Inside story of Pension Fraud

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The secret reinstatement of Abdulrasheed Maina, former Chairman of the Pension Reform Task Team into the Federal Civil Service raises dust within and outside government circles as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) launches fresh hunt for him over his alleged involvement in the lingering multi-billion Naira pension scam

By Dike Onwuamaeze

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Like a bad penny that keeps turning up, Abdulrasheed Maina, former chairman of the Pension Reform Task Team (PRTT), who has been on the wanted list of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for his alleged involvement in the lingering multi-billion Naira pension funds fraud, has resurfaced, after going into hiding, creating ripples within and outside the government circles.

Maina was sacked from the Federal Civil Service in 2013 following a recommendation by the Office of the Head of Service for absconding from duty and evading arrest over allegations of corrupt enrichment during the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan.

A few months ago, he surreptitiously returned to the country, got himself reabsorbed into the Ministry of Interior with a promotion to boot. Following public outcry over Maina’s secret reinstatement, President Muhammadu Buhari, who was worried by its negative impact on his administration’s anti-corruption stance, ordered his immediate dismissal on October 23. The President also demanded a full report of the circumstances of Maina’s recall and posting to the Ministry of Interior from Mrs Winifred Oyo-Ita, Head of Civil Service of the Federation. The President further directed that the report should be submitted to the Office of Mallam Abba Kyari, Chief of Staff to the President.

Blame game
As expected, nervous glances are being cast in the direction of top government officials linked with the entire administrative fiasco. Since then, it has become a classic story of buck-passing. The blame game reached its peaked before the commencement of the weekly Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting at the Presidential Villa, Abuja on November 1, in an alleged face-off between Oyo-Ita, and Kyari. The heated argument between the two officials was not unconnected with the Head of Service’s leaked memo to the Chief of Staff to the President. Oyo-Ita was seen gesticulating angrily, before approaching Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who also engaged her in the discussion. It took the interventions of Boss Mustapha, Secretary to the Government of the Federation and Babagana Munguno, National Security Adviser to calm frayed nerves.

Oyo-Ita’s leaked memo to the Chief of Staff to the President, with reference number HSCSF/HCSF/LU/COR/FCSC/750/T, was dated October 23, 2017 and titled: “Re: Abdulrasheed Abdullahi Maina.” In the memo, she claimed that President Buhari was aware of Maina’s reinstatement: “I sought audience with His Excellency, Mr. President on Wednesday, 11th October, 2017 after the FEC meeting where I briefed His Excellency verbally on the wide-ranging implications of the reinstatement of Mr. A. A. Maina, especially the damaging impact on the anti-corruption stance of this administration.” She, however, was silent on Buhari’s response after the briefing.

Oyo-Ita also claimed that the “move to recall Mr. A. A. Maina was at the instance of a series of letters from the Attorney General of the Federation to the Federal Civil Service Commission requesting the commission to give consequential effect to the judgment that voided the warrant of arrest issued against Mr. A. A. Maina which formed the basis for the query and his eventual dismissal.”

According to her, the Office of the Head of Civil Service of the Federation (OHCSF) was never in agreement with Maina’s reinstatement and consequently never conveyed the approval of his reinstatement, nor his posting to the Ministry of Interior. Who then posted Maina to the Ministry of Interior?

The Federal Civil Service Commission, it is also understood, requested that the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation advise the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Interior to consider the AGF’s letter and make appropriate recommendations, which was communicated to the Ministry of Interior. “The Ministry of Interior took the matter to the Senior Staff Committee of the ministry and recommended the reinstatement of Mr. A. A. Maina into the service as Deputy Director. The OHCSF forwarded the recommendation to the FCSC which has the constitutional responsibility for appointments, promotion and discipline for further action,” says Oyo-Ita.

What is more, the “FCSC in consideration of the letter from the AGF and the recommendations of the SSC of the Ministry of Interior, consequently approved and conveyed the reinstatement of Mr. A. A. Maina with effect from 21st February, 2013 vide letter herewith attached as Annex IV.”

