By Segun Ayobolu
TURNING down the request by the suspended Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mr. Ibrahim Magu, for video recordings of past proceedings of the panel investigating allegations against him by the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Mr. Abubakar Malami, the Chairman of the panel, Justice Ayo Salami, reportedly said that no one was on trial before his committee, which is only on an investigative, fact finding mission. Of course, one can understand Magu’s request. A number of persons had testified against him before the panel in his absence. The media had massively reported outlandish allegations of wrong doing against him which he vehemently claims were outright fabrications and, to the best of his knowledge, were not issues before the panel.
Despite the so far untainted reputation of Justice Salami for integrity and character, there are aspects of the panel’s proceedings that are troubling. One is the inexplicable delay in formally presenting Magu with details of the allegations against him to enable him prepare a robust and rigorous defense. Surely, it cannot be that he is expected to appear before the panel literarily blindfolded as it were. That would negate all the rules of fairness and justice. Again, the panel has entertained testimonies against the ex EFCC Czar by persons being prosecuted by the commission under Magu’s watch in his absence. It is obvious that such persons naturally harbor malice against him.
This column has wondered in the past what fact finding investigation the panel is expected to do again when two previous panels had conducted obviously extensive investigations and definitively and conclusively found Magu guilty of high crime of mind boggling proportions. Surely, those previous investigations must have cost considerable time and money. Why then the need to commit further scarce resources to investigating allegations, which supposedly based on painstaking investigations? So serious did President Muhammadu Buhari consider the allegations that he was moved to suspend Magu from office and several top staff of the commission have been sacked. Were the allegations for which these drastic actions were taken not based on carefully ascertained and confirmed facts? The truth of the matter is that even if only a minuscule of these very serious allegations against Magu are true, he deserves to face the law and be brought to justice. There is no tenable excuse for the delay in doing so.
While the nation was being entertained by the sordid and salacious revelations at the Ministry of Niger Delta, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and the National Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF), the former Chairman of the Pension Reform Task Team (PRTT), Mr. Abdulrasheed Maina, was released from prison on bail after nine months behind bars. I must confess that I had hardly paid attention to this piece of news until the columnist with bioreports newspaper, Rotimi Fasan, reflected on this matter in his column on Wednesday.
In Fasan’s words, “In the noisy euphoria of the Eid el Kabir celebrations or perhaps in the spirit of universal goodwill, as we are such forgiving people, Nigerians probably chose not to pay attention to the fact that Maina has been let out of jail to return to the cosiness of his home after nine months”. Maina is certainly entitled to bail. His lawyer has enthused that his release will enable him attend to his health and prepare a solid defense. That is as it should be and Magu too deserves no less fairness in his treatment by the Justice Salami panel.
Of course, the Maina saga is too well known. It is one of the most embarrassing episodes of this political dispensation since 1999 and is a poignant reminder that Nigeria remains “a country of anything is possible” to paraphrase a former Chief of Army Staff. Appointed to head the task force to implement reforms in the country’s pensions’ scheme, Maina allegedly criminally enriched himself to the tune of over N24 billion excluding the acquisition of hundreds of choice property within and outside the country.
Despite being declared wanted by the EFCC and later charged to court by the agency during the former President Goodluck Jonathan administration, Maina moved in the highest circles in Abuja, drove around in convoys heavily guarded by security agents and was seemingly untouchable by the law. Maina was eventually dismissed from service in 2013 by the Federal Civil Service Commission (FCSC) for absconding from duty. As an unrelenting EFCC was closing in on him, Maina fled the country and was declared wanted.
If a Jonathan administration that was lax and complacent Jonathan administration had no choice but to excise Maina from the service, what happened under this administration was astounding and stranger than fiction. Lo and behold, the fugitive from the law was, in September 2017, surreptitiously brought back to the country, reinstated into the Federal Civil Service in the Ministry of Interior and even elevated to the post of Acting Director!
Obviously embarrassed by the public outcry that Maina’s reinstatement created, President Muhammadu Buhari ordered that Maina be sacked again and directed the then Head of Service, Mrs Winifred Oyo-Ita, to probe the circumstances in which he was absorbed back into the Service. And pronto, Maina again disappeared from sight as mysteriously as he had reappeared. So disturbed was the National Assembly that relevant committees of the Senate and House of Representatives were mandated to probe the issue and “recommend strong sanctions against any person or persons who are implicated in the scandal”.
Interestingly, the name of Magu’s tormentor- in- chief, the AGF, Abubakar Malami, featured prominently in this entirely nauseating affair. An online medium, today.ng, on April 3, 2018, published an exclusive story by Daily Trust newspaper, which read thus: “A House of Representatives Committee has reportedly indicted Abubakar Malami, Attorney General of the Federation, in the reinstatement of Abdulrasheed Maina into the civil service. According to Daily Trust, the report of the 12-man committee said Malami “pressurized all that mattered” to see that Maina was brought back into the civil service…In the report, which Daily Trust said it obtained Malami was listed as the “architect” of Maina’s reinstatement. The lawmakers said apart from meeting with Maina in Dubai despite knowing he had been declared wanted, the AGF unduly interfered (with) and pressured the FCSC regarding Maina’s reinstatement”.
The lawmakers were clearly unimpressed by Malami’s denial when he appeared before them that he had nothing whatever to do with Maina’s reinstatement. The AGF told the legislators that “The purported letter dated October 5, 2017, made available by the committee couldn’t have genuinely emanated from the Attorney General. The letter dated October, 5, 2017, which was never off on that, I arrive at the irresistible conclusion that Maina’s request for the reinstatement was an ongoing process in the office of the Attorney General as at October 5, 2017. It is against the background of the unfinished process relating to the demand or request for the SA to convince the Attorney General as to how the effect of judgment provided by Maina could have coessential effect on reinstatement which was not developed and presented…The request for reinstatement as submitted to my office by Maina’s lawyers was a work in progress as at October 5, 2015″.
I do not know what the lawmakers could make of this incomprehensible mumbo jumbo. Even more shocking was the revelation that Malami, the country’s chief law officer had actually met with Maina, a fugitive from the law, in Dubai before his reinstatement! With amazing audacity, Malami admitted this meeting in an interview published by The Interview magazine in 2018. In his words, “The NSA and I met with him (Maina at the reception of the Emirate Palace Hotel in Abu Dhabi…So we discussed. The discussion happened to be very meaningful, particularly from the point of national interest”.
According to the magazine, “Mr. Malami said that Mr. Maina told him that there were 66 accounts that were being used to divert pension funds, adding that the pension syndicate had bought a section of the media. He further said that on returning to Nigeria, investigations revealed that most of the information provided by Mr. Maina was right as it led to the conviction of two individuals and the recovery of looted funds while 12 other cases were pending. Mr. Malami, however, did not reveal the identities of the convicts”.
Was Malami not bothered at all about the serious allegations against Maina for which he was fleeing from justice? If he was not, Magu was and the EFCC working in concert with the International Police was relentlessly on Maina’s trail notwithstanding that the latter obviously had friends in the highest recesses of power in the country. Operatives of the EFCC and the Department of State Services (DSS) eventually re-arrested Maina and he is currently facing trial in court.