Mr. Mohammed Katu, the legal counsel for the former Chairman, Presidential Pension Reform Task Team, Mr. Abdulrasheed Maina, told the House of Representatives on Thursday that his client was still receiving salaries despite the report that he had been dismissed from service.
He also claimed that Maina treated official files up to last month (October).
Maina’s statement came as Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Mr. Abubakar Malami, denied knowledge of any letter reinstating him to office as a Deputy-Director in the Ministry of Interior.
But Head of Service of the Federation, Mrs. Winfred Oyo Ita, insisted that there were letters from the AGF to the Federal Civil Service Commission, FCSC, directing Maina’s reinstatement.
Maina was not physically present as an ad hoc committee of the House opened its investigative hearing into the disappearance and reinstatement of Maina into the public service in Abuja.
The committee is chaired by a member of the All Progressives Congress from Kano State, Mr. Aliyu Madaki.
Katu claimed that his client was not dismissed from service and that he only sought judicial intervention in 2013 when he realised that there was a move to dismiss him from service.
He added that while the litigation was in progress, Maina “disappeared” from Nigeria because his life was in danger.
Katu said, “He was still working as of June 13th, 2013 after the purported dismissal. He was writing to the Minister of Finance (former Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala); so, it is not true that he was dismissed.”
According to Katu, his client was still receiving his salaries and emoluments “and he got piles of files to treat up to a month ago.”
He added, “Maina is still receiving salaries. 23 files were sent to him in his capacity as acting director, even while he was absent. Maina has continued to work even after he was dismissed.”
However, when a member of the committee, Mrs. Ayo Omidiran, quoted a 2014 letter Maina wrote to the Federal Civil Service Commission, pleading for a review of his dismissal, Katu insisted that his client was still in service.
Omidiran stated, “We are not children here, and let the impression not be created that those of us sitting on this committee do not know what we are doing.
“If Maina wrote to the FCSC to appeal for a review of his dismissal, why would you be saying that he was not dismissed?
But, Katu replied, “There are things we have with us and we will submit them when next we come.”
When asked again, Katu insisted that as far as his client was concerned, he was still in the service.
The committee took the testimonies of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, and the members were in shock when the AGF denied that he ordered the reinstatement of Maina into service.
The Federal Civil Service and the Ministry of Interior had acted on a directive from the AGF’s office to reinstate the former pension task force chairman.
As of the time he was recalled to office on September 28, 2017, Maina was on the wanted list of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the police for alleged abuse of pensions funds.
But, Malami, who appeared before the panel in Abuja, claimed that, though a review of Maina’s case by his office was on course, he never finalised his recall.
He said, “My position is that as of 5th of October, Maina’s case was work in progress and not concluded. It was KIV (Keep in View).
“So, the letter giving specific directive on his reinstatement could not have genuinely emanated from my office.”
The AGF, who claimed to be as surprised as everyone to hear that he ordered the reinstatement, told the panel that an internal investigation had begun at the ministry to unravel the seeming mystery.
“A committee has been set up to find out how the process was concluded without following the laid down procedure for looking into such matters in the ministry,” he added.
However, he admitted that a process to review Maina’s dismissal was initiated in February 2016 by his office after his lawyers wrote, requesting Maina’s reinstatement.
The AGF stated that the lawyer cited “illegal dismissal from service and injustice” as the grounds for requesting the review.
On receiving the request, the AGF told the panel that he directed the “Line Officer” in the Ministry to conduct necessary background checks.
He said the officer reported back in April 2017 that “relying on several court judgements” that had not been appealed, Maina could be reinstated.
He disclosed that among the court processes and judgements were Maina Vs Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria & Eight others; Maina Vs EFCC & Police; and Maina Vs Customs/Prisons/Immigration Board.
The AGF explained that none of the parties to the cases entered any appeal within the time allowed by law.
Malami said his immediate reaction was to minute to the officer to “advise further.”
He added that on April 19, the Line Officer, whose name he did not give, reported back to say there was a pending suit at the National Industrial Court, which could have “consequential” effect on the reinstatement of Maina.
“On the 5th of October, he wrote a final letter recommending that Maina should reinstated,” he added.
Malami stated that the matter rested there, denying that he gave any final approval, which could have led to Maina’s recall.
He hinted of the existence of a powerful pensions’ “syndicate,” which the AGF said drew membership from politicians, serving and retired civil servants and legislators.
The AGF, who admitted that he indeed met with Maina in the United Arab Emirates in January 2016, said the existence of the syndicate was part of the information the former pensions boss shared with him.
He revealed how he conceded to meet with Maina after he had come under “immense pressure” from him and with the intervention of the National Security Adviser, Gen. Babagana Monguno (retd.), who was also part of the meeting.
Malami said Maina told him how his life was in danger over the N3bn stolen pension funds that he had recovered.
“He claimed there were attempts on his life at the Presidential Villa and he had to run to the UAE.
“Up to N3.7bn was allegedly shared every month by this pensions’ fraud syndicate. So, we are dealing with a major issue far more than reducing it to just an individual,” he told the panel.
However, the Acting Chairman of the Federal Civil Service Commission, Mr. Joseph Akande, informed the committee that it acted on a directive from the AGF’s office to reinstate Maina.
He recalled that earlier in May 2014, Maina wrote to the commission pleading for leniency over his dismissal from service.
“The commission looked into the issue and his appeal was turned down because we knew there were issues that he had to answer,” he said
But, he noted that when between January 19, 2017 and April 27th, the FCSC received three letters from the AGF, directing the reinstatement of Maina, the commission had to act.
Akande added, “In one of the letters, the AGF clearly wrote that he was giving the directive as the Chief Legal Officer of the country and that the basis of Maina’s dismissal cannot stand because the courts quashed his warrant of arrest.”
Following the development, Akande told lawmakers that the commission wrote to the Head of Service of the Federation and the Ministry of Interior to reinstate Maina.
When the committee asked the Head of Service, Mrs. Winifred Oyo-Ita, to explain the role of her office in the saga, the HoS replied that though she received the letter by the FCSC, she never acted on it.
According to her, she held on to the letter because “I felt reinstating Maina would be against the anti-corruption principle of this present administration.”
She added, “I didn’t act on the letter and I will say that my office was not responsible for the reinstatement.”
The Minister of Interior, Lt. Gen. Abdulrahman Dambazau (retd.), whose ministry wrote the final letter to Maina, conveying his recall to him, also said he was not responsible for it.
Dambazau informed the committee that the appropriate officer to address the matter would be the Permanent Secretary, Mr. Abubakar Magaji, who was in charge of the general administration of the ministry.
When asked the whereabouts of the permanent secretary, the minister replied, “He went on medical vacation.”
The committee summoned the permanent secretary and the EFCC to appear on the next adjourned date of November 30.
On its part, the Nigeria Police claimed not to have played “any role in the pensions’ reform task team, though the team was to unravel issues in the police pensions.”
A Deputy Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Valentine Tochukwu, who represented the IGP, Mr. Ibrahim Idris, claimed that the police were still searching for Maina to administer a pending arrest warrant on him.
The Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission also washed its hands of Maina’s case.
“By the terms of reference of the committee, they do not fall within our mandate,” the Acting Chairman of the commission, Mr. Bako Abdullahi, told the committee. – Punch.