In a move that seems to defy logic, the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, has reportedly gone to court to stop the ongoing parliamentary investigation of a former Presidential Pension Reform Task Team boss, Abdulrasheed Maina. Considering the furore generated by the recent botched attempt to reinstate the fugitive in the civil service, and President Muhammadu Buhari’s posture on the matter, Malami’s latest action poses a patent embarrassment to the government.
Without a doubt, the AGF’s action raises questions which impinge heavily on Buhari’s personal integrity and claim to fighting corruption. It also confirms the widely-held view that, rather than pull together, members of the President’s team are working at cross purposes. This has been noticed on many occasions, including that of the failed bid to confirm Ibrahim Magu as the substantive Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. His confirmation bid was effectively stalled due to contradictory reports issued from the Presidency concerning the matter.
It is however left to be seen what the President’s response would be on the matter, especially given the fact that he had reportedly ordered an investigation into how a fugitive from justice, who was sacked from the civil service based on allegations of corrupt practices and was on the wanted list of the EFCC, would later be reabsorbed in the service and given accelerated promotion.
Shockingly, Maina has alleged that Buhari, who ordered his immediate sacking once it became public knowledge that he had been reinstated, was in the know of how he was smuggled back into the country from his hideout in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates. Curiously, and quite characteristically, the President is yet to make public the outcome of the investigation he ordered into how Maina’s return and reinstatement in the civil service were planned and executed; there is also no news yet of anyone being punished on account of that embarrassing incident.
Already standing on quicksand, Buhari’s anti-graft war needs a shot in the arm to convince Nigerians, who are gradually losing faith in it, especially those who believe that it is only targeted at political opponents. Steps should be taken to deal decisively with cases, particularly those that are very obvious, to reassure Nigerians that the war is alive and well. A good example is this particular case: after taking what seemed like an eternity to arrive at a decision on the former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal, handling corruption matters in such a desultory manner should not be a standard in this administration. Besides, was dismissal enough punishment for such an obvious act of corruption?
As the head of the presidential team saddled with the responsibility of unravelling the faceless characters behind the monumental fraud and outright stealing perpetrated in public pensions, Maina was alleged to have become deeply involved in the mess himself. He was alleged to have stolen about N195 billion, for which the Senate decided to turn the searchlight on him. But rather than appear before the Senate to defend himself, he went to court to stop the Senate investigation and, thereafter, made a bolt for it. Is that the kind of person that should be surreptitiously reinstated in the civil service, let alone promoted twice?
And as if taking a cue from Maina, Malami had reportedly filed an ex parte application, asking the court for an injunction to stop Maina’s probe until the determination of his substantive case. In the substantive case, the AGF is asking the court to determine whether the National Assembly has the right to probe issues relating to the employment, attendance at work, disengagement, reinstatement and or promotion of a civil servant, among other pleas.
This is a litmus test of Buhari’s anti-corruption war. It is not the first time that Malami, the chief law officer of the federation, would be using the might of state power to defend an accused person instead of allowing the person to defend himself against whatever allegations are levelled against him. During the altercation between the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, and a serving senator, Isah Misau, the AGF was quick to file criminal charges against the senator instead of taking steps to authenticate the veracity or otherwise of the weighty allegations he made against Idris.
This is just another one of the absurdities that should not be condoned by a government that professes to be fighting corruption. In other parts of the world, where transparency is regarded as the hallmark of governance or public office, merely associating with a person of questionable character is enough for a government official to apologise publicly and bow out honourably.
In February 2011, the French Foreign Minister, Michele Alliot-Marie, bowed to public opinion and resigned her appointment after it was discovered that she had been hobnobbing with the government of Zine el-Abidie Ben Ali, the Tunisian dictator who was forced to flee his country in the wake of the Arab Spring protests. Similarly, David Cameron’s Communications Director, Andy Coulson, was forced to resign over questions of his possible involvement in the celebrity phone hacking scandal that took place when he was the editor of the tabloid, The News of the World.
Buhari has to act with the decisiveness with which he asked for the dismissal of Maina. Besides, efforts should be made to bring out Maina from his hideout to answer to all the allegations against him while the roles played by all the people that returned him to office should also be made public. The first step to take is to suspend Malami whose activities seem to portray him as someone who has something to hide. For an administration that is fighting corruption, all its action should not only be transparent but should be seen to be so.