By Wole Olaoye |
Foreigners assessing our circumstances from outside may be forgiven if they think we are a bunch of witless slaves with no capacity to manage our own affairs. Imagine, we are running our lives with loans while our wealth is being siphoned away by a few greedy rats in public office. A few well connected carpetbaggers steal and privatise our collective streams while we are reduced to washing our faces with spittle.
Nothing better exemplifies the Nigerian situation than the now established trend of fat cats looting the treasury and getting away with it before our very eyes. They no longer bother with complex stratagems. They simply vaporise and then hope that our national malaise of perennial amnesia will take care of the rest.
Barefaced stealing in the face of apparent inability of the instruments of justice to rein in culprits, has been identified by many young Nigerians as one of the evils stultifying the country’s growth and birthing a hopeless future for us all. What explanation does one give an unemployed graduate witnessing this impunity and doing his best to keep to the straight and narrow path?
If Abdulrasheed Maina had been a citizen of any other country except Nigeria, he would have had a date with justice long ago. Appointed by the Jonathan administration in 2010 to sanitise the pension scheme which had become notorious for being treated as a gravy train by a succession of important thieves, Maina, within two years, transmogrified from gatekeeper to gate-breaker as he allegedly helped himself and his accomplices to sums in excess of N100 billion (about $600 million in 2012). Since then, our sensibilities have been insulted in various ways through jejune dramas orchestrated to generate motion without movement.
Shortly after he was accused of looting the pension funds in 2012, he was dismissed from the civil service pending prosecution. He fled. Reports had it that he was living it up in Dubai. The EFCC placed him on its list of fugitives. When he was feeling homesick, he sneaked back into the country. The drama of his arrest was of Nollywood grade, no less. In 2017, news filtered to the public that the fugitive had been appointed as acting Director of Human Resources for the Ministry of Interior. Nigerians were aghast. How could a fugitive be rewarded with yet another federal appointment when he was supposed to be under prosecution for an earlier crime?
He was first sighted going about with a protective shield of heavily armed security agents. Tongues started wagging. The so-called fugitive was not in hiding but was all over town milking his connections with high government officials to evade the law. When he was eventually arraigned in October 2019 by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) alongside his son, Faisal, and firm, Common Input Property and Investment Ltd, he showed up in a wheelchair and actually wanted presiding Justice Okon Abang to grant him reprieve on account of his feigned ill-health.
Maina was to spend nine months in Kuje prison while spiritedly battling for bail which was first set at N1 billion but was later reduced to N500 million with a surety who must be a senator with landed property in the highbrow Maitama District, Asokoro, Wuse II, Katampe or Central Business Districts of Abuja. When there was no Nigerian of standing willing to stand surety for the accused, his lawyers approached the senator representing his constituency in Borno State, Ali Ndume, who chairs the Senate Committee on Army.
Ndume issued a public statement on June 24, to explain why he was sticking out his neck. He said it took him six months of painful consideration to agree to be a surety for the ex-Pension boss, and that he was doing so only because he considered it his responsibility as the senator representing Borno South.
“It was a hard decision I had to make because I have a duty to represent the good, the bad and the ugly of Borno South”, said Ndume at the time.
Considering the heinousness of the crime Maina was alleged to have committed — stealing funds meant to cushion the pains of old age for those who had served their fatherland and had no other means of financial succour except the pension which was their entitlement — it was strange that Maina was granted bail, especially considering the circumstances of his arrest after his initial escape from the country.
We will never know how many pensioners have died on account of not being able to access their pilfered pension. How is the civil servant expected to be loyal to a system which routinely rewards bad behaviour and punishes dedicated service?
Maina laid low while COVID-19 disorganised all calendars and EndsSARS protesters called national attention to police brutality. Then the news hit us with a bang: Maina had vaporised again! The EFCC issued a statement which it also published on its website:
“The public is hereby notified that Abdulrasheed Abdullahi Maina, former Chairman of Pension Reform Task Team (PRTT), whose photograph appears above, is wanted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for offences bordering on Procurement Fraud and Obtaining by False Pretence.
“Dark complexioned Maina is allegedly complicit in the over N 2 billion Pensions Biometric Scam in the office of the Head of Civil Service of the Federation. He remains at large, after charges were filed against his accomplices.
“Anybody with useful information as to his whereabouts should contact the Commission in its Enugu, Kano, Lagos, Gombe, Port Harcourt and Abuja offices or through these numbers 09-4604620, 070-26350721,070-26350722,070-26350723,070-6350724, 070-26350725 ; its e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org or the nearest Police Station and other security agencies.”
Déjà vu? The drama is being re-enacted all over again. The lead prosecuting counsel has formally informed the court of the disappearance of the prime accused. Justice Okon Abang has now revoked the bail earlier granted Maina and ordered that he be re-arrested in any part of the country he may be found and brought to Abuja to face trial. The judge also ordered that the trial shall continue in the absence of the defendant.
Senator Ndume is also under pressure as he has been given up till November 23 to show cause why he should not forfeit the N500m bail bond he signed. Ndume was, at the last sitting, ordered to produce the defendant but told the court that his efforts to locate Maina had proved abortive.
One thing is clear: Maina could only have made good his escape with high wire collusion by those whose job it is to keep a close eye on him. When a man has cornered the kind of money Maina is alleged to have stolen, he has the means to buy his way out of almost any tight corner. He can even rent ‘admirers’ or fake civil society activists to show up in court in sympathy with him. However, it seems Maina had upped the game. He has no intention of ever facing justice.
Can any fugitive vaporise from Planet Earth? If we are a serious country, we should activate Interpol and all the other international security agencies to repatriate Maina and all the other fugitives who are only biding their time abroad and praying for a change of government in 2023 so that they can bribe their way back to the country and live happily ever after.
If Maina and his ilk escape the law, all the talk about patriotism, hard work and the anti-corruption crusade is but balderdash.