*Over N6trillion in 97 pension offices still hang untapped
From Okechukwu Duru
For a long time, the former Chairman of the Pension Reform Task Team (PRTT), Mr. Abdulrasheed Maina, has been embattled and news about him had remained very sensational in the media except for a recent surprising disclosure which though interestingly shocking has been kept away from public knowledge by the media.
Without a doubt such information which undoubtedly is high quality news would have been readers’ delight especially for deconstructing a highly complex national issue but the seeming deliberate attempt to keep it under the carpet will form the focus of this discourse whilst raising queries on the sincerity of the Nigerian media in news reporting.
From Maina’s feat of recovering N1.3 trillion stolen by pension thieves, the twisty allegations on misappropriation of N2 billion against him by the Senate Committee to major fallout and counter accusations of N3billion bribery demand from him by the Senate Committee Chairman, Aloysius Etuk, and his deputy, Kabir Gaya, the narrative on Maina has no doubt been very long and complicated.
In fact, the chronicle on Maina by any credible analyst will be incomplete without recognising how the media through very persuasive write ups incited the then Senate President, David Mark, to ask the Jonathan’s Presidency for abrupt dismissal and arrest of the then Chairman of the Pension Reform Task Team (PRTT).
What was the major issue of contention that would warrant such deft punishment before trial, especially on a man that has accomplished unparalleled success in decimating the pension fraud cabal in Nigeria one may ask?
Simply put, it was nothing far from what was largely termed Maina’s disrespectful conduct to the fraudulent Senate Committee. Even if bad as it was painted, would that have warranted the termination of a major anti-corruption vehicle that was delivering tons of stolen billions into the coffers of the Nigerian treasury?
Yes, Maina’s main crime was his poor attitude, immature approach and impunity exhibited to the Senate Committee but the twist in the story is that a little after Maina and the Senate Committee exchanged accusations, the media went bizarre with stories against Maina’s impunity with no mention of his good work as Chairman of Pension Reform Task Team. This half-baked journalism was highly noticeable and even the much respected conservative media over looked the need to provide a balanced reporting.
On all these and more, the simple logic adduced by Maina’s sympathisers to the aggressive media trial was that it was fuelled by views from mostly those that opposed to his stay as Chairman of the Pension Reform Task Team (PRTT) and many persons still in possession of stolen pension funds.
Even though this remains an allegation with no proof, the failed attempted murder of Maina was well documented by the police and highly suggestive that some persons wanted Maina dead. Probably, this dastardly act might have contributed to his eventual departure from public glare to avoid extermination from the face of the earth with a preferred option of fighting his legal battles from his assumed haven. Luckily for Maina, the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja not only quashed the arrest warrant on him, but also granted an order of perpetual injunction restraining the IGP from arresting him.
Besides, the conjectures on Maina’s forced exit, I think what is important is for Nigerians to first examine the role played by a section of the media in the said character assassination of Maina before trial and then the new government of President Buhari to examine the real role Maina played in dismantling the criminal gang of pension thieves in Nigeria, then attempt a proper analysis on what seems best for the national interest.
First on the media character assassination of Maina, with the recent disclosure by the then Senate Committee Deputy Chairman, Kabir Gaya that the N195 billion accusation against Maina was baseless as the money was deposited in banks under the TSA scheme, what it simply affirms is that many of the issues raised against Maina were downright absurd and largely conspiratorial in their undertones for his removal.
What has been made public by Senator Kabir Gaya, though an afterthought certainly quashes the Senate Committee’s earlier allegation of misappropriation of about N195 billion against Maina, the chairman and members of the Pension Task Team. These are definitely thought provoking.
With no attempt of getting sanctimonious on Maina, the objective reality for Nigerians herein is that it was absolutely outrageous that the referenced Senate Committee never had quality reason and evidence to engage in what they did by prompting the police to declare Maina wanted.
Unfortunately, now that these lies have been dispelled by those that initiated them, the truth is that their effects will linger because of a biased press that engages in selective reporting, otherwise why has the media maintained a deafening silence on this issue of national interest, could it be that those that never wanted Maina around are still busy suppressing important stories that will resurrect Maina’s Pension Task Team?
Today, without no basis in fact, the press has made Maina’s name contradictorily synonymous with both an achiever in pension reform and a looter even though the evidence against him were never substantiated. This is not only shocking especially now that the accusations on Maina have been overturned but what it clearly exposes is the existence of a skewed desire of a section of the media to condemn a man guilty before investigation.
Of course, some may disagree with this position, however, it is really unfortunate that in this era of investigative journalism the media has found it unnecessary to review an earlier misinformation they offered their readers, otherwise what is it that is stopping any credible press that carried the initial falsehood from rapidly reversing the erroneous report?
The story of deception visited upon Maina is not only strange, destructive to his personal integrity but very damaging to our collective interest on anti-corruption fight. The most worrisome part of it all is that the allegations that a section of the Nigerian press were motivated to embrace falsehoods by routinely categorising Maina as thief without basis in order to halt the good work of the Pension Reform Task Team (PRTT) might even be true especially given that Maina’s primary accusers have made public apologies and reversed themselves.
Sadly, like a well-rehearsed plot, this was rarely reported in the media and even where reported, it received minimal media coverage.
From all fair and objective intents, it may not be wrong to conclude that characterisation of Maina as a criminal by the media is divorced from truth and actuality because the initial failure of the media to conduct proper investigation on such an issue as raised by the Senate Committee raises the very important question of the real role of the journalists in the fight against corruption.
This is why it may be necessary for the sake of common good to open up conversation to probe why Maina’s accusers conjured phony statistics and stories, yet allowed to successfully terminate a tested and proven strategy that would have allowed Nigeria recover more trillions of Naira in the private coffers of some pension thieves.
In fact, the reward for the termination of Maina’s Pension Task Team only favours those who are threatened by Maina’s claims that over six trillion Naira can still be recovered from the 97 un-investigated institutions. Certainly, this is huge loss for the Nigerian nation especially under the Buhari-led administration that needs to enhance its revenue especially in a recessed economy.
Another objective reality for Nigerians is that the Maina matter will for a long time be a major reference on challenges that confront corruption fight in the developing world and it is a clear instance of how corruption fight is killed and corruption fighters battled. The fact is that what is happening to Maina is somewhat terrifying and it really does suggest that the fight against corruption and the belief that corruption fights back those that battle it are not just matters of illusion but reality.
The ready question herein is would President Buhari allow the battle against Maina be another triumph of evil over good? This is where we need a sane public conversation on Maina that will counter the earlier media treatment of Maina which is far from being sober and reasonable. Otherwise, on the termination of Maina’s fight against corruption, the nation will be the big loser.
Now that a contrary conclusion has emerged on Maina, what next? Will his dismissal in the civil service be reversed? Will the previous Senate Committee’s report that has been revealed to be plagued by so many irregularities and inconsistencies be reversed or an apology offered to Maina?
Will Maina ever find courage to work again for his country under similar circumstances and inherent risks? However, the truth is that Maina would earn much if he decides to sell his story to the international news media and publishers on how the corruption he fought, found a way to fight him back.
Dr. Okechukwu Duru is a Public Affairs analyst and Sub Sahara Co-ordinator, Advocates for Improved Africa. He is located in Area 10, Garki, Abuja