FUGITIVE SCANDAL CASTS DOUBT ON WAR AGAINST CORRUPTION

The White Paper

“The Fugitive” as motion picture title has been shot into eight different action-thriller films in America, France, South Korea, Hong Kong and Italy, between 1910 and 2003. The eight movies have one thing in common: a person who escaped from justice, a place, in hiding, to avoid arrest or persecution; quick to disappear; and/or entertaining a fugitive idea that one is wanted. Corruption is a 1963 Italian film, a 1968 British film, a 1933 and 1983 American films, with the latter being about a businessman that “sells his soul” for power. Corruption in Nigeria is an issue that adversely affects the country’s economy and the credibility of central, state and local government agencies.

Maina 01

Photo: Abdulrasheed Maina, the ex-chairman of the Presidential Task Force on Pension Reforms.

Major Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (Rtd.) was elected as Nigeria’s president on a promise to root out rampant corruption in government that has seen billions of dollars of public money stolen over decades. But since his landmark election win in 2015 he has yet to secure a high-profile conviction for corruption while the main opposition PDP accuse him of mounting a political witch-hunt. A growing scandal involving an indicted senior civil servant has surfaced and engulfed the presidency, giving Buhari’s detractors fresh ammunition and raising questions about his grip on power.

The ex-chairman of the Presidential Task Force on Pension Reforms, Abdulrasheed Maina, is again a fugitive. The critical question: is Maina a fugitive from justice; escaped; in hiding to avoid arrest; persecuted; quick to disappear; and/or entertaining a fugitive idea? Maina was declared wanted by the EFCC over alleged ₦2 billion fraud but appeared in the country last month and was reinstated into the interior ministry with promotion despite an Interpol red alert on him in response to an EFCC request.

Maina headed a task force on pension reforms during the Jonathan administration but fled Nigeria in 2015 after claims he stole ₦2 billion ($5.6 million or €4.8 million). An Interpol arrest warrant was issued yet he still managed to return to Nigeria, where he has since enjoyed armed police protection. Did President Muhammadu Buhari know about Maina’s return and reinstatement? When did the president know this? There are claims that Buhari knew about Maina’s return and belatedly responded by ordering his dismissal and arrest. The EFCC said Maina had again fled Nigeria to avoid being picked up. 

Buhari & Maina

Photos L-R: President Muhammadu Buhari & Fugitive ex-pensions boss, Abdulrasheed Maina.

The opposition PDP has predictably seized on Maina affair, claiming it showed the government’s fight against corruption is “mere propaganda”. This position is gathering momentum, and so far, the presidency has not offered a credible answer to assuage many angry Buhari voters who feel betrayed with one of his primary election promises on the 2015 campaign trail. Two new twists in the Maina fugitive affair emerged on Wednesday October 25 when Buhari’s aides engaged loyalists of ex-President Goodluck Jonathan in fierce war of words over who was responsible for the reinstatement of Maina. The argument raged even as Maina family said the ex-pension boss was never a fraudster but someone whose efforts had put smiles on the faces of pensioners in Abuja and other parts of the country – as a messiah!

A messiah? The messiah I read about is the promised deliverer of the Jewish nation  as prophesied in the Hebrew Bible. While not dictating how an obviously upset and embattled family can make their choice of words in defense of their breadwinner, this is carrying family support to a dizzying height. Ayo Fayose jumped on his favourite target – Buhari himself – and vociferated: “Fellow Nigerians, are you now convinced that Buhari’s anti-corruption fight is like Satan calling Judas Iscariot a sinner?” he wrote on Twitter. While this is not a religious matter, suffice it to say that Fayose is also entitled to his own choice of words, although like Maina support, he also carried his lack of Buhari support to a dizzying height.

There is lingering confusion and manner of governance that needs to be cleared up here. Buhari or Jonathan, who brought Maina back to Nigeria after his first fugitive sojourn? Maina family claims Buhari government brought him back. Considering the manner Maina slipped into the country in the midst of his fugitive status, was he smuggled back to Nigeria without the president’s knowledge? If it is so, is the president’s grip on power waning? The bigger question (about the Maina affair) is how much control does the president have over his government? Answers as to whether the president is fully aware of what is going on needs to be addressed as 2019 presidential election looms. The opposition PDP is understandably amassing much-needed ammunition to battle the ruling APC.

Did the so-called presidential cabal or mafia-like secret political clique engineer behind-the-scenes machinations? Opposition elements say there is unchecked corruption at the heart of the Nigerian presidency. In a Facebook post in July, Mrs. Aisha Buhari alluded to “hyenas” and “jackals” surrounding the president, while Zahra Buhari called for an investigation of the presidential health facility in Aso Rock. It’s hard to believe but it appears that there are fake or counterfeit Buharists in Buhari’s administration that are not committed to Buharism concerning the anti-corruption war.

By recalling Maina to the civil service after being implicated in a pension scam, if the allegation is true, then this administration has put a big question mark on the president’s integrity. Buhari’s much-publicised/vaunted anti-corruption credentials may have been tainted, assuming all the allegations are correct. Also, if It is true, then it shows that the president is probably the only one in his own presidency who believes in his corruption crusade. This Maina scandal is not likely to go away, anytime soon, considering Buhari’s war-against-corruption mantra. It may not equal the 37th US President Richard Nixon’s “Watergate” scandal but it is definitely a “gate” issue – “Mainagate”. This fugitive scandal may have cast doubt on the war against corruption.

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By: Nnamdi Ebo
The White Paper |
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