The presidency has stated that President Goodluck Jonathan is not shielding the chairman of the Pension Reform Task Force Team, Mr. Abdulrasheed Maina. Only laid-down civil service rules and procedures can determine Maina's fate, special adviser to the president on media and publicity Dr. Reuben Abati stated yesterday in a reaction to the decision of the Senate asking the president to choose between them and Maina.
Abati, who spoke while responding to questions from journalists at the presidential villa, Abuja, added that Jonathan was not backing Maina against the Senate on the grounds that the Senate has constitutional right to summon anybody since nobody is above the law.
The Senate had, on Wednesday, handed down a two-day ultimatum to the president: either sack Maina from the federal civil service or face the wrath of the entire upper chamber of the National Assembly.
But Abati claimed that the president is a strong believer in the rule of law, adding that Jonathan believes that any errant public official should be punished in accordance with the extant civil service rules.
He said: "The Senate has constitutional power to summon anybody. If such person failed to appear before them, the lawmakers are also empowered to issue warrant of arrest against the person. The president has not in any way stood in the way of the Senate in inviting Maina. You will recall that the police even declared him wanted.
"Maina is a civil servant. If he has done something that amounts to a breach of civil service rule, the appropriate office to do the right thing and ensure that due process is followed is the Office of the Head of Service of the Federation. Nobody should suggest that the president is backing Maina. It is not an issue for the president.
"There are laid-down procedures for handling situations like this. The president believes in due process. It is a matter for the civil service to handle. The president does not have to be disciplining civil servants personally."
Meanwhile, the police high command has said that Maina is running from the law. Spokesman of the police Mr Frank Mba stated this yesterday in Abuja while speaking with journalists. Mba spoke while reacting to the summons of the inspector-general of police, Mohammed Abubakar, by the Senate. He added that the police had called on the general public to volunteer information concerning Maina's whereabouts, saying that the warrant of arrest of Maina by the Senate would have been executed if the police had any clue about Maina's current abode.
He said: "If you are conversant with policing tradition, you will understand that the declaration of any person wanted is usually necessitated by a need.
"In this instant, he was declared wanted because he went into hiding and made it difficult for the force to execute a warrant of arrest that was legitimately issued against him. And the Nigeria Police Force remains irrevocably committed to finding him, and, as soon as we lay our hands on him, we will arrest him and take him before the Senate as has been mandated in that warrant of arrest."
Mba also debunked allegation that Maina was still having riot policemen guarding him, saying that the police needed useful information about his whereabouts. "Maina has no police officer in his entourage, to the best of my knowledge. And, again, media practitioners are responsible members of the society and even in that declaration and in the press release that we issued over declaring Maina a wanted man, we did say that if any citizen that had information that could help us in executing that order, the person should please pass that information to the appropriate authority. So if you have information that could help us in executing this warrant if arrest, we will be glad to receive it from you," he stated.
On the issue of Maina heading for court over undue harassment, Mba disclosed that the force would not join issues with him on such matters. He said, "We will not go into those things -- those things have nothing to do with us. We will not be pulled into unnecessary controversies.
But the point remains that the National Assembly as represented by the Senate has issued a warrant of arrest and that warrant of arrest has mandated us to arrest him, and we are focusing on that task and we are irrevocably committed to discharging that statutory responsibilities."
In its own reaction to the Maina issue, the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) has said that the administration of President Jonathan is "paying lip service" to the fight against corruption. According to the party, the development will serve as a litmus test for his government in the fight against corruption.
In a statement by the national publicity secretary of the party, Hon. Emma Eneukwu, the ANPP said: "Considering that the whole nation has been ripped off of hundreds of billions of naira in pension funds, while the federal government is boasting of fighting corruption to a standstill without any parameter to convince the people, we believe the Maina affair is a veritable litmus test for the government's resolve to fight corruption.
"Our great party also maintains that the culture of impunity is the cause of the vicious circle of corruption in our dear nation.
"It is glaring that this present government is paying lip service to the fight against corruption, as it continues to beat its chest and gloat over infinitesimal achievements while the big issues are swept under the carpet, and the big fish go scot-free even when they are caught. We must remember that there are two courts: the court of law and the court of public opinion.
"The Nigerian people, who are the owners of the pensions squandered by these officials, have palpably declared them guilty and are just waiting for the government to give them justice. Now, it seems their hope in the government is turning out to become a mirage, as even the ones found guilty are not punished."