Oyo-Ita attached to her memo, the letter of reinstatement, as communicated to the HCSF dated 18th September, 2017 and “ostensibly also copied the Ministry of Interior which is the one erroneously used to document Mr. A. A. Maina on a claim that he has resumed work since 28th September, 2017.” The Ministry of Interior is said to have informed the Office of the Head of Service of Maina’s resumption with effect from 28th September, 2017 vide letter Ref. MI/1436/II/24 dated 16th October, 2017.

Oyo-Ita’s memo was apparently meant to set the records straight pertaining her alleged involvement in Maina’s irregular reinstatement. However, Abdulrahman Dambazau, Minister of Interior, through his press secretary, Ehisienmen Osaigbovo, claimed that Maina “was posted few days ago to the Ministry of Interior by the Office of the Head of Service on an Acting capacity to fill a vacancy created following the retirement of the Director heading the Human Resources Department in the Ministry.”

Dambazau also claimed that the Office of the Head of Service of the Federation and the Federal Civil Service Commission were responsible for Maina’s reinstatement as they were charged with “issues relating to Discipline, Employment, Re-engagement, Posting, Promotion and Retirements of Federal Civil Servants”.

On his part, Mallam Abubakar Malami, Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice said he would explain his role in the saga when he appears before the Senate which is investigating the matter. There are indications that Malami allegedly relied on a March 27, 2013 High Court judgment delivered by Justice Adamu Bello (now retired) of the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court, to initiate the reinstatement of Maina. The court was said to have set aside the warrant of arrest issued by the Senate for Maina’s arrest. Justice Bello had ruled inter alia: “I grant Relief-1 contained in the statement. I also grant an Order of perpetual injunction restraining the respondents jointly and/or severally by themselves and/or their agent, privies, servants, however so-called from arresting the applicant on account of the warrant of arrest which has been set aside. However, beyond these two reliefs, given all the facts available to the court, the applicant is not entitled to any other relief.”

The Attorney General’s purported letter requesting that Maina be recalled to service hinged the decision on the “legal import” of the High Court judgment which was that the ex-pension boss had no case to answer. This was why in his letter to Deaconess J.A. Ayo, Chairman of the Federal Civil Service Commission (FCSC) dated February 21, 2017, Malami stated: “Having reviewed all the correspondence vis-a-vis the court judgment, I hereby write to reiterate my earlier directive and further direct that you give a consequential effect to the aforesaid judgment by taking necessary steps to ensure immediate reinstatement of Mr. Maina to his duty post as a Director in the Federal Civil Service to enable him continue his service to the Federal Government of Nigeria.” Many would agree that, as the Chief Law Officer of Nigeria, Malami’s action was right.

Maina’s defence
Despite the public outcry over his controversial reinstatement in the civil service, Maina who has gone into hiding again, insists that he has done no wrong. Rather, he claimed that the pension task force team which he headed saved the country about N282 billion. He said he is a victim of the powerful cartel behind the pension fraud his team has checkmated.

Speaking through his aide, Olajide Fashikun in Kaduna recently, Maina called for the setting up of a Presidential investigative panel to expose the real pension thieves, especially the £6 million (about N3.3 billion) which the EFCC traced to a bank account in the United Kingdom and the top government functionaries in different offices who were drawing the interest accruing from it. Interestingly, in a bizarre twist, Maina himself is now alleged to be one of the signatories to the UK bank account.

When asked whether Maina would come out of hiding if the Senate President promises to protect his life, the aide said he “would not advise him to come on the basis of the fact that there was a petition against some members of the 7th Senate of having collected some N3bn from the pension thieves. The petition is with the ICPC and the EFCC; we haven’t got the report up to this moment”.

The only time Maina would be encouraged to turn up like a bad penny, Fashikun suggests, is when President Buhari sets up a commission of enquiry in the mould of the Justice Chukwudifu Oputa Panel to look into the Pension funds fraud and its activities televised.

There is yet another twist to the Maina saga. Aliyu Maina, a family member of the former pension boss, has claimed that Maina was brought back to the country by the present administration to assist in propagation of its Change Agenda because of the reforms he made in the Nigerian Pension Scheme. According to him, Maina is a Messiah and not a fraudster as he is being painted.

But in a swift reaction, the President’s Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, said Aliyu Maina’s claim “is a freshly minted falsehood”.

