The embattled ex-chairman of the Presidential Task Force on Pension Reforms, Abdulrasheed Maina, who has been accused of complicity in a N2bn fraud, has gone into hiding.
The fugitive, who is still on the wanted list of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission for the alleged offence, went into hiding soon after news that the anti-graft agency had launched a manhunt for him became public.
One of Punch correspondents gathered that Maina, who had been reinstated as an acting director in the Ministry of Interior, was to meet with yet to be identified persons in his office but apparently had a change of heart because he was nowhere near the office building when a Punch reporter arrived at the office at 8.20am and at 2.00pm when he left.
The office located at the Old Secretariat in Area 1, consists of a reception, a waiting room before a massive door leading up to the director’s office.
The reception looked dreary while two young men in the waiting room fiddled with their phones as they conversed in low tones. Attempts to speak with the female secretary, who refused to give her name, failed as she rebuffed all questions.
In response to enquiries about the whereabouts of her new boss, she snapped, “I don’t know where he is.”
A source, who spoke to one of Punch correspondents, in confidence because of the sensitivity of the matter, said Maina travelled to Kano during the weekend and had given appointments to some persons to meet him at the office on Monday but went into hiding soon afterwards.
The source said, “He planned to meet with some visitors in his office on Monday but for him to have aborted the appointment and switched off his phones meant he had gone underground. He may not be seen for a little while.”
It was learnt that the fugitive had over the last few months held meetings with several groups and individuals with respect to his ambition to contest in the 2019 governorship election in his home state of Borno.
“Maina has not hidden his political plans as he is known to broadcast his ambition on WhatsApp platform to his friends and associates,” the source further explained.
Nigeria’s foremost anti-graft agency, the EFCC also said it was still searching for Maina whom it declared wanted about two years ago.
The EFCC Spokesman, Mr. Wilson Uwujaren, who spoke to one of Punch correspondents around 8pm on Monday, said the commission was still on his trail.
He, however, stated that the commission had marked his houses in Abuja including a house in Jabi said to be worth about $2m.
Uwujaren said, “Yes, his properties were marked today. To the best of my knowledge, he has not yet been arrested.”
Another source within the EFCC accused a sister security agency, the Department of State Services, of shielding the suspect from arrest.
The source said Maina was moving around town in a bulletproof Range Rover Sports Utility Vehicle and two or three vehicles.
The source said, “We have traced him to a hotel in Kaduna where he went to spend the weekend; we know that the DSS is protecting him and the DG DSS, deployed men to protect him. But make no mistake, we will arrest him, already we’ve frozen all his accounts.”
Another source said, “He stays in a property which is a DSS safe house. He moves around in a convoy of about two or three vehicles. I personally saw him alighting from a Range Rover SUV last week with about four DSS officials.”
The DSS, which does not have an official media relations officer, also responded to EFCC’s allegations through a source close to it, the source challenged the EFCC to support its claims with evidence.
The DSS source said, “There is no need responding to baseless allegations because there was nothing like that. Both of us are doing same work, which is apart from making the country safe from fraudulent people, we also collaborate with each other in the area of collating of data on other things. This is why I’m surprised on this baseless allegation by an unknown person. Anyway, that’s all.”
Commenting on the manhunt for the fugitive, prominent human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), called on the EFCC to compel Dambazzau to produce him.
Falana said since the minister had admitted that Maina was working under him, he should know his whereabouts.
He said, “The allegation on the ground is that he has stolen N100bn from pension fund. It is the worst case of corruption. It is a crime against humanity to divert money meant for pensioners. Whether he was reinstated properly or not is diversionary. The questions should be when will government recover the money? When will he be arraigned?
“The EFCC should ask those who reinstated him to produce him. He is in a ministry and the minister has come out to admit that he has been promoted.”
A Lagos-based lawyer, Mr. Jiti Ogunye, hailed the President for taking action but noted that Buhari lacked the power to dismiss a civil servant as it contravenes Rule 04102 of the Public Service Rules which provides that “the power to dismiss and to exercise disciplinary control over officers in the Federal Civil Service Commission is vested in the FCSC.”
Ogunye, however, urged the President to sack all his political appointees that might have aided Maina.
Earlier on Monday, President Muhammadu Buhari ordered for Maina’s immediate disengagement from the Federal Civil Service and directed the Head of Service, Mrs. Winifred Oyo-Ita, to furnish his office with a full report on the circumstances of his recall.
This was contained in a tweet by the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, on his Twitter handle, @FemAdesina, on Monday.
Adesina tweeted, “PMB orders immediate disengagement of Mr. Abdulrasheed Maina from service. Asks for full report on circumstances of his recall.”
In a statement he later signed, Adesina quoted the President as ordering that the full report should be submitted to his Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari, for onward transmission to him before the close of work on Monday.