From ADE ALADE, Abuja, TIMOTHY OLANREWAJU, Maiduguri and VINCENT KALU, Lagos
When American politician, Newt Gingrich, said: “If you get involved in a controversy, then that becomes the mesmerizing event that people remember you by”, he probably had the likes of Alhaji Abdulrasheed Maina in mind.
In the last seven days, Maina, the former Chairman, Pension Reform Task Team (PRTT), has dominated Google search among Nigerians, because of the unsavory controversy that trailed his recent reinstatement and elevation in the civil service, his eventual sack by President Muhammadu Buhari, and the manhunt declared on him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
How did Maina enter into this hall of infamy? Before 2011, the name of the Biu, Borno state born burly and dark complexioned Abdulrasheed didn’t ring a bell; he was relatively obscure like any other civil servant carrying out his statutory duties.
In search of the invincible Maina
And so, getting information about his past, family and academic records is as herculean as the bid by security agents to arrest him in the last four years. A click on Wikipedia and other global search engines to obtain Maina’s profile will draw blank. Saturday Sun however gathered from various sources in Abuja, Kaduna and Borno state hidden facts about the man who has dramatically tumbled from a heroic height to ground zero. Many Nigerians have not been able to come to terms with why Maina was able to escape from the country the first time he was declared wanted in 2013, his state-organised return some months ago and his sudden disappearance soon after President Buhari ordered his disengagement from service on Monday. Our findings across the three major cities will provide an eye opener.
The son of a marabout
Investigations revealed that Maina means more than a government official to many in power and authority in Nigeria. As a son of a strong and powerful Islamic cleric, Mallam Maina, he is said to have served as a spiritual consultant to men and women in power. “I recall some years ago that the young man came to my office soon after he was appointed as Chairman of the pension task team because we needed to assist him on his assignment but to my shock, he brought out a white powdery substance and told me he procured it for me for my protection. He said if I take it with tea, pap and other liquid meals, nobody would be able to touch or harm me. Of course I rejected it politely but that raised my curiosity about his kind of person”, a top security officer told Saturday Sun in Abuja.
Though the source may have failed to join the league of those who seek spiritual assistance from Maina and his family, it was learnt that not a few highly placed persons benefit from his ‘generosity’. This has in no small way broadened his circle of influence in government and corridors of power. As a result, he became a friend to many power brokers in PDP and now the ruling APC.
Pension task team leverage
Before the benevolent spirit of Steve Oronsaye, then Head of Civil Service of the Federation, cracked his palm kernel for him, Maina was a top official at the Customs, Immigration, Prisons Pension Office (CIPPO), under the Ministry of Interior. Oronsaye appointed him to chair the Pension Reform Task Team (PRTT) in 2011, after a verification exercise revealed the biggest fraud till date in the federal civil service. Upon assumption of duty, Maina was able to set up an investigative team comprising 15 officials of the EFCC, 15 from ICPC, 15 from the office of the Head of Service of the federation, four DSS officers, two from National Intelligence Agency, NIA, three each from Accountant General and Auditor General offices, two from Attorney General office and others from Public Complaints Commission as well as National Association of Nigerian Pensioners. With this huge network of security agencies, he was able to get entrenched within the nation’s security network, to access sensitive information and also get adequate security cover.
Beyond this, Maina was said to have deepened his relationship with the security agencies through his generosity. “I remember he offered me a first class ticket when I was to travel to the US but I rejected it”, a former Head of one of the security agencies told Saturday Sun in Abuja.
Borno politics and 2019 elections
Maina was relatively known in his Biu town – in southern Borno until few years ago when he sought for a traditional title. A source in Biu said Maina had bulldozed his way into some high chiefs in the area, the third largest town in Borno but was denied. “He came looking for traditional title after contacting some chiefs but he was told it would not be possible,” the source who preferred anonymity told Saturday Sun.
Maina was reportedly denied the title because he was not well known in the town and among the people, the source said. He was said to be warming up for the Borno 2019 governorship race. “He was determined to contest the seat,” the source maintained. Some residents of Biu confirmed that his campaign posters have been placed in some strategic locations in the town.
