In the beginning
The intriguing saga involving the former Chairman of the defunct Pension Reform Task Team (PRTT), Abdulrasheed Maina, and the unfolding drama beginning with his appointment, sack from duty, arraignment for corruption charges, escape from Nigeria in 2013, secret reinstatement in the Federal Civil Service with a promotion, subsequent indictment and prosecution by Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, his court cases and bail, his escape again to Niger Republic, arrest and extradition, is one that will make an interesting script for a classic movie.
Indeed, many Nigerians will not forget in a hurry the circumstances leading to the appearance and disappearance acts of Maina which have continued to cast a shadow of doubt on President Muhammadu Buhari’s famed anti-corruption fight.
What many still do not understand is how a man who was saddled with the task of managing pension funds for millions of Nigerian workers allegedly embarked on a looting spree, stealing billions of naira, and later absconding to the United Arab Emirates where he was said to have enjoyed a life befitting of royals, before sneaking back home to be reinstated and promoted to a higher position.
Maina was not only accused of defrauding the country of billions of naira but claims are that he did so in plain sight and under the protective watch of security agents as it was revealed during a probe into his fraudulent activities by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
The ant-graft agency found out that he had used the stolen funds to acquire over 200 properties, comprising of houses, transport businesses, properties and hotels, scattered in choice locations across Nigeria, Dubai, London, South Africa and the United States.
The EFCC had, in 2015, declared Maina wanted on charges of defrauding civil servants of their pensions and diverting the pension funds into his personal bank accounts, and since then, it has been one drama or the other as he continued to employ different, out of the world strategies, to escape justice.
The most dramatic of such dishonest moves was when he was granted bail by Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court, Abuja, in November 2020, and he promptly jumped bail and fled to the Niger Republic, with a view to, once again, escaping from the long arm of the law.
Many unverified accounts said he disguised himself as a local trader and rode on a motorcycle from Sokoto State into Niamey, after jumping court bail, to obtain new travel documents at the Embassy of the United States of America in Niamey to enable him to flee back to the USA with his family where they are equally citizens.
Seized by the law
However, on November 20, Maina was re-arrested through the collaborative efforts of the operatives of the Nigeria Police Force, INTERPOL, and their Nigerien counterparts in Niger Republic, and subsequently extradited back to Nigeria.
Announcing his re-arrest, the Nigerian Police Force spokesman, Frank Mba, said:
“Following the arrest of former chairman of the Pension Reform Task Team, Abdulrashid Abdullahi Maina, in Niamey, Niger Republic, the Nigeria Police Force is perfecting extradition processes of the fugitive to Nigeria to enable him to face trial in pending criminal proceedings against him.
“Maina, who was declared wanted by a court of competent jurisdiction, was arrested on November 30, 2020, through the collaborative efforts of the operatives of the Nigeria Police Force, INTERPOL NCB, Abuja and their Nigerien counterparts.“
While the Nigerian authorities insist that Maina is still in prison, there have been unconfirmed rumours that he may have been secretly shipped out of the country.
What we know so far
It is public knowledge that Maina has made a couple of court appearances since he was seized by the law after escape to Niger.
December 3, 2020
On December 3, 2020, a day after he was extradited back into Nigeria, Maina was arraigned before Justice Abang at the Federal High Court in Abuja. He was brought to the court by a combined team of policemen and operatives of the EFCC, charged with money laundering, alongside his company, Common Input Ltd.
At the trial, one of the witnesses, Rouqayyah Ibrahim, narrated how Maina had bought a property worth $2 million in the Jabi area of Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). She also stated how the nabbed fugitive acquired properties in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, as well as the United States.
She added that about 32 documents, hard discs, and flash drives relating to properties linked to Maina and his family and details of some of his investments in Dubai and in the US were recovered from him. She also said over N500 million was discovered in the account of Kangolo Dynamic, within the years Maina was PRTT chairman.
“Particularly in Dubai, investigation revealed that his company, Northrich Company owned over 50 cars that were used for transportation business and he owns a villa in a High Ground area in Dubai.
