After several unsuccessful attempts by the relevant anti-corruption agencies to have the former chairman of the Pension Reform Task Team (PRTT), Abdulrasheed Maina, account for his stewardship, the long arms of the law caught up with him last week, FELIX NWANERI reports
When Abdulrasheed Maina was recommended and appointed as chairman of the Pension Reform Task Team (PRTT) in 2010, his appointment was well celebrated in the civil service because he was seen as the right man to head the PRTT saddled with cleaning up a pension mess in the Office of the Head of Service of the Federation. Prior to his appointment, Maina could be described as a civil servant, who dutifully manned his office as Director of the Customs, Immigration, Prisons Pension Office (CIPPO). This, perhaps, explained why he was recommended by the then Head of Service, Mr. Steve Oronsaye, to head the PRTT.
Government’s action was necessitated by a verification exercise that revealed massive fraud in the federal civil service. And having distinguished himself as the Director of the CIPPO, there was high expectation that Maina will correct the ills in the PRTT.
Expectedly, Maina took up the challenge and within a short period at the helm of affairs in the PRTT, he was able to help the country to recover over N100 billion pension funds at the pension offices of the Head of Service and the Police.
It was also said that he was able to reduce the amount being paid as pensions then in one of the agencies from N1.6 billion per month to around N800 million. Also to his credit was the recovery of N242 billion from pension thieves as well as blocking the theft of N300 million per day from another pension fund. There were even reports that attempts were made against his life but he remained committed to the course he believed strongly in by doing everything within his power to ensure that he blocked all loop holes as well as addressed corrupt activities in the sector.
In fact, it was during Maina’s headship of the PRTT that a former Director, Pension Unit, Head of Service of the Federation (HOSF), Sani Teidi Shuaibu; his deputy, Phina Ukamaka Chidi; his Personal Assis-tant, Aliyu Bello; Assistant Cash Pay Officer, HOSF Pension Unit, Abdul Mohammed and over 20 civil servants were indicted of looting more than N100 billion.
This shocking revelation earned Maina a pat on the back. With accolades pouring in for him for busting the syndicate making away with millions through different means, Maina became the cynosure of all eyes and his rating increased considerably. But after almost three years in the saddle, the hunter became the hunted as the table turned against the PRTT boss. Maina’s trouble started in 2012, when some civil servants accused him of culpability in the very mess he was directed to clear.
They claimed his lifestyle changed rapidly from what it used to be and he was accused of leading a fraud ring that had defrauded the Pension Fund of over N100 billion. Acting on the allegation of corruption, the Senate Joint Committee on Public Service and Establishment and State and Local Government Administration invited Maina to appear before it. He was reported to have appeared twice before the committee before shunning further summons.
But, on completion of its investigation, the Senate committee issued a warrant of arrest against the embattled ex-pension reform committee chairman. Not satisfied with the decision of the Red Chamber, Maina did everything through the instrumentality of the law to ensure that the warrant of arrest issued against him was not implemented. He sued the Senate and the then Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar. He, however, went into hiding after he was declared wanted by the police.
The then Head of Service of the Federation (HoSF) had to take a disciplinary action against Maina by recommending his dismissal from the federal civil service. He was dismissed in 2013 for absconding from duty. Besides the police, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), also got involved in Maina’s investigation as the then chairman of the commission, Ibrahim Lamorde, declared the embattled ex-pension reform boss wanted over an alleged N2 billion biometric scam in the office of the Head of Service of the Federation.
Maina was on July 21, 2015, charged by the EFCC alongside Oronsaye and two others with fraud. While Oronsaye and the two other accused were in court and pleaded not guilty to the charge, Maina remained at large. Despite both the police and EFCC on his trail, Maina beat the nation’s security network to find his way to Dubai, the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
In 2017, Maina found his way back into the civil service to the consternation of many Nigerians. He claimed that he decided to return to the civil service to help President Buhari fight corruption. His controversial reinstatement into the civil service and deployment as acting Director of Human Resources in the Ministry of Interior was then seen as a litmus test for the Muhammadu Buhari-led All Progressives Congress (APC) administration, which had anti-corruption war as one of its key agenda. Maina’s reinstatement led to a clash between the Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari, Abba Kyari, and then Head of Service, Winifred Oyo-Ita.
The then Head of Service, in a leaked memo to the Chief of Staff to the President, said she warned Buhari against the reinstatement It also led to accusations and counter-accusations between the then Minister of Interior, General Abdulrahman Dambazau and his Justice counterpart, Abubakar Malami, whose names were mentioned in a leaked memo that backed Maina’s recall to the civil service. President Buhari responded by ordering Maina’s immediate disengagement from the services of the Federal Government.
This was followed by seizure of several properties belonging to him by the EFCC. But despite wielding the big stick, many Nigerians still felt that the presidency should take a step further in bringing Maina and his accomplices to book. Amidst the controversies, the former PRTT boss went underground again, while his family rose in his defence by claiming that their son’s travail was the handiwork of a cabal bent on tarnishing his image. Spokesperson of the Mainas, Aliyu, who then boasted that they are in possession of facts that would expose the motive of members of the cabal, added that the Buhari administration facilitated the return of Maina for him to assist it in its change agenda.
His words: “It is on record that Abdulrasheed Maina’s reform put to a stop the fraudulent withdrawal of huge sums from both the Nigerian Pension Board, the Nigerian Police Pension Board, etc. Perhaps it is his noble efforts that made him enviable to the present administration when they came into power to convince him to come back and assist in its Change Agenda.
“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. “As you know Abdulrasheed Maina had been a target of in the past, so experience is the best teacher. But when his security is guaranteed, he will surface from wherever he is and tell Nigerians the truth.”
Maina, on his part, pleaded for hearing. He added that he will come out from hiding and unravel some of the hidden truth on the issue. This, he never did. But, after four-year manhunt, Maina was arrested last week by operatives of the Department of State Services (DSS) at a hotel in Abuja after allegedly sneaking into the country from Dubai. He was said to have been trailed to the hotel, where he was arrested after operatives outwitted those who tried to ferry him away in a bullet-proof vehicle.
The DSS, in a statement that confirmed the arrest, said the ex-PRTT boss and his 20-year-old son, Faisal, were arrested at the Pennsylvania Avenue Hotel, Utako, Abuja, on September 30. Maina’s son, according to the DSS, tried to resist arrest after he pulled out a pistol, but was, however, disarmed and arrested.
It further said that the arrest followed a request by the EFCC to the Service to assist in the apprehension of Maina. Items said to have been recovered from Maina and his son, include a pistol with live ammunition, a bulletproof Range Rover SUV, a BMW saloon car, foreign currencies, a Phantom 7 drone and sensitive documents. At the moment, Maina is cooling off in the custody of the DSS, but reports have it that he would soon be handed over to the EFCC for trial over his involvement in a pension fraud.