EVEN Nigerians cynical of the new administration’s fight against corruption were buoyed by the reopening last week of the cases against Messrs. Farouk Lawan and Abdulrasheed Maina. The Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) re-arraigned Lawan, a former Chairman of House of Representatives Ad Hoc Committee on Fuel Subsidy, before a Federal High Court in Lugbe Division, Abuja, on a charge of bribery. Maina, on his part, has been declared wanted by INTERPOL for his alleged role in a 24-count charge of procurement fraud and obtaining by false pretences filed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
The history of these two cases and their curious handling by the nation’s justice system have been a cause of great concern to many Nigerians who had felt that the men would never be tried for their alleged crimes. Farouk Lawan’s case was sensational because it was shocking that an ‘honorable’ member of the House of Representatives who was leading a committee to investigate corruption in fuel subsidy payments to some companies would turn round to demand $3 million gratification from one of the organisations. The chairman of one of the oil companies under investigation reportedly offered Lawan $620,000 in cash as down payment, so that he would doctor a report by his House committee to exclude his companies from the list of those found to have defrauded the Federal Government of billions of naira.
When the allegation was made in April 2012, nearly four years ago, there were reports of intense pressure by some members of the House of Representatives and certain prominent Northern citizens and politicians to sweep it under the rug. But the Attorney-General of the Federation at that time, Mohammed Adoke, instituted a Police probe. Even after the probe, the case went nowhere. The Ethics and Privileges Committee of the House also instituted an inquiry but reportedly neither submitted a report to the House nor made its findings public. Lawan had long ago approached an Abuja High Court which ruled that he had a case to answer. He had also appealed to the Court of Appeal and in May last year, the Court dismissed the appeal. This is the fourth year of the Lawan case.
The Maina case is even more complex because the Senate Joint Committee probing the management of pension funds for which Maina is being accused, has itself been accused of soliciting a N2 billion bribe from the Pension Reform Task Team. And, the Senate Committee has offered spirited denials, saying the accusation was “orchestrated to divert attention from the bare incontrovertible evidences of fraud as well as misapplication, mismanagement and outright stealing of pension funds by the Pension Reform Task Team” chaired by Maina.
The dispute between the Senate Committee and the Pension Reform Task Team is such that only a high-powered independent inquiry can do justice to the subject. We are, therefore, urging the EFCC to show due diligence in the handling of this case to avoid the suspicion of bias. Already, former officials of the commission are being mentioned as having received bribes from the pension largesse. All indications are that the pension funds were a bazaar which officials looted as they wished.
What is apparent is that the daily suffering of Nigeria’s pensioners is a man-made problem arising from greed and administrative incompetence. The stories of thousands of pensioners waiting for five, ten, 15 years without access to their pensions are scandalous. The pensions are their entitlements for which they laboured all their lives. To tell our senior citizens long stories about their benefits and to deny them those benefits when they need it most is a shameful thing and all those in charge of pensions in Nigeria who contribute to these delays, fraud and embezzlement deserve condign punishment.
Nigerians are happy that these cases have come to the surface once again, and are waiting with bated breath to see their outcome. The cases should be properly investigated to avoid the use of technicalities as escape routes by the accused persons. Let justice be done and be seen to be done, to assure Nigerians that no matter how long it takes, the long arm of the law will eventually catch up with suspects who will then either have to prove their innocence in the courts, or be punished for their crimes.