Mainagate: Integrity is made of sterner stuff

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By Ikechukwu Amaechi

The video on Channels Television was dramatic. The event was last week’s Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting and the dramatis personae were the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, who obviously was the arbiter, the embattled Head of Service (HoS), Mrs. Winifred Oyo-Ita, who was the most agitated, the Chief of Staff to the President, Abba Kyari, whose action(s) or inaction seemed to be the reason for the testy tango, and the National Security Adviser (NSA), Major General Babagana Monguno (retd).

It was a full house of ministers and other top government officials including the leadership of both the National Assembly and the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), and military top brass, who were waiting for the arrival of President Muhammadu Buhari for the commencement of the day’s business.

The audio quality of the video was poor and nobody could hear what was being said but the facial expressions, gesticulations and general body language of all the actors said it all. When Mrs. Oyo-Ita could no longer take the heat, she walked off in a huff, back to her seat, still seething.

The show of shame had to do with the HoS’ response to President Muhammadu Buhari’s query on the circumstances surrounding Alhaji Abdulrasheed Maina’s dramatic return to the civil service four years after he was sacked and declared wanted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over alleged fraud.

I will come back to that shortly.

Some people believe that Nigerians had long lost their moral fibre and sense of embarrassment, and, therefore, nothing shocks them anymore. When you think you have seen or heard the worst, such people argue, something happens that is just beyond the pale.

But the roiling Maina scandal seems to have put a lie to the belief that Nigerians can no longer be shocked. Maina was the former chairman of the defunct Presidential Task Force on Pension Reforms, who was accused of generously helping himself to the pension pie, while pensioners were left to pine away in penury.

Having become a fugitive since 2015 and declared wanted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Nigerians were shocked and embarrassed, that the same man was brought back from self-imposed exile, reinstated, given double promotion and paid N22 million salary arrears dating back to February 21, 2013, when he was sacked from the civil service.

Lawmakers in the red chamber of the National Assembly said they were shocked and embarrassed, so were their colleagues in the green chamber. The ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) issued a statement also claiming it was shocked and embarrassed, so did the Labour Party. The Minister of Interior, Lt. Gen. Abdulrahman Dambazau (retd.), was so “shocked” and possibly “embarrassed” that he quickly absolved himself of complicity. Other security chiefs and their institutions, including the EFCC, did same.

Even the presidency was not left out. So “shocked and embarrassed” was President Buhari that he shook off his legendary lethargy when dealing with corruption within and took action.

“President Muhammadu Buhari has directed the immediate disengagement from service of Mr. Abdullahi Abdulrasheed Maina, former chairman of the Presidential Task Force on Pension Reforms,” Femi Adesina, his media aide, said in a statement, even as he demanded a “full report of the circumstances of Maina’s recall and posting to the Ministry of Interior,” from the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation.

Perhaps, the only Nigerians that were neither shocked nor embarrassed were the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, the self-confessed mastermind of the saga, who claims to have acted in national interest, whatever that interest may be.

Then, there is our own Professor Itse Sagay, who rose to the defence of his principal, Buhari, by blaming former President Goodluck Jonathan, a man who left office two and half years ago and labeling Buhari’s critics “extremely unreasonable” people, desperate to find fault.

“Maina escaped out of this country under Jonathan. When he was sneaked back into the country, did Buhari know about it? The first time he (Buhari) knew, he ordered that the man be dismissed and arrested,” Sagay, who said the anti-graft war of the Buhari administration was “pure,” insisted.

What is curious is the fact that Sagay’s comments came three days after the Maina family categorically said their son’s return had the blessing of the presidency.

Addressing a press conference in Kaduna on October 25, Aliyu Maina, the family’s spokesman said, “Abdulrasheed was in fact invited by this administration and he was promised security to come and clean up the mess and generate more revenue to government by blocking leakages.

“He succumbed to the present administration and came back to Nigeria.. He has been working with the DSS for quite some time and he was given necessary security.”

The implication is that Sagay what Sagay said was not true. From all accounts, Maina was not sneaked in, he came back through the front door.

That smoking gun was handed Nigerians by Mrs. Oyo-Ita and that was the reason for the nasty encounter at the FEC meeting penultimate Wednesday.

This column had wondered two weeks ago who authorized Maina’s return if the presidency was unaware. Permit me to quote from the article titled, “Maina: The joke is on APC, Buhari.”

“The questions that have concentrated the minds of many are: How could the presidency claim to be unaware of all these shenanigans? Who, in this government, could have the audacity to pull this political stunt without President Buhari’s buy-in or the knowledge of his surrogates …?”

The issues, for me, are straightforward. Maina was one of the deep pockets that funded APC campaigns in 2015. The promise was to compensate him with the Borno State governorship in 2019. He was brought back to the civil service to burnish his credentials and remove the stain of being sacked.

Of course, I was called names by those who claim that Buhari is infallible even when they know that their argument withers away under scrutiny because the reasons advanced for their position are not supported by any facts.

Now, back to the October 23, response of Mrs. Oyo-Ita to Buhari’s query. The HoS unequivocally said the president knew about Maina’s return because she personally briefed him.

“I sought an audience with His Excellency, Mr. President on Wednesday, October 11, 2017, after the FEC meeting where I briefed His Excellency verbally on the wide-ranging implications of the reinstatement of Mr. A. A. Maina, especially the damaging impact on the anti-corruption stance of this administration,” Mrs. Oyo-Ita said in the memo to Abba Kyari.

Mum is the word from the presidency since this bombshell from the HoS. They are perhaps too shell-shocked to render a coherent response, hence Kyari’s petulance. In the days and weeks to come when they finally crawl out of their shell, the attack against Oyo-Ita will be vicious and unsparing. She may be coerced into disowning the leaked memo as “fake news.” She will be lucky if the retribution ends only at her losing the plum job.

Meanwhile, Maina is off the radar again, protected by the same agents of the Nigerian state that claim to have mounted a manhunt for him.

But like I always say, the joke is on Buhari and his co-travelers  because the damage has already been done.  Integrity is, indeed, made of sterner stuff.

Ikechukwu Amaechi, Managing Director/Editor-in-Chief, TheNiche on Sunday newspaper, Ikeja, Lagos, Nigeria.

 

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