The intriguing saga that has followed the trial of the former Chairman of the defunct Pension Reform Task Team, PRTT, Abdulrasheed Maina, is one that would make a very interesting soap opera if Nigerian movie makers decide to chronicle the events leading to his appointment, the plethora of corruption charges against him, his abscondment from Nigeria in 2013, and the circumstances of his being reinstated in the Federal Civil Service with a promotion to he rank of an acting Deputy Director.
The decision of the Abuja Federal High Court to continue Maina’s trial in absentia after he jumped bail and went into hiding, yet again, has been viewed as a welcome development, especially against the backdrop of serious doubts cast over the sincerity of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration to vigorously pursue an anti-corruption war.
A ‘rogue’ on the run
A pertinent concern that has gripped the nation since the Maina saga broke borders on how he has continued to evade justice for long if there was no ‘official’ cover up and or protection for him.
Indeed, critics of the government believe that Maina may have the support of some of Buahri’s inner circle who have perfected an escape route for the wanted former government official.
The issue proving hard to crack 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 royalty before sneaking back home to be reinstated and promoted to a higher position.
He was not only accused of defrauding the country of billions of Naira but that he did so in plain sight and under the protective watch of security agents.
During the probe into the alleged fraudulent activities of Maina by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, it was alleged that he had acquired over 200 properties, comprising of houses and hotels scattered in choice locations across Nigeria, Dubai and the United States.
The unfolding saga of Maina’s dramatic return from exile and his latest disappearance are not only what is baffling to Nigerians but how he could pull such a feat even when he had been on the country’s security watchlist.
The presidency connection
For the record, Maina was dismissed from service in 2013, following a recommendation by the Office of the Head of Service of the Federation, but was discretely recalled in 2017, and deployed to the Ministry of Interior under controversial circumstances. That was how high Maina’s reach went, even into the inner recesses of the presidency.
His reinstatement was purportedly based on a memo from the office of the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, who directed the Federal Civil Service Commission to “give a consequential effect to a judgment that voided the process that led to Maina’s dismissal from service.”
But for Winifred Oyo-Ita’s leaked memo which burst the reinstatement bubble, Maina would have strolled back to a job that he lost with ignominy.
The public outcry and squabble that ensued between Oyo-Ita and Abba Kyari, the deceased powerful former Chief of Staff (CoS) to President Buhari, ensured that Maina’s case became an issue for public debate.
The revelation of the presidency’s complicity in the Maina case, however, got Kyari fuming against Oyo-Ita, threatening to query her and subsequently get her sacked. Though neither Kyari nor the presidency disputed Oyo-Ita’s claim, the CoS rather chose the path of a bully.
Then the cover ups and denials by government officials came with accusations over who actually signed the letter that reinstated Maina.
The Minister of Interior, Lt. General Abdurahman Dambazau, vehemently denied having a hand in the reinstatement of the Maina while Mallami denied knowledge of any letter reinstating him to office as an acting Deputy Director in the Ministry of Interior.
“The letter giving clear directives for his reinstatement could not have genuinely emanated from my office,” Mallami had insisted.
However, Oyo-Ita insisted that there were letters from the AGF to the Federal Civil Service Commission, FCSC, directing the immediate reinstatement of Maina.
Maina himself consistently denied being sacked by the government. At an ad-hoc committee sitting set up by the Senate to investigate his reinstatement, Maina declared that he was never sacked by any government, contrary to the submissions of the HoS and the Chairman of the FCSC, meaning that even when he was absent from duty, he was still discharging his duties for the Federal Government and getting paid for that.
His lawyer also told the committee that at no time was Maina dismissed from service.
“I will tell you categorically that Maina was not dismissed from service. He still worked for the Federal Government after his purported dismissal. It is not true for anybody to say that Maina was dismissed from civil service,” the lawyer told the committee.
It was glaring from the letters tendered by Oyo-Ita, that Malami, working in tandem with Dambazzau, had pulled through the move to get Maina back into office and it was not until the entire charade was exposed that President Buhari was forced to step in and order Maina’s immediate sack.
Till the point Buhari ordered Maina’s sack, the assumption was that the President knew nothing of the matter, but the leaked memo had shown that Oyo-Ita had verbally counseled the President against approving Maina’s reinstatement.
So, who actually approved the reinstatement of Maina and who approved his promotion? That question is still unanswered.
While testifying at the Senate committee, Dambazau had denied ever signing the letter reinstating Maina:
“When I was confronted with that letter by the Senate, it didn’t ring a bell at all in my memory. What I did was to go back to the office to call for the file. Arising from the file, I could confirm that there was a letter from Maina’s lawyer. “I could confirm that I treated that letter and directed the line officer to treat it. I could confirm that the line officer reverted back to a memo expressing an opinion with a draft letter, suggesting that I should direct that Maina should be reinstated.
