joint Committees on Establishment and Public Service and States and Local Government Administration. Maina is also Acting Director of Customs, Immigration and Prisons Pensions Office (CIPPO).
In its report submitted on June 20, 2012, the joint committee discovered that Maina’s PTT could not account for N274 billion while another investigation in December showed that N195 billion was also missing. Consequently, Senate mandated the committee to conduct another public hearing to enable Maina explain what happened to the pension funds. Five times, Maina had allegedly failed to honour Senate’s invitation. Rather than appear, Maina showed up at the National Assembly gate where he addressed his followers and left for his office. This necessitated a motion from Senate Leader Victor Ndoma-Egba (SAN) to demand Maina’s dismissal.
A record 107 Senators co-sponsored the motion. In his lead debate, Ndoma-Egba said: “Maina refused to appear before the joint committee to give account of his tenure as well as the management and administration of pension funds. Thereafter, incensed Senators wondered aloud in the chamber why Maina, an Assistant Director in the federal civil service, could be protected by the full complements of state security and would be driven in bullet-proof vehicles. Senators also queried why Maina would be on the President’s official entourage when he had summons hanging on his neck.
Co-Chairman of the committee, Senator Kabiru Ibrahim Gaya, seconded Ndoma-Egba’s motion and further informed the chamber that so far, the committee has received 7,000 petitions. “Maina appeared only once before the joint committee and he only spoke on the police. He didn’t appear for CIPPO.We invited him five times and he shunned us.” An embittered Senator Aloysius Etok spoke next. He recounted how Maina allegedly refused to go with the committee during the series of public hearings conducted nationwide. Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu urged the chamber to “get to the root of the matter… “We can’t allow this to continue.
I’ll like to insist that we act expeditiously…No matter how high the person is, we should bring him down from his Olympian height. He should be dismissed and punished according to the laws of this country.” Senate spokesman Enyinnaya Abaribe expressed joy that the Senate is “calling Maina’s bluff.” Just as his colleagues, Abaribe wondered why Maina “came to the public hearing with 27 policemen. Who is behind this? Who is behind this impunity,?” he queried. Minority Leader, Senator George Akume, demanded that Maina should not only be sacked, “he should be prosecuted while Senator Olubunmi Adetunmbi noted that Maina’s action is a brazen disregard for the laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“He’s an agent of the Federal Republic and this is most depressing.” “Maina works for Jonathan…Jonathan must quickly score an own goal against Maina and also score a winning goal against him. Why should Maina be on the President’s entourage to the Habitat Conference in Mexico, Niger Republic and also, receive him at the airport?” Education Committee Chairman, Senator Uche Chukwumerije bemoaned a situation where the Senate has been reduced “to a toothless bulldog.” In his closing remarks, Mark recalled his encounter with Maina, how he consistently dodged appearing before the Senate joint committee.
Thereafter, he declared that the Upper Legislative Chamber has been pushed to the wall and President Jonathan should choose between the Senate and Maina. “We have been pushed to the wall and the reaction is the correct reaction, let me say that from the onset. So, no matter the depth because somebody talked about the depth of the Maina situation, nobody in this country will be left to go scot-free if he is associated with Maina. “It doesn’t matter who is behind Maina, it is not for me to know whether somebody is behind Maina or not, but no matter who is behind Maina, we are not going to accept it. Let me give you the genesis of why I took so long to allow this matter to be brought to the floor.
First, for those of you who have been following Maina, he bought over the entire media and gave the impression that the joint committee asked him for bribe; that is not a secret. Everybody has seen it in the media and awash with it and I said that he should be given a fair chance to come and explain himself and expose anybody here who asked him for anything. “If we hurried over it, it could appear as if it is a cover-up and I didn’t want to do that. I called the two committee chairmen and I asked them if they have been reading what Maina has been publishing in the pages of the newspapers and I also directed that they should invite Maina, go for a public hearing and get the media houses to be there and let Maina say it in front of the media and before this nation; to say who asked him for bribe and I think that’s fair.
“When I signed the warrant, Maina of course, didn’t show up and then I called the Chairman of the Police Affairs Committee and said he should go and warn the Inspector-General of Police that he would be on the firing line if he does nothing about Maina. “I think that was when they declared Maina wanted but even after declaring him wanted, Maina was still talking! Yes,he was still talking and said he was in his house and I called the IGP this time around and said Maina said he is in his house and he narrated what happened.
“He said he sent his men from the Force CID to go to his house and that when they got to his house, Maina went out through the back door and that they had laid a siege to Maina’s house… “The executive has to choose between Maina and the Senate. That is the bottom-line. If they choose to go along with Maina, fine! We will react accordingly and to extend a hand of friendship is the correct thing for us to do because we must work together. There is no running away from that one. It is a test case,” Mark said.