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The main issue with Maina’s reinstatement

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In the past few decades, Nigeria has been on a free fall relative to most other countries on matters of development, transparency in government, inclusiveness and institutional integrity.

The trajectory of this slide has been relatively straight and smooth, with new lows recorded every now and then. Several attempts to arrest the fall have failed woefully. The reinstatement of Abdulrasheed Maina, former Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on Pension Reforms, into the federal civil service is yet another dark record – a colossal failure of a system that ought to be vehemently averse to corruption in any form.

It’s interesting to see that a couple of reactionary steps have been taken to pacify the enraged and distraught public over what the ruling All Progressives Congress has described as “an embarrassment to the Federal Government”.

Considering that all of these were set in motion only after a news report exposed the national shame, one wonders how long Maina and his abettors in government would have carry on unabashed even in the midst of a much publicised war against corruption.

The main issue with Maina’s illegal reinstatement is the rather unfortunate reality that the anti-corruption drive of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration has failed in the only place it can win – sanitising and building strict accountability into the system.

What Maina’s reinstatement shows is that impunity in its rawest form still exists at the highest level in our country, giving a select few the audacity to do whatever they see fit, no matter how unlawful it might be. A weak or failed system is one which can be easily bent and exploited at will by a few powerful men and women.

How could this have happened?

Under the Goodluck Jonathan administration, Maina served as Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on Pension Reforms, charged with the responsibility of recovering stolen pension funds. He was later accused, along with others, of stealing part of the funds recovered by the taskforce to the tune of N2bn.

Maina refused to appear before the Senate, evaded arrest, and went underground after the Police declared him wanted. He eventually fled the country and was sacked from the federal civil service for willful absenteeism.

While he was away, the country’s foremost anti-graft agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission arraigned him alongside other accused persons in 2015 but Maina did not show up in court. As a result, he was placed on the EFCC’s ‘wanted list’, and there was a manhunt for him, which involved Interpol.

In spite of these, Maina returned to the country, and secretly went through the supposed tedious bureaucracy of getting reinstated into the Federal Civil Service. The reinstatement was back-dated to 2013, meaning he was entitled to a huge salary arrears, some say to the tune of N22m, and was promoted and deploy as the Director of Human Resources at the Ministry of Interior. What impunity!

When his cover was blown open and the EFCC launched a fresh manhunt for him, Maina took off again. The EFCC marked his houses in Abuja including a house in Jabi said to be worth about $2m, and has reportedly frozen his accounts.

While these and the presidential directive that Maina should be disengaged are good moves, they would amount to window dressing if top government officials involved in this mess are not disengaged too and tried.

President Buhari has demanded and received a full report on the circumstances of Maina’s recall from the Head of Service, Mrs. Winifred Oyo-Ita. It is expected that the Minister of Interior, Lt.-Gen. Abdulrahman Dambazau (retd.), and the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami SAN, would also be required to submit their own reports too.

All we have for now are denials. In a statement signed on her behalf by an Assistant Director, Media Relations, in the office of the Head of Service, Mohammed Manga, the Head of Service claimed that Maina’s reinstatement and subsequent posting did not emanate from her office.

That was in sharp contrast to Dambazau’s claim that the office of the HoS was to blame. Dambazau had in a statement said Maina was posted to his ministry by the HoS a “few days ago” to fill a vacancy, claiming he knew nothing about it. However, documents available to some journalists show Dambazzau might know a lot more about the reinstatement than he has admitted.

In the words of the National Publicity Secretary of the APC, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi, “it is almost unbelievable that such a thing can happen”, especially now that the Nigeria has a President who was voted in by millions of Nigerians basically because they believed he could stamp out or at least tame corruption in the country.

When confronted with allegations that President Buhari has been shielding the suspended Secretary to Government of the Federation, Mr. Babachir Lawal; the Director-General, National Intelligence Agency, Mr. Ayo Oke, and other of his cronies who have been indicted for corrupt practices, the APC spokesman said, “action will definitely be taken on them. I think we should just be kind and wait for the President to take action on that before we come to the conclusion that he has not acted.’’

As comforting as this should sound, it seems misplaced with reference to time. The Buhari administration is running out of time and it has yet to score a significant goal in the fight against corruption – one of its cardinal campaign promises.

This Maina situation provides President Buhari with an excellent scoring chance, watching from the popular side. If he fails or delays in sacking and prosecuting ministers and other top government officials found culpable in Maina’s reinstatement – especially those perceived to be part of the famous Cabal – then he would have missed a golden opportunity and it would be game over.

This is a chance for Buhari’s government to score a goal for a stronger and more accountable system, which runs on rule of law and treats all as equals. It can begin with the federal civil service, Aso Rock Clinic et al.

Nigeria can never win the war against corruption if the focus remains on chasing down ‘corrupt’ individuals who are often targeted through a screen bloodied by politics and nepotism.

I really hope President Buhari takes this last main chance.

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