“I could also confirm that there was no further correspondence from the line officer when the line officer now came up with additional memo and in that memo, tried to justify the conclusion that I could direct for the reinstatement of Maina.
“So, what I am saying in essence is that as far as Maina’s request for reinstatement was concerned, it was, indeed, a work in progress. The letter of his reinstatement did not emenate from my office.”
So, with the denials, who then ordered the reinstatement of Maina? What more can any discerning mind deduce from the Dambazau and AGF’s position than to conclude that Maina’s case has always had a protective cover from the top?
Mallami and Dambazau’s claims were, however, at variance with that of Oyo-Ita who insisted at the hearing that there were letters from the AGF to the FCSC, directing Maina’s reinstatement.
Oyo-Ita said she was surprised to hear about Maina’s reinstatement in the media like anyone else, submitting that the Ministry of Interior never acted on her letters asking for him not to be reinstated.
She said the decision to hold brief on the letters requesting Maina’s recall was borne out of some “inner conviction that a government which was fighting corruption could not have given any vent to such.”
She added that she had never received any notification that Maina challenged his dismissal in court since her appointment.
Testifying before the committee, Oyo-Ita has said:
“When I got hold of that letter of reinstatement, I held on to it because I needed some clarification on that letter. So, I was surprised to find out that without officially being conveyed the letter of his reinstatement or posting, Maina was absorbed into the Ministry of Interior.
“I still have the original copy, so there was no way he could have resumed work at the Ministry of Interior if he had not been officially notified of doing so by the Office of the Civil Service of the Federation,
“I was concerned that the decision to reinstate Maina may not have been in the interest of the present administration. I held on because Maina may not have cleared the issue with the security agencies.
“Maina was dismissed in 2013 from Federal Civil Service but sometime in 2017, letters began to come from AGF to the FCSC, copied to my office.
“The AGF gave directives that Maina should be reinstated. I learned through the media that he had been reinstated. Those are the clarifications I have to make on this.”
Many have argued that it was the Maina saga that got Oyo-Ita sacked from her position as the Head of Service, apparently for meddling into something that was definitely bigger than her?
After the whistle was blown on Maina, and the reinstatement storm having a staggering effect on the government’s fight against corruption which led to his sack, Maina simply disappeared again but still had the paraphernalia of office, including security details attached to him.
Another interesting narrative in the Maina saga was his family claiming that he was brought back to the country and reinstated by the government to assist in the propagation of its “change agenda” because of the reforms he made while he was the head of the Nigerian pension scheme.
According to the family, “Maina is indeed a messiah and not the fraudster as he was being painted.”
The family insisted that Buhari knew Maina was acting in the best interest of the country and had to get him back to office to “continue his good works.”
Uncovering the loot
But findings by Nigeria’s number one anti-graft agency appear to suggest other sinister motives for the intriguing plot to return Maina to a position of higher responsibility.
The EFCC averred that he used a firm, Common Input Properties &Investment Limited, to launder funds, part of which was used to acquire landed properties in Abuja and other places.
In the course of its investigation, the agency discovered that Maina had used bogus names to operate several accounts in a bid to conceal his true identity, including names like Aliyu Nafisatu and Dr. Abdullahi A. Fisal.
The EFCC said that in 2014, Maina had deposited the sum of N171.91m cash into a UBA account. He also allegedly paid the sum of $360, 588.27 into the same bank account that same year, while in 2012, Maina had allegedly opened an account with his pseudo name, Dr. Fisal, and subsequently wired $1.822m into the account.
It was also discovered that he had paid the sum of $1.4m to purchase a property in Abuja and on June 27, 2012, Maina made a cash payment of $2m through one Adamu Modibbo, for the purchase of another property in the Jabi District of Abuja.
The EFCC further alleged that Maina recruited his relatives who were staff of the United Bank for Africa, UBA, and Fidelity Bank Plc, to operate fake bank accounts through which illicit funds were channeled.
This much was affirmed by his younger sister, Fatima Abdullahi, who was charged alongside his other cronies.
Fatima, a prosecution witness at the Federal High Court in Abuja, had told the court that her brother surreptitiously used her picture and name to operate a bank account without her knowledge.
She told the court that she never knew Maina was operating an account with her details until she was arrested after she went to a bank to complain about her blocked Automated Teller Machine (ATM) card.
Overwhelmed by public outcry, that Maina was still walking the streets a free man, the EFCC moved in to arrest him. The anti-graft body and other security operatives stormed his palatial home located on Kano Street, Kawo New Extension, Kaduna, where he was arrested, but not without a drama playing out as his son, Faisal, pulled out a gun and threatened a shootout with the security men. He was subsequently overpowered and arrested alongside his father.
