13 February 2013

Nigeria: Mark Vows Senate 'Bite' If Jonathan Fails to Sack Maina

After nearly a year prodding one of Nigeria's alleged biggest fraudsters, the Senate, on Wednesday, brushed aside partisan and ethnic divide, with a unanimous resolution asking President Goodluck Jonathan to fire, and prosecute the police pension task team head, Abdulrasheed Maina, accused in a N195 billion pension fraud.

For a 109-member senate, 108 senators filed the motion and passed it, led by the Majority Leader, Victor Ndoma-Egba. The exception was the Senate President, David Mark, the presiding officer.

If Mr. Jonathan, who, like past presidents, has flouted past resolutions of the Senate without consequences, ignores this one, the senate will "bite", Mr. Mark warned, appearing livid during an unusually stormy session.

The president has a choice between Mr. Maina, accused of unimaginable fraud, and the Senate, Mr. Mark said.

"The executive now has to choose between Maina and the Senate, that is the bottom line," he said. "If they chose to go along with Maina, fine, we will react accordingly. And to extend the hand of friendship is the correct thing to do because we must work together. There is no running away from that one. It is a test case. If Maina remains, then the Senate will react appropriately and I don't think we are short of ideas nor are we short of what we want to do. We know the step to take."

"Let me assure you that the Senate has the teeth to bite and it will bite when it is time to bite. Nobody can stop it," Mr. Mark added.

The senate also ordered the Inspector General of police, Mohammed Abubakar, to appear before it and explain why Mr. Maina has since not been arrested despite senate's summons.

Mr. Maina has been at the centre of a multibillion police pension scam investigated by the senate since February 2012, with allegations linking him to more than N100 billion of missing savings.

Mr. Maina has denied the charges.

Six federal civil servants are currently facing trial over the scam. A fortnight ago, one of the suspects, Yusuf Yakubu, received a controversial court ruling allowing him to N750,000 in lieu of a two year jail term, after pleading guilty to stealing N2 billion alone.

The ruling sparked outrage, forcing the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, to initiate fresh charges.

Extending through months, the Senate probe became unusually protracted after the powerful head of the Task Team, Mr. Maina, who was appointed by President Jonathan to sanitize an already corrupt pension system, turned out accused of far bigger fraud, and refused to submit to the investigation.

Lawmakers said Mr. Maina reduced the number of ghost pensioners which he met, and then turned around to introduce his own figures, a means he used to siphon the billions.

Mr. Maina has ignored several summons by the investigating committee-Joint Senate Committee on Establishment, Pubic Service and Local Governments- headed by Aloysius Etok. He has however accused the committee of receiving a N3 billion bribe from him Senators reject the allegation.

The task force chairman accused the senate committee of bias after the committee issued preliminary reports indicting him; prompting the senate to reject the report, and re-constitute an expanded committee for a fresh evaluation of the case.

Deputy Leader, Abdul Ningi and Chief Whip, Bello Gwarzo, were made part of the review team.

"I said that he (Maina) should be given a fair chance to come and explain himself and expose anybody here who asked him for anything," Mr. Mark said in detailed narrative.

"If we hurried over it, it could appear as if it is a cover up and I didn't want to do that. I called the two committee chairmen and I asked them if they have been reading what Maina has been publishing in the pages of paper and I also directed that they should invite Maina, go for a public hearing and get the media houses to be there and let Maina say in the front of the media houses and before this nation to say who asked him for bribe and I think that's fair."

While that happened, Mr. Mark said, Mr. Maina sent him petitions, which he replied, insisting he appear before the committee.

The Senate President said he ordered Mr. Maina's arrest after he repeatedly ignored the committee. For months, Mr. Mark said, the police have returned with multiple excuses on why they could not arrest the pension boss.

In December, the Aloysius Etok-led committee had said it was confronting a cabal more powerful than the notorious fuel subsidy clique, and backed by very top government officials.

"In the performance of pension probe, I realized I have stepped on very powerful toes, I can tell you that pension cabal is worse than oil cabal," Mr. Etok said.

Somewhat a bullish figure, Mr. Maina shocks the lawmakers with his seemingly arrogant style, walking in and out of meetings on the few times he attends them, addressing the media with accusation he has been asked for bribes, and towing along a large size of security detail including the police and the State Security Service.

Mr. Mark said while the police claimed Mr. Maina could not be arrested, the pension boss continued to hold press briefings. The delayed investigation, he said, was to be fair to Mr. Maina and ensure he was given fair hearing.

"That is the bottom line of this, he has crucified himself," the senate president said. "We can't enumerate the sins of Maina, they are too many and like Senator Adeyeye said, when God decided to give people manners, Maina just decided to be absent. There is no phrase that anybody has used on Maina here today that is not correct."

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