“His wife Laila Abdulrasheed also owns cleaning services, called Spotless and Flawless. We also recovered pay slips during our investigation,” Ibrahim added.
She also disclosed how investigations proved that another of Maina’s company, Kangolo Dynamic, does no business but that a bank account owned by the company had deposits of huge funds into it.
An EFCC operative, while also giving testimony, stated that the investigation showed that Colster Logistics belonging to Maina, had a Fidelity Bank dollar account which had an inflow of over $400,000 from cash deposits as at the time the company was investigated.
Though his defence counsel tried every trick in the book to renew his bail, citing exigency and medical treatment as the reasons Maina fled to Niger Republic, the angry Justice Abang revoked the pending bail and promptly ordered that he should be remanded in prison pending the conclusion of his fraud trial.
In his ruling, Justice Abang said:
“The defendant is already on bench warrant having jumped bail. So he shall be remanded in the Kuje Correctional Centre pending the conclusion of the trial,” before adjourning the case till December 10 for continuation of the trial.
December 10, 2020
On December 10, during the resumed trial of Maina, he decided to employ one of the age-long theatrics often utilized by Nigerian officials who want to escape trial by attempting the ‘fainting’ act as he slumped at the Federal High Court, Abuja, while being arraigned by the EFCC on charges of laundering over N2 billion from the pension scheme.
At exactly 10:05 am, the fugitive ex-pension boss collapsed while his counsel, Anayo Adibe, was making submissions before Justice Abang who was still handling his trial.
Before the ‘collapse’ of the former pension boss, his counsel was praying the court for an adjournment to enable him get records of the proceedings of the court to enable him prepare for the no case submission he intends to file on behalf of his client.
The court had to rise abruptly to enable officials of the Correctional Service and relations of Maina to attend to him.
This was not the first time Maina had employed various tricks to forestall his trial. At one of his earlier trials, he had appeared in court in a wheelchair, but only to perfect his escape to Niger Republic.
The case was again adjourned to January 20, while he was shipped back to the Kuje Prison to await his next court appearance.
January 20, 2021
On the resumed sitting on January 20, at the Federal High Court, Abuja, before Justice Abang, Maina pleaded for another bail to enable him travel out of the country to seek a medical attention for his supposed worsening health.
He made the request in a motion on notice filed by his counsel, Adibe. In the bail application, Maina said it was vital for him to get medical attention outside the country because of his worsening health which required urgent medical attention.
The request was turned down by Justice Abang, who refused to be moved by the new delay tactics Maina and his defence team decided to employ, as he bluntly told them that the University of Abuja Teaching Hospital had one of the best medical facilities around and that Maina should be treated there.
Abang, again, adjourned the case to February 25 to determine on Maina’s bail application.
February 25, 2021
On February 25, Maina was once again led to the Federal High Court, Abuja, on the bail application he had earlier filed through his counsel, Adibe, but Justice Abang, once again, refused to grant him the bail, saying he (Maina), was not deserving of a second bail following his brazen acts of jumping an earlier bail and sneaking out of the country.
According to Justice Abang, it was at the court’s discretion to grant bail and the ex-pension reformed boss did not deserve bail after jumping the first bail, adding that Maina’s application for bail lacked merit.
He also explained that Maina did not place sufficient materials before the court to convince the court that he deserves the second bail. Abang relied on the medical report brought from the University of Abuja Teaching Hospital showing that Maina was not under any medical emergency.
The judge said Maina was not only a flight risk but a proven risk, having fled to the Republic of Niger and Chad in violation of the court order, as he had disappointed the court.
March 4, 2021
On March 4, Maina filed a case accusing the EFCC of mismanaging 222 recovered assets of the PRTT handed over to the Commission while he was still in charge.
A management consultant, Ngozika Ihuoma, who was once engaged by the Maina-led PRTT for consultancy services, who was led in evidence by one of Maina’s lawyers, Adeola Olawale, told the court how human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, allegedly acquired one of the sets of property from the EFCC even while the property was still a subject of litigation.
