Former President Olusegun Obasanjo said Saturday in Ibadan, Oyo State capital, that the botched recall of a former chairman of the Pension Reform Task Team, Mr Abdulrasheed Maina, was not consistent with the avowed war on corruption.
Obasanjo said this at the 2017 Foundation Day Public Lecture titled: “Corruption and the Challenges of the African Child”.
The lecture was organised to mark the 14th anniversary of Dorcas Oke Hope Alive Initiative (DOHAL).
The former president also identified corruption and poverty as the two major contributors to the formation of Boko Haram terrorist sect in the North-east.
Meanwhile, THISDAY has obtained a document, which shows that Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr Abubakar Malami, was officially notified last year of the indictment of Maina following an investigation by Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
Contents of the document contradict Malami’s claim that he acted in the interest of the law and the country by recommending the recall of Maina, who had been dismissed from the federal civil service for alleged involvement in fraudulent practices.
He was dismissed in 2013 by the Federal Civil Service Commission following a recommendation by the Office of the Head of Service of the Federation. But Maina was reinstated as director in charge of human resources in the Ministry of Interior under controversial circumstances that came to light recently.
Following nationwide condemnation of his recall, President Muhammadu Buhari promptly ordered his sack and also queried the head of service. Speaking in Ibadan yesterday, Obasanjo said, “Corruption must be punished, and must be seen to be punished. Any accomplice in corruption and cover-up and any failure to punish must also earn punishment.
“We cannot afford to have sacred cows in the fight against corruption. The Maina saga should never have been allowed to occur. It is not in tandem with the fight against corruption.” Referring to his days in office, Obasanjo said,
“When I was elected President in 1999, my administration took the issue of corruption very seriously and we established Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission as well as Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, among other anticorruption initiatives. These institutions were provided the political support needed to fight corruption and they did their best.
“But once we left office, they became politicised and weakened to the point that they were unable to discharge their duties. In fact, one of the governors, who had been labelled and gone to jail for corruption, was to look for replacement for Nuhu Ribadu (the pioneering chairman of EFCC), and you know the type of replacement he would get.
“There is need to support and strengthen these institutions, especially in the area of prosecution. The law enforcement agencies or the government alone cannot fight corruption. They must be supported by a judiciary that is upright and transparent. It is very demoralising to law enforcement officers when they painstakingly investigate a case and the culprit finds his way around the judiciary to escape.
“Individually and collectively, we have to be mentally restructured. We must change our mind-set as a people. We must all return to our core values of hard work, honesty, integrity, justice, equity, fairness, humanity and communality. In other words, we need to go for moral rearmament.
“We cannot continue to celebrate criminals, who enrich themselves from our commonwealth, and think that corruption will disappear. Those who loot the public purse must be seen and treated as undesirable in the community, rather than celebrate them. They should not be made to feel welcomed in our families, religious bodies and societies. If a person strips himself or herself of humanity and dignity by stealing public or private funds, we should not clothe them, respect or admire them.”
Speaking further, the former president said, “This is where many of our religious leaders have to discriminate in favour of teaching the scriptures and our cultural values. They anoint criminals for their ill-gotten wealth, and demonise the poor. We must show our young people that there is dignity in labour and reward in transparency and integrity. Perhaps, this is one area where organisations like DOHAL must continue to invest. We must celebrate and promote our young people, who exhibit traits of transparency, integrity, honesty and accountability. This will encourage others to emulate their examples.
"There is a need to make the youth an integral part of the fight against corruption. Young people are the greatest assets of any country. They have the energy, the passion to act as change agents if they are well nurtured and included in the fight against corruption.
The added advantage of youth inclusion in the anti-corruption process is that they have technological tools that make transparency and accountability easier. “But I see hope and a great future ahead. There are Nigerians of world-class standards, characters, attributes and performance, if we’ll only look deep. We should encourage them and celebrate them wherever we may find them.”
While noting that the solution to corruption and poverty is in building strong institutions, Obasanjo said his on-going research for a degree in Christian Theology had helped him to uncover how corruption that subjected the masses to abject poverty led to the formation of Boko Haram, solely established to kick against the Western education that produced the corrupt people.
According to the former president, “Corruption breeds poverty, crime, insecurity, instability and generally inhibits growth and development. It underdevelops and kills. I am currently researching on the situation in the north-eastern Nigeria for my thesis in Christian Theology. And what I found is most alarming.
“One of the reasons that members of the extremist group, Boko Haram, gave for their insurrection is that they became disillusioned, when they saw how corrupt Western educated leaders were. According to them, if those who occupied government offices by virtue of their Western education would corruptly enrich themselves and deprive others of the basic things of life, then that education is ‘haram’, which means forbidden.
"I am told that when Mohammed Yusuf, the original leader of Boko Haram and his early followers first started, they all gathered and tore their certificates, because they said a certificate, which could not fetch them a source of livelihood, is useless to them.
