In an apparent response to the demands of the Senate, President Goodluck Jonathan has initiated measures against the head of the Presidential Task Team on pension reform, Abdulrasheed Maina, signaling the president may have finally bowed to pressure to sanction the fugitive.
Mr. Jonathan on Friday ordered the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Isa Sali, to commence disciplinary actions against Mr. Maina, accused by the Senate in a multibillion naira fraud.
The president, however, did not allude to the Senate's decision. He cited Mr. Maina's absence from work as the motive for punishment, according to a statement released by presidential spokesperson, Reuben Abati.
The statement said the president was briefed by the police Inspector General, Mohammed Abubakar, of police failure to arrest the pension boss, whom the police claimed had gone into hiding.
"In his directive to the Head of Service, Alhaji Isa Sali, President Jonathan noted that the Inspector-General's report clearly indicated that Alhaji Maina had absconded from his official duties," the statement said.
"President Jonathan directed the Head of Service to act expeditiously on the disciplinary proceedings against Alhaji Maina and report back to him on actions taken."
The penalty should address Mr. Maina's "absconding from duty".
"Section 030402 of the Federal Government's Public Service Rules lists Absence from Duty without Leave as an act of Serious Misconduct punishable by dismissal," the statement adds.
Later Friday, the Head of the Civil Service, Mr. Sali, directed the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Interior, where Mr. Maina serves as an Assistant Director, to commence sanctions against the pension boss.
The directive is contained in a statement issued by Tope Ajakaiye, Director of Press and Public Relations for the Head of Service.
"It has become apparent that he has absconded from duty without leave. This carries severe penalty in line with Public Service Rules No. 030301 - 030304," the statement said.
Mr. Maina has been at the centre of an investigation by the Senate into abuses in pension administration, with allegations linking him to more than N100 billion fraud.
The controversy peaked on Wednesday after the Senate passed a unanimous resolution asking the president to fire, and order the prosecution of Mr. Maina.
The Senate warned of a response if the president defied its decision, accusing Mr. Maina of refusing to cooperate with its investigating committee, and also ignoring its summons.
An arrest warrant issued by the Senate on Mr. Maina, has yet to be executed by the police after weeks. Police authorities claim they have not located Mr. Maina, amidst allegations the pension boss still retains police security.
Police has rejected it was providing security for Mr. Maina.
In his brief to the president, the police IG, Mr. Abubakar said after receiving the Senate's warrant, he had "constituted a team of detectives under the leadership of a Deputy Inspector-General of Police" to effect the arrest.
"The Inspector-General said that the police has since mounted surveillance at Alhaji Maina's home and Office but has been unable to arrest him because he has gone into hiding and stayed away from both locations since the warrant was issued, leading to his publicly being declared wanted by the Police," the statement from the presidency said.
Police "intensive search" operations were still ongoing, the IG added.
But senators and critics say the presidency's body language suggests Mr. Jonathan was shielding the powerful chairman of the Task Team, who has ended being accused of a far bigger crime than what he was deployed to tackle.
Last week, Mr. Maina was at the Abuja international airport receiving the president who returned from his latest trip to the UK.
Amid increasing public concerns over the president's repeated flouting of investigations recommending sanctions against indicted officials, a shocking statement from the presidency on Thursday claimed Mr. Jonathan lacked powers to sack the pension boss.
Spokespersons Mr. Abati and Doyin Okupe said the president could not act since Mr. Maina was a civil servant and could only be punished according to civil service rules.