“His plan is to get reinstated in the civil service and then disengage after three to five months to join full politics,” the source claimed.
However, some sources said he was dragged into politics by some elite and local politicians in the area. “Some people have been canvassing for his governorship ambition. He was dragged into politics to contest on the platform of APC in Borno,” another source in the town said. Those who knew him in the 70s said he spent more time in the northwest States than Biu, his home town. He is said to be a man who pushes his way through to get what he wants.
“He once boasted that there is nothing he was looking for in life that he doesn’t get,” said another of his kinsman who has been interacting with him for over a decade.
Beyond Borno, highly placed sources in Abuja revealed that President Buhari’s ministers and other close aides were deeply involved in the return of Maina to the country because “they feel they can use him against the incumbent governor of Borno, Kashim Shettima, who they believe is not a pro-Buhari governor. He is seen as someone that has the resources, he has ambition and strategically, he comes from an area, Biu, which produces huge votes in the state. So, he is a pawn in 2019 chess game.” This much was confirmed by Maina’s family at a press conference in Kaduna on Wednesday.
Inter-Agency rivalry sets in
With deep-seated animosity festering between the current leadership of the EFCC and DSS, the scandal of Maina’s return and reinstatement into public service provides a great opportunity for the Ibrahim Mustafa Magu-led EFCC to expose the Lawal Musa Daura-led DSS to public ridicule as a payback for having been a pain in the neck of Magu and a major impediment to his confirmation as the substantive chairman of the anti-graft agency. Soon after Maina’s reinstatement was leaked in the media, the EFCC did not waste time to expose DSS’ involvement in the saga through selective daily leaks of their findings. While the security agencies are still at this, it was learnt that Maina may have escaped out of the country, this time, through Niger Republic.
From hero to zero
Maina’s dexterity and skill in his assignment helped uncover the looting of more than N200 billion pension funds at the pension offices of the Head of Service and the Police. Expectedly, over 30 civil servants, who allegedly soiled their fingers, were handed over to anti-corruption agents and government prosecutors.
By this singular act, Maina etched his name in gold in the hearts of Nigerians, who were surprised over that level of sleaze in the pension office, given the plight of pensioners in the country. His name became synonymous with uprightness and integrity. In a nation that is in short supply of trustworthy leadership, Nigerians started mentioning him for elevation into a higher office.
That was Maina’s finest moment.
But this was short-lived as he soon stepped on banana peels, crashing from the Olympian height. He was accused of taking advantage of that position to enrich himself and his cronies.
In 2012, when his cup of iniquity started running over, and he faced a probe of N195 billion loot, he invented all manner of excuses, including ill-health and tight schedule, to avoid appearing before the Senate Joint Committee on Establishment, Public Service and Local Government Administration, mandated by the upper chamber to investigate pension administration dating back to 1999.
After reaching its wit’s end, the committee mandated Mohammed Abubakar, the then Inspector-General of Police (IGP), to compel him to attend its next sitting. Not even the IGP could bring Maina to the Senate, leaving the Senate with no other option, but to issue a warrant of arrest against him. Rather than defend himself, Maina travelled to Dubai the following year, never to make a return, even though it was alleged that he was sneaking in and out of the country. The EFCC subsequently declared him wanted after filing charges against some of his alleged accomplices.
Early in the week, like the phoenix, Maina bounced back, after spending almost four years in Dubai, and there was an ill attempt to rehabilitate and re-brand him. He was an Assistant Director in the civil service, and was promoted to Director at the Ministry of Interior. It was supposed to be a secret affair until the media blew the lid on the scam.
Members of the President’s kitchen cabinet, who were alleged to be involved in the faux pas are trading blames. They are, Minister for Interior, Abdulrahman Dambazzau; Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, and a few others.
The presidency has argued that Maina’s reinstatement wasn’t to the knowledge of the President. To buttress this, on Monday, the President sacked Maina and queried the Head of Service. In the same vein, the EFFC swiftly moved in to seal some of his houses in Kaduna and Abuja. That Maina began so well as an anti-corruption crusader only to end up the way he has reminds one of a famous biblical quote: “Let him that stands take heed lest he falls.”
But for Maina, he seems to be the proverbial cat with nine lives, at least for now.