Friday 15 February 2013

Jonathan Won't Spare Maina, Says Okupe

The Senior Special Assistant to President Goodluck Jonathan on Public Affairs, Doyin Okupe, has said his boss will not spare the controversial Chairman of the Pension Reform Task Force, Abdulrasheed Maina.

Okupe, who spoke with journalists in Abuja on Thursday, pointed out that it was the President that ordered the Inspector General of Police to declare Maina wanted following his refusal to appear before the Senate.

Yesterday, the Upper Chamber gave Mr. Jonathan a two-day ultimatum to boot Maina from the Federal Civil Service, describing him a “liar, rascal and a criminal.”

Senate President, David Mark, made the remarks following a debate on a motion entitled, “Dismissal of Mr. Abdulrasheed Maina for refusal to appear before the Senate.”

Mr. Mark said the Senate had been patient with Maina in an effort to allow fair hearing in view of several pension theft petitions against him as well as his counter-allegation of a N3 billion bribe demand by the Senate Committee investigating him for fraud.

Responding to questions by journalists as to whether Jonathan would yield to the demand of the Senators, Okupe said Jonathan, who is in a parallel battle with the Upper House over the 2013 budget, would not allow the Maina issue to affect the rapport he has with the Senate.

Curiously, Maina travels around Abuja with over armed 35 security personnel, despite the claim by the Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Mohammed Abubakar, that his whereabouts are unknown to the Police.

"Let me say categorically clear that President Goodluck Jonathan will not