Similarly, they saw Western education as corrupting individuals. “We may not agree with their position, but the disappointment and disillusionment of citizens over the inadequacy or poor performance of their leaders is real. Adding rising corruption to other inadequacies in leadership and we’ll see the instability and insecurity, which we have witnessed in the North-east in recent years.”
Obasanjo identified measures that could curb corruption with a view to safeguarding the future of the country, saying,
"We must strengthen our law enforcement, and justice system, and encourage them to complement each other in the fight against corruption.”
In the meantime, a report by EFCC has shown that AGF was officially notified over a year ago that the anti-graft agency had indicted the former pension boss, but still went ahead to recommend his recall from sack. Malami had in reaction to public condemnation of his role and that of Minister of Interior Abdulrahman Dambazau in the saga said he acted lawfully and in the public interest in recommending the reinstatement and promotion of Maina. Apart from his dismissal, Maina was also declared wanted by EFCC for alleged fraud, though Malami claimed he was not aware of any law infracted by his recommendation at the time it was given. But a new document revealed Malami’s awareness of a prior indictment of Maina by the EFCC.
The document showed that a damming report of an investigation carried out by EFCC on the alleged fraud in the administration of the Federal Civil Service Pension Scheme was submitted to the office of AGF in a letter dated August 1, 2016 with reference no.CR:3000/EFCC/ABJ/FAFI/VOL.1/128.
Though Malami has been summoned by the Senate over the Maina issue, the latest revelation constitutes yet another step forward in the efforts to unravel the legal and moral dilemma threatening to damage the President Muhammadu Buhari government’s anticorruption war.
The summary of the commission’s report, which is contained in the letter to AGF shows that Maina fictitiously owned and operated several accounts with a bank using names, such as, Cluster Logistics’ Drew Investment and Construction Limited and Kongolo Dynamics Cleaning Limited. Other names used are “Dr” Abdullahi Faizal, Aliyu Yeldu, and Abdulraheed Abdullahi Maina.
EFCC said that an analysis of the listed accounts revealed a total of N2.7 billion was involved, stressing that 95 per cent of deposits made into the allegedly fraudulent accounts are cash deposits made by bankers in their own names and other fictitious names. In another revelation, the report also indicted the bank, saying that Maina fraudulently opened and operated all the accounts with the active connivance of the staff of the Private Banking Department of the bank.
The EFCC report showed how in many instances the beleaguered former pension reform taskforce chairman helped himself with the pension fund through fictitious transactions. A copy of the investigative report obtained yesterday in Abuja gave details of how officials of the Office of the Head of Civil Service of the Federation allegedly siphoned pension funds.
According to EFCC, it acted based on a request by the OHCSF in June 2010 to assist in the verification/biometric exercise of the federal civil service pensioners. The report stated that between 2008 and 2013, N14,374,236,846.09 was stolen and laundered using various fraudulent means, including fictitious contracts (N5, 761, 150, 608.44), ghost pensioners (829,902,260.40), collective allowances (1,365,821,942.91), payments to states pension boards (4,192,825,310.99), National Union of Pensioners and Association of Federal Public Service Retirees (2,290,593,322,.35).
Following findings of the investigators, EFCC said that it charged to court all suspects who were staff of the Office of the Head of Civil Service of the Federation and their associated companies and persons in the pension fraud, including Maina.
“Additionally, investigation revealed that Maina was deeply involved in stealing the same pension funds he was tasked with protecting by using staff under him and their associated persons and OHCF contractors to receive payments for non-existing biometric enrolment contracts, inflated contracts and collectives, amongst other questionable payments worth hundreds of millions of Naira, which are remitted in cash,” the report stated.
"it was also discovered that Mr. Maina was involved in a complex web of money laundering involving him, his family members, corporate entities used by him and his account officers” and some staff of the private banking unit of the bank.
EFCC said all efforts to interrogate Maina during its investigation were unsuccessful, adding that Maina failed to honour invitations extended to him before eloping to the United Arab Emirates with members of his family. The commission said it was at this stage that it sought an arrest warrant against Maina and he was declared wanted. It added that it sought the assistance of the Interpol with a view to arresting Maina to come and answer charges brought against him.
The report said in the course of the EFCC investigation, it established the involvement of some individuals and corporate entities and charged them to court. The anti-corruption agency said it had so far filled 12 cases against 19 suspects and corporate entities involved in the pension fraud. A special audit conducted by the Auditor-General of the Federation also confirmed the violations investigated by the EFCC.
Maina recently claimed that he went into hiding to save his life from alleged pension thieves who had vowed to silence him for asking the former Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Mrs Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, to stop a multi-billion naira monthly allocations being shared under the guise of paying pensioners.
Maina, who spoke to Berekete Family, an Abuja-based Radio Show anchored by Ahmed Isa, said he was ready to come out from hiding to spill the beans with relevant documents if Buhari would provide him adequate security.
All efforts to get the AGF to react to the issues proved unsuccessful, as calls to his cell phone did not go through. His special assistant on media and publicity, Comrade Isah Oathman Salihu, could also not be reached for comments, as he did not pick his calls or return them.