It appears our new found romance with our northern neighbours, Niger Republic, paid off recently with the arrest and extradition of fugitive Abdulrasheed Maina from Niamey where he has been hiding. Maina, welcome back home – you can only run but cannot hide.
By the way, why are you a fugitive from justice? Why are you running? How did you get your running shoes? Are you not aware that your bad behaviour will eventually catch up with you? The story of Maina is like a fairytale but it is not exactly new, and there are many Mainas in our midst – all they know how to do is to cheat, lie, loot and steal. They steal from us and eat from both sides of their mouths with demonic pleasure. These professional looters take — without any care in this world and in a public display of infamy — what belongs to all of us and members of their fan clubs hail and cheer them in a stupid display of ignorance and egregious fantasy.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) says Maina has a case to answer over allegations of abuse of office, but the man has been missing in action. The former chairman of the defunct Pension Reform Task Team (PRTT) was caught with his hand in the cookie jar and it explains why EFCC slammed him with a 12-count money laundering charges. According to EFCC, Maina used his company, Common Input and property Limited amongst others, to operate fictitious bank accounts and thereby siphoned pension funds to the tune of N2 billion.
When pension remittances are stolen, is it any wonder why our pensioners struggle to access what is supposed to be a lifetime benefit? In their old age, pensioners are put through a torture of verification exercises and life of misery and hopelessness. Usually, the end game is death instead of being paid their pensions. So you can understand the concern of the Nigeria Union of Pensioners (NUP) – the body is kicking against the plan by the federal government to borrow from the pension fund. The National Pension Commission last Friday disclosed that the total pension fund stood at N11.34 trillion as at the end of August, out of which N7.5 trillion had been invested in federal government securities. No doubt, government bonds and other similar investments are safe and secure. However, if it is true, as it has been alleged by the NUP, that some governors do not remit their workers’ pension to the fund, why are they backing plans by the federal government to borrow from the same fund? Could it be a case of enlightened self-interest?
It is understandable that the federal government is eyeing the pension fund as a honey pot mainly to develop infrastructure and finance the budget deficit; it is because revenue options are now few and far between due to the impact of coronavirus. Mind you, the economy is in recession and we must worry about how to come out of it. We have been told, not once, not twice, to fasten our belts for the hard times ahead. Borrowing money is not bad per se; it is how the money is spent that is the problem. Over the years, our experience has shown that budgets are padded while invoices for government contracts are inflated. There is an unexplained urge for reckless spending jamboree, especially on white elephant projects; what the military high command referred to as “squandermania” each time they seized power.
For example, our governors are fascinated with the idea of building airports as if it is a national competition with a star prize at stake when they should be prioritising security, roads, education, healthcare, etc. This “cultural” phenomenon is perhaps what emboldened Maina to run away with our pension fund. But he cannot run with the shoes of some of the world’s leading brands in the “running shoe” category because they do not want fugitives like Maina who run from their own shadows to mess up the reputation of their brands. Only petty thieves and common criminals run from their shadows; Abuja “big boys” like Maina are not supposed to disappear or dissolve into thin air without trace because they usually have “official” protection.
Why did Maina run away because of “ordinary N2 billion”? C’mon Maina, you know as most of us do, that the money is chicken change in Nigeria. But the law, for his information, will take its course in the matter and he should note that, this time, the long arm of the law is expected to catch up with him because his cup was truly full and we should be thankful to EFCC for doing a great job. Fighting corruption is not easy because corruption has a way of fighting back with the fury of a wounded lion.
When the political elite and those in positions of authority steal public funds without consequence, it breeds a culture of impunity which has become “normal behaviour” in the context of what is “good versus bad” in today’s Nigeria. Impunity is contagious and it spreads like a deadly cancer. Unchecked impunity as we have it today – where some people are above the law – compromises the values of a decent society and it leads to a breakdown of law and order. We have laws but, unfortunately, we do not enforce them; even when we do, it is selective. Fleeing Maina was arrested last Monday November 30, 2020 and flown back home – it was the result of the understanding and collaboration between operatives of intelligence service in Niger and the anti-corruption agency in Nigeria.