Maina was charged to court and remanded in prison custody for nine months before he was granted bail after Senator Ali Ndume, representing Borno South, the same zone Maina comes from, stood surety for him.
Since his bail, it has become a difficult task bringing Maina to trial as he has continued to play one trick or the other, including the now famous act of falling critically ill to prevent a trial.
On one of such rare court appearances, Maina was brought to court in a wheelchair, claiming to have been struck by a strange ailment and as such, could not stand trial.
And in the past few months, he has not been seen, meaning that he has effectively jumped bail, an action that forced the judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Okon Abang, to revoke his bail and issue a bench warrant for his arrest anywhere he is seen.
Maina’s theatrics have also claimed a major victim as his surety, Ndume, was, on November 23, ordered to be remanded in prison custody and the bail bond of N500m forfeited to the Federal Government, pending such a time that the suspect would be arrested and bundled to court to answer to his charges.
At the moment, Maina is still walking free though his trial has practically begun. However, the questions on the lips of Nigerians remain thus: who is providing the protective coverage for Abdulrasheed Maina? What has given him so much confidence that he can easily walk away and the case against him will be buried as it is?
At the moment, by choosing to run from the law, Maina has unwittingly admitted before the world that he, indeed, has something to hide. His accomplices, if any, must also come to terms with the fact that the wheel of justice grinds slowly.
And, for the Buhari-led administration, it would have to work double hard to convince the public that Maina’s escape is not, indeed, the making of a cabal right under Mr President’s nose.
See Maina’s infamous timelines:
In 2010, Abdulrasheed Maina was appointed Chairman of the Presidential Taskforce on Pension Reforms.
In 2013, Maina was dismissed from the Federal Civil Service after he was enmeshed in pension fraud running into billions of Naira while the EFCC declared him wanted.
In 2015, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, pressed charges of corruption to the tune of N2 billion on Maina.
In 2015, the EFCC charged Steve Oronsaye and two others to court over the pension scam but could not charge Maina as he was on the run.
In October 2017, the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari secretly reinstated Maina and issued him a letter recalling him to the civil service and posted as acting director of Human Resources at the Ministry of Interior.
On October 22, 2017, the Minister of Interior, Abdulraham Danbazu gave reasons why Maina was reinstated.
On that same October 22, 2017, the EFCC launched a manhunt for Maina.
On October 23, 2017, President Buhari received a report on how Maina was reinstated into the civil service, ordered his sacking, and directed an extensive probe into the circumstances surrounding his recall.
On the same October 23, 2017, the then Head of Service, Winifred Oyo-Ita said she had nothing to do with the reinstatement of Maina as the letter did not emanate from her office.
That same day, the EFCC stormed a mansion owned by Maina in Abuja but did not find him.
On October 24, the Senate set up an ad-hoc committee to investigate the reinstatement of Maina into the civil service.
On October 25, 2017, the Special Assistant to Buhari on Prosecution, Okoi Obono Obla said that no court had found Maina guilty of any crime.
On October 26, 2017, the EFCC sealed off six properties in Kaduna belonging to Maina.
On October 26, 2017, Maina’s family declared that their son was actually a messiah who had been found innocent by the Buhari regime, hence his recall to continue his good works for the country.
On October 26, 2017, the EFCC said it had discovered how the SSS paid the sum of N152 million into one of Maina’s secret accounts.
On February 15, 2019, Maina’s son, Faisal was charged to court by the EFCC on amended charges.
On March 19, 2019, the Federal High Court admitted more evidence against Maina and ordered for his remand.
On September 30, 2019, Maina’s 20-year-old son, Faisal, pulled a pistol on security agents when operatives of the Department of State Security went to affect the arrest of his father.
On October 25, 2019, Maina was remanded at the Kuje Prison in Abuja.
On November 7, 2019, Maina appeared in court on a wheelchair, claiming he was too sick to stand trial.
On December 25, 2019, the EFCC confirmed a raid on Maina’s house.
On July 28, 2020, Abdulrasheed Maina, was released from Kuje Prison after Sen. Ali Ndume posted his bail of N500m.
On November 18, 2020, Justice Okon Abang revoked Maina’s bail and issued a bench warrant on him.
On the same date, the court made an order for Sen. Ndume to forfeit the bail bond of N500m to the Federal Government since Maina, who he stood surety for, had jumped bail. The Judge also said Ndume would be remanded in prison if he cannot produce Maina.
On Monday, November 23, the Federal High Court ordered the Ndume to be remanded in Kuje Prison for failing Maina in court.
Author: Isaac Dachen…
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