About 24 hours after information leaked that President Muhammadu Buhari was in the know about the questionable reinstatement of a dismissed pension fraud suspect into the civil service, the presidency has refused to speak on the matter.
The allegations that Mr. Buhari was briefed of the scheme to surreptitiously recall Abdulrasheed Maina, a fugitive from justice, were raised in an internal memo by the Head of Civil Service, Winifred Oyo-Ita — signalling an escalation in the scandal and its growing impact on the president’s avowed ‘war on corruption.’
“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 Mr. Buhari’s Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari.
It was brought to limelight that the story of Mr. Maina’s dubious return to civil service after years of being on the run, sending shockwaves through the nation and placing the administration’s conduct under renewed public criticism and scrutiny.
If the president was carried along by Attorney-General Abubakar Malami and Interior Minister Abdulrahman Dambazau —the two officials at the heart of the recall— it would be difficult for him to yield to public demand to fire either or both of them.
Mrs. Oyo-Ita’s memo was probably her response to Mr. Buhari’s demand that the top civil servant put together a report detailing how Mr. Maina sneaked back into public service.
Mr. Buhari summoned the report when he demanded an expedited dismissal of Mr. Maina from service on October 23, an uncharacteristically swift response to public outrage that led many to assume that the scandal also caught the president by surprise.
Presidential spokespersons, Femi Adesina and Garba Shehu, declined comments about Mrs. Oyo-Ita’s allegations against the president on Tuesday. Despite repeated efforts by newsmen throughout the day, the presidency failed to categorically say what Mr. Buhari might know.
While Mrs. Oyo-Ita’s memo might have added further hints into the possible involvement of Mr. Buhari in the controversial recall; it was silent on a host of questions that could be considered crucial to bringing the scandal to closure.
For instance, the Head of Service didn’t say what Mr. Buhari’s response was when she warned him about the Maina affair.
Secondly, Mrs. Oyo-Ita said she first learnt of the scheme as far back as February, but she also didn’t say why she had to wait until October 11 to verbally mention the matter to Mr. Buhari. Based on a narration prepared by the Federal Civil Service Commission, Mr. Maina was reinstated on September 28, indicating that Mrs. Oyo-Ita only raised concerns after the suspicious reinstatement had been concluded.
Also, considering the civil service culture of written communication, Mrs. Oyo-Ita was expected to have formally notified Mr. Buhari of her reservations concerning the reinstatement.
Administration officials said it was appropriate to verbally mention issues to the president during meetings, but it is usually done as a follow-up or a passing reminder about a pending written request. If there was any written communication between Mrs. Oyo-Ita and Mr. Buhari before the scandal broke, she didn’t specify in the memo.
Even when Mr. Buhari was warned late, he didn’t seem to have taken any action to immediately take steps that would have saved his administration the scandal.
A spokesperson for the Head of Service, Muhammed Manga, said he won’t comment on a leaked internal communication.
The Punch memo also showed Mrs. Oyo-Ita standing her ground that her office did not partake in the reinstatement, contrary to a claim by Mr. Dambazau that she approved the posting of Mr. Maina to the Interior.
Mr. Maina was dismissed from service in 2013 during the Goodluck Jonathan administration for absconding from office following allegations that he diverted billions in public funds for his own use when he headed the pension reform task force.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission subsequently moved to arrest and prosecute him, but Mr. Maina, who was fired as an assistant director, bolted from the law.
He was believed to have fled to Dubai, where he had remained until the Buhari administration facilitated his return under questionable circumstances this year.
Out of the 34-count charge which EFCC filed against a former Head of Civil Service, Steve Oronsaye, over pension fraud, Mr. Maina featured in 27. EFCC sources said he couldn’t be charged because he had been on the run.
“The consequences of the gross breach of public trust in the reinstatement of Mr. Maina could only be minimised if the president comes clean on the scandal,” said a political analyst and automobile expert, Gbola Oba.
Mr. Oba said Mr. Buhari and his aides are not helping themselves by keeping quiet and would “be mistaken if they think they could wait out this humongous scandal that others before it.”
“It’s true that Nigerians have become tired of regular scandals in public service, but this one would likely be the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back,” Mr. Oba said on a phone call Tuesday night. “The Head of Service has indicted the president, it’s time for him to tell Nigerians his side.”