Part of the N2 billion Maina allegedly stole from pension funds that never get to pensioners – what they are paid is miserable and that is if they get it at all – was used to acquire landed properties in Abuja. It was also alleged that Maina has choice properties in Dubai and other prime estates. Anyway, that is not surprising; with the kind money in his pocket, Maina can buy anything. Is a private jet not part of the premium toys in his collection? All kinds of fictititous names and dubious corporate accounts, according to EFCC investigation, were used to steal the sweat and labour of men and women who look forward to their pension payments in vain – it has become standard practice. It is a shame and Maina and is collaborators should be marked as award recipients in the Hall of Shame of Pension Funds Looters.
Ordinarily, you would think that Maina is a nice guy incapable of even hurting a fly or pinching a penny or deceiving his surety. He has an imposing and intimidating frame that is enhanced by his dark complexion. He should, ideally, be a person you can trust from his looks but he let down Borno South Senator Ali Ndume who signed a N500 million bail bond for him as surety. When Maina staged his disappearing act and was nowhere near the court premises for his case, Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court, Abuja, promptly ordered that that the Senator should be remanded in custody although he was later granted bail. Senator Ndume too has washed his hands off the case; it is as good as saying that Maina is on his own.
After Maina jumped bail, he fled to unknown places. He was of no fixed address until he was smoked out of the hole he was hiding in Niger Republic. Justice Abang ordered his trial to begin in his absence because Maina had not been attending trial since the September 29, 2020 criminal proceedings against him. The court revoked his bail and ordered his arrest. Frank Mba, Nigeria Police Force spokesman, says there shall be no hiding place for suspects, no matter how highly placed. That statement, made after Maina was arrested and extradited to Nigeria, is heart-warming and truly re-assuring but how did Maina abandon his duty post, fled the country and then returned to work at the Ministry of Interior with a promotion to boot?
Let us be hopeful that our criminal justice system will prevail in this matter at the end of the day because my strong suspicion is that Maina is not acting alone. When government officials of the calibre of Maina and given his position in the civil service violate the public trust and fool around with pension funds or our commonwealth for that matter, they do not act alone; there are, to the best of my knowledge, power brokers behind scene who urge them on, promising them protection.
Maina was a civil servant and in 2013, he was appointed chairman of the PRTT by the Goodluck Jonathan administration. When he was accused of theft to the tune of N2 billion, he was dismissed by the Federal Civil Service Commission. Maina, it was alleged, defrauded civil servants of their hard-earned pensions and diverted pension funds – with his son Faisal recruited into the scheme and sleaze — into his personal bank account. Like father, like son; Faisal is being charged over an allegation of fraud to the tune of N58 million for opening accounts that were used as conduits for illegal transactions, according to media reports. The trial resumed last week with Maina now back in town — the court ordered him to be remanded at Kuje Correctional Centre pending the conclusion of his trial which will resume on December 8, 2020.
In 2015, EFCC charged Maina alongside a former Head of Service, Steve Oronsaye, Osarenkhoe Afe and Fredrick Hamilton B Global Services Limited before a Federal High Court on a 24-count charge bordering on procurement fraud and obtaining by false pretence. Maina reportedly went into hiding after the Nigerian senate issued a warrant for his arrest. Some sources alleged he was in Dubai, while some claimed he fled to Saudi Arabia.
In 2017, he got another appointment as the acting director of the Human Resources Department, a move that shocked everyone. In October of the same 2017, President Buhari sacked him again from civil service. In 2018, according to media reports, campaign posters of the fugitive emerged. He was being positioned as a governorship candidate for Borno State but that was not to be.
It looks like Maina is a cat with nine lives but time will tell which way the pendulum of justice will swing. It is being speculated in some quarters that Maina might become a free man if we go by previous antecedents because of how powerful Nigerians buy their way out of trouble when they press the right buttons. Maina’s betrayal of pensioners will definitely come with its own punishment and pain — he will haunted by pensioners who died in endless queues while waiting to be paid and, more importantly, he will receive his comeuppance in the end.–Braimah is the Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of Naija Times (https://naijatimes.ng)