Fresh charges against Maina
Worried by the damage the Maina reinstatement saga could cause to the anti-corruption stance of the Buhari administration, the Federal Government has filed fresh six-count charge against the former pension boss. The charges, filed before a Chief Magistrates’ Court in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, formed the basis on which the court issued a fresh arrest warrant for Maina. The warrant of arrest was signed by the Chief Magistrate, Elizabeth Jones.

According to a copy of the Judicial Form 4, Maina is wanted for offences bordering on theft of public money, obtaining money under false pretences, breach of trust, cheating, official corruption, embezzlement of pension money, and fraud.

EFCC’s renewed hunt for ex-Pension boss
The EFCC has launched a fresh hunt for Maina. The commission has deployed its crack operatives to hunt for the ex-pension pension boss within and outside Nigeria to bring him to justice, an action, which is believed to be clandestinely opposed by some powerful forces in the country.

Ibrahim Magu, Acting Chairman of the EFCC, says the agency would visit Dubai, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the United States and the United Kingdom in a bid to fish him out. He adds that Maina has already been declared wanted by the INTERPOL.

Magu alleged that Maina has, so far, escaped arrest because powerful Nigerians were shielding him from justice. The EFCC boss did not, however, disclose the identity of the persons allegedly protecting Maina, but absolved the agency of any blame in connection to Maina’s initial escape from the country.

He described Maina’s reinstatement as devastating and vowed that the EFCC would not spare anyone involved in it. “The matter has been in court and Maina was also charged before the court. He was arraigned in absentia. I assure you, we will get him sooner or later,” the EFCC boss added.

On July 21, 2015, the EFCC charged Maina, alongside Stephen Oronsaye, Osarenkhoe Afe and Fredrick Hamilton of Global Services Limited, before Justice Gabriel Kolawole of the Federal High Court, Abuja, on a 24-count charge of procurement fraud and obtaining property by false pretences.

While Oronsaye and the two others were arraigned in court, Maina was not because he went into self-exile and the EFCC declared him wanted. Although, Maina was at large, he was represented by a lawyer, Esther Uzoma.

Since President Buhari’s order to sack Maina, the EFCC has stepped up its onslaught against him. Just as the commission has intensified efforts to arrest Maina, the anti-graft agency has sealed all the properties allegedly belonging to him, including his mansion in Jabi, Abuja said to be worth about $2million.

Reactions
As the anti-graft agency renews its search, many Nigerians find the whole shenanigan another episode in the long list of absurd dramas that characterize Nigeria’s heated political space.

Professor Itse Sagay, Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee on Anti-Corruption (PACAC) who was taken aback by the antics of Maina, said all those involved in reabsorbing him into the civil service should be punished. “As far as I am concerned, they were trying to cover up for him and trying to deceive the country and then wreck the image this government has built up on total intolerance of corruption,” he added.

Femi Falana, Human rights lawyer thumbs up President Buhari for ordering Maina’s sack and pushing for investigation into the circumstances surrounding his reinstatement. However, he warns that “the significance of the swift reaction of President Buhari to the ‘Mainagate’ will be lost if the report of the inquiry into the scandal is once again treated in a cavalier manner like the grass-cutting probe (involving former Secretary to the Government of the Federation Babachir David Lawal).”

For Rafiu Balogun, National Legal Adviser of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), the reinstatement of Maina to the Ministry of Interior when the grievous allegation of embezzlement or diversion of N100billion pensioners’ money is hanging on his neck is not only ludicrous but also indefensible.

“To add insult to injury, the constituted authorities concerned are trading blames and passing the buck. In my mind, this is a national embarrassment and it is capable of undermining the fight against corruption and sending negative signals to the world on the seriousness of this administration to rid this nation of corruption and corrupt elements,” he added.

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo said the reinstatement of Maina was not consistent with President Buhari’s avowed war on corruption. He advised Buhari not to make room for “sacred cows” in the fight against corruption. “Corruption must be punished, and must be seen to be punished. Any accomplice in corruption and cover-up must also earn punishment. We cannot afford to have sacred cows in the fight against corruption. The Maina saga should never have been allowed to occur. It is not in tandem with the fight against corruption,” Obasanjo said.

Indeed, many Nigerians believe that the Maina saga is another test of the sincerity of Buhari administration’s anti-corruption stance. Unfortunately, time is proving to be another challenge as the terminal date for the administration beckons.

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