By Paul Onomuakpokpo
Aside from the tragedy of the monumental failure of the President Muhammadu Buhari government, there is also that of the barefacedly audacious attempts to still project him as glowing in the halo of incorruptibility that some have associated him with. To his diehard loyalists, it is not Buhari who has betrayed the high ideals of transparency he has espoused before the public but only those whom he has given responsibilities who are prevented by their greed from living up to the expectations of their high offices.
This is the trajectory we have confronted with again as the public is scandalised by the heist and remorselessness of the former Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on Pension Reforms, Abdullahi Abdulrasheed Maina, and the complicity of high-profile officials of the Buhari government. In the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan, Maina was given the responsibility of bringing reform into the pension system to break the cycle of pensioners dying broke in their post-service years because of their inability to access their pensions. But the reformer soon turned away from his official assignment and became preoccupied with the looting of the billions that he was supposed to guard against pecuniary predators. Before he was caught, Maina had already allegedly stolen N100 billion. Maina was not at a loss as regards how to avail himself of this haul. He launched into a splurge and this civil servant who was an assistant director before he was made to manage the pension system became the owner of posh houses and companies in choice areas of Abuja and other parts of the country. Yes, Maina is presumed innocent until he is declared guilty by a competent law court. But he declared himself guilty before the public. Instead of making himself available to the Senate and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to clear himself of the charges of egregious corruption he fled abroad.
It was thought that Maina was still a fugitive from the law until the news broke that he had returned to the country. Worse, he was not only reinstated in the civil service, he was promoted to the post of a deputy director in the Ministry of Interior and reportedly paid all his salary arrears amounting to N22 million for the period he absconded from office and he was a fugitive from justice. Those who are beholden to their notion of the incorruptibility of Buhari are busy arguing that it is others who should be blamed for the return and reabsorption of Maina in the civil service. They want us to blame the Minister of Interior Abdulrahman Dambazau, Minister of Justice and Attorney General Abubakar Malami and the Chairman of the Federal Civil Service Commission, Joan O. Ayo. They also want us to blame the Head of Service, Mrs. Winifred Oyo-Ita. But she has been able to assert her innocence by revealing that she, in fact, opposed the move to recall Maina and she was overruled. No, the blame should go to Buhari. How can we be convinced that Buhari did not know about what was happening despite his highly activated anti-corruption apparatus that could alert him to the corruption of judges in places like Port Harcourt which are far from Aso Rock? If he did not know, then he should be blamed for his lack of vigilance.
Even if Buhari did not know, he is by no means exonerated. This is because it means that Dambazau, Malami and others only had the audacity to commit illegalities because the atmosphere that Buhari has created in Aso Rock is not hostile to corruption. They understand that Buhari has so lost the control of his government that his aides do whatever they like. After all, the Department of State Service (DSS) opposed Buhari’s attempt to make Ibrahim Magu the substantive chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Buhari neither sacked the DSS Director-General Lawal Daura nor did Buhari succeed in making the Senate to reverse its decision not to confirm Magu based on the DSS report.
Dambazau, Malami and others are also aware that it is the same prevalent laissez-faire morality in the government that has made Buhari not to allow the prosecution and sanction of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Lawal Bachir, and the Director-General of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Ayo Oke, who have been suspended after being accused of corruption. The state of affairs in Aso Rock where anything goes and where the cronies of Buhari are above the law is also shown in the controversy over the award of $25 billion contracts by the Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Maikanti Baru, without due process. It was not Baru who was accused that Buhari indicted, but Ibe Kachikwu who alerted him to the contracts that he disdained and allowed to be accused of being used by his enemies to traduce his government.
The Maina case is an indication of the many things that are going wrong with the Buhari government. It alerts us to the secret recruitment that goes on in the civil service. Without the media, there was no way Nigerians would have known anything about Maina being recalled, reinstated and promoted. Therefore, what the media might not have reported is an unbroken nepotistic recruitment in the civil service perpetrated by the cronies of Buhari.
While this is going on, the anti-corruption agencies are looking elsewhere. If the EFCC were really on the case of Maina why did they not identify his houses which are proceeds of corruption and confiscate them since? Why did the agency wait until the media exposed the fact that Maina had been reabsorbed in the civil service before it now sealed off his houses? After all, has the EFCC not been prosecuting a former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke, and confiscating her property in absentia? Now, the EFCC may be waiting for the media before it reopens the case of its former Chairman Ibrahim Larmode. Shortly after he was removed as the chairman of the anti-corruption body, he was accused of an N1 trillion fraud. But the EFCC did not pursue this case.
Rather, Lamorde has been ensconced in Ikoyi, Lagos as the Special Fraud Unit (SFU) Police Commissioner. Still, Buhari may be waiting for prompting from the media before he suspends the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, so that he clears himself of the allegations of financial and libidinous sleaze. Or is the EFCC waiting for the media before it reopens the case of Ahmed Gambo Saleh who as the Registrar of the Supreme Court allegedly stole N2.2 billion of the apex court? He was arraigned but the case was immediately withdrawn by the government without an explanation to the public on how it quickly established his innocence after initiating his prosecution. And for being harassed for allegedly stealing billions he remains compensated with the position of the Secretary to the National Judicial Council (NJC). In the reckoning of the government, even this compensation is not enough. He has also been made the secretary of the committee monitoring corruption trials. Yet it is the same Buhari government that has defied court orders for the release of a former National Security Adviser (NSA), Sambo Dasuki, from his about two years’ detention for allegedly misappropriating official funds.
With this recent development, Nigerians wonder if Buhari still believes that none of his aides is corrupt. But he could still insist on their innocence since he did due diligence that lasted over six months before picking them to work with him. However, Buhari can no longer keep on deluding himself about the lack of corruption of his ministers and others. And in this case, it is not enough for him to sack Maina. He should deploy his security agencies to arrest him wherever he has gone to hide and prosecute him. He should also relieve Dambazau, Malami and others who are complicit in the case of Maina of their duties and prosecute them.
But more importantly, what is Buhari still doing in the presidency since he has lost its control? Perhaps, his case would have been mitigated if the so-called cabal he has relinquished the reins of his office to were honourable and patriotic and they were willing to do only what would conduce to the wellbeing of the nation and the citizens. Since neither Buhari nor his proxies are fit to be in the presidency, the honourable path for him to take now is to resign and give way to somebody who can restore probity in governance. Nigerians can no longer tolerate the cocktail of scandals that assail them from Aso Rock. Nor can they bear being saddled with another four years of the Buhari misadventure after 2019.