Ihuoma’s evidence prompted Justice Abang to summon the AGF, Abubakar Malami, Governor of Central Bank (CBN), Godwin Emefiele, Falana and many others fingered in the scandal to appear before the court to testify in the ongoing trial.
Abang, in a series of subpoenas separately addressed to the individuals, ordered them to appear in court on March 9, 10, and 11, 2021 to give evidence.
13 subpoenas were issued by the judge summoning the named persons and officials to appear in court at the instance of Maina, including M. Mustapha of Zenith Bank, Abuja, Hassan Salihu of the ICPC, G.T. Idriss also of ICPC, Mohammed Wakil, a retired Commissioner of Police and one Kenneth Amabem.
March 11, 2021
On March 11, Maina’s principal counsel, Sani Katu (SAN), applied before Justice Abang to officially withdraw his appearance as the defence lawyer for former chairman of the defunct Pension Reform Task Team boss.
Giving reasons for withdrawing his services as the defence lawyer to Maina, Katu said he was not aware his client, Maina, had, through another lawyer, approached the court to summon 10 persons to appear as witnesses in the matter.
Among the 10 persons the alleged pension thief secured subpoenas to compel to testify in the matter included Malami, former acting Chairman of the EFCC, Ibrahim Magu, among others.
Katu said he had only applied for three subpoenas but was surprised when he was presented with a list of additional 10 subpoenas he did not apply for.
“My lord, my application is to seek for leave of this court to withdraw from this matter. In doing this, we appreciate the court’s indulgence,” Katu said while addressing the court.
In the enthralling Maina Saga, Katu was the second SAN to withdraw from the trial following the earlier withdrawal of the previous defence lawyer in the matter, Chief J. K. Gadzama (SAN), who pulled out of the case after Maina jumped bail and fled the country midway into his trial.
Similarly, a counsel that hitherto represented Maina’s firm, Adeola Adedipe, also withdrew his further appearance in the matter.
July 16, 2021
In another rescheduled appearance at the Federal High Court, Abuja, Maina once again, employed another trick by pleading that he had a problem with his knees and could not walk.
An officer of the Nigerian Correctional Service (NCS), Kuje, told the court Maina was not in the courtroom because of knee problems.
The officer, responding to a question by Justice Abang on why Maina was not present in the court, said the fugitive had bad knees and as such was not fit to be brought into the courtroom as he was in a car outside the court.
“My lord, the defendant is in the car outside. He has a problem with both kneels,” the prison official said.
“Registrar, tell him that the sitting is in the court not outside the court,” the judge piqued.
Responding, the officer said:
“We saw the hearing notice that we should produce him in courtroom and not outside the court,” which made Justice Abang to record that Maina was absent for the proceeding.
Where we are
The wheel of justice, they say, grinds slowly. The Maina saga will certainly not go away soon even as Justice Okon Abang has reportedly been moved from the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court to the Warri Division in Delta State, with the case set to be assigned to another judge by the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice John Tsoho.
On June 18, the EFCC wrote to Tsoho urging him not to reassign the case to another judge as that will mean restarting the trial afresh.
This was in response to a circular on March 16 where Tsoho ordered a mass transfer of judges in the 36 divisions of the court and directed the newly posted judges to assume duty in their newly reassigned places on April 12, with Justice D.U. Okonkwo taking over from Abang.
The EFCC subsequently applied to Justice Tsoho for a fiat to allow Justice Abang conclude some of the cases he started, including Maina’s matter.
The EFCC reasoned that since Maina’s trial had gone far, it would only be good, in the interest of justice, for Abang to conclude the matter.
“He (Maina) has been arraigned, we have called all our witnesses and the defendant (Maina) has opened his defence. So it will only be proper for the presiding judge to conclude the trial to guard against delay in justice,” the EFCC reasoned.
The intrigues are not about to end. How soon the country will see a closure to the Maina saga sure will depend on how the courts acquit themselves, especially in an environment where one event overshadows the other almost on a weekly basis.
Nigerians are watching… and waiting.
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