Vanguard (Lagos)

20 February 2013

Nigeria: No Ordinary Servant

“… these not having the law, are a law unto themselves”- Romans 2:14

THE charade around the conduct and fate of an Assistant Director in the Federal Civil Service who exercises responsibility as Chairman of the Pension Reform Task Team, Abdurrasheed Maina appears set to continue.

The President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, no less, has publicly directed the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Alhaji Isa Sali, to initiate disciplinary action against the officer for being absent without leave.

The President's directive followed a resolution of the Senate last week asking the President to choose between the civil servant and its wrath.

The Senate had issued a warrant of arrest against the officer over his continued refusal to appear before it and answer questions over alleged mismanagement of N664m in pension funds.

The President has also received a report from the Inspector-General of Police, informing him that the Assistant Director has evaded detection and arrest by the entire Nigeria Police.

The IGP also did a little bit of the work of the Head of Service: he informed Mr President that the officer had breached section 030402, which lists breaches considered as gross misconduct. In Maina's case, the IGP said he was absent without leave.

Apparently acting on the advise of the IGP, President Jonathan directed the Head of the Civil Service to discipline Maina.

The latter, in turn, informed the Nigerian public that he had informed the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry in which Maina served as Assistant Director that the officer under him had absconded, and should be disciplined under provisions of PSR 030301 to 030304.

On the very day the nation was being treated to a melodrama that should insult its intelligence, an Abuja Federal High Court refused to grant an ex-parte application to stop the police from executing the arrest warrant against the civil servant.

Maina in addition is asking the court to rule that the Senate committees on Establishment and Public Service as well as State and Local Government Administration lack legal powers to decide on his fate or sanction him.

He wants the court to compel the Senate to pay him N1.5b in damages, and order the committees to appear before the court to show what wrongs he had committed.

The Maina saga, particularly the last debates about and around the civil servant showed a rare unanimity by the legislative arm of government which will even divert attention from the fact that the statutory 30 days for coming into effect of the budget has been exceed.

Before the ultimatum and threats by the Senate, Mr. Maina had stood up committees, called press conferences in Abuja to say he is not hiding, hired a SAN and gone to court, and had even been abandoned to the judgment of God by exasperated and helpless Senators.

The involvement of the President in directly ordering the Head of the Civil Service to discipline an Assistant Director should mark a new low in this pathetic charade.

At this stage, a lone civil servant appears to have become a massive source of embarrassment. First, President Jonathan could not, or should not have failed to know of the saga which for months had dragged his administration in the gutter.

In virtually all public comments made by legislators about Mr. Maina, they had pointed out that the civil servant who will not answer their summons travels out on Mr. President's entourage, receives him at Airports and has unhindered access to the Presidential Villa.

They have all alluded to the existence of some powerful forces in the presidency which are involved in protecting Mr. Maina.

The height of this indignity is being compelled, as President, to do something about a lone civil servant by an angry Senate, and then acting as if the matter was just being brought to his attention.

The gentleman in question, only one out of hundreds of Assistant Directors under the direct responsibility of the Head of the Civil Service has also rubbished the integrity and authority of the highest office in the public service.

The public directives of the President to the Head of Service to discipline the officer is an avoidable rebuke, although in fairness to the Head of service, he may have been hamstrung in his efforts by the same forces which had made Mr. Maina untouchable.

An Assistant Director who is assigned responsibility as chairman of Pension Reform Task Force is perfectly within the powers of the HOS to discipline.

He had to have given him the responsibility in the first place, and could have reassigned it to someone else, or punished him for established transgressions without the President ever hearing about it.

He could have conducted his own investigation and taken disciplinary action against the officer the moment facts warranting it were brought to his attention.

The public service rules are detailed and exhaustive enough for matters of this nature to be handled; and they even make provisions for prosecution and dismissal for fraud, embezzlement and other criminal offences.

A report from a committee of the legislature alone is sufficient to compel the Head of Service to investigate civil servants, although he has to do this within the rules of the service, and be satisfied that officer(s) reported by the legislature have committed transgressions. The Head of Service should brief the President on matters of this nature owing to the need to police legislative/executive boundaries.

That it had taken this long, and required such a messy exposure of the limitations of the presidency and the civil service is a sad commentary on the state of the public service today.

There are others who should now feel uncomfortable over this saga. The Nigeria police, whose pension funds are reported to be part of the billions missing says it cannot find a man who used to go everywhere with a retinue of policemen. Interpol is now being asked to ensure that he does not flee the country.

There are also people who may have given him comfort and assurances that the cover of the presidency will be impenetrable and permanent.

They will, if they can feel shame, rue their attempts to defy the legislature, the laws of the land, public opinion, the federal civil service, and every standard of decency and accountability.

The real story behind Mr. Maina's bravado may not have been heard yet. But the legislature has made a crack, although critics will not fail to note that it moved more decisively only when some Senators fumed that Mr. Maina had alleged that some of them had demanded a N3b bribe from him.

Mr President's involvement in the conduct of a civil servant in such a public manner is a severe indictment of the administration and the public service. Now that the senate appears to have succeeded in forcing some action out of the presidency, Nigerians will wait to see what happens.

Will his protectors continue to hide him? Can he be arrested, fully investigated, and be prosecuted if he has broken the law?

How far will the Maina trail go? How much damage has this saga done to the federal civil service, an institution which has already been severely compromised by a political level that now routinely encroaches upon its hallowed values in pursuit of patronage?

The Maina saga will not go away, any more than the fuel subsidy scam or the sharp practices in the power sector will disappear. The man himself is quite likely to be a front for some deeply-entrenched interests.

They or him may want to sacrifice each other. Either way, the nation will want to know what happned to billions of pension funds, and how the law will deal with those who may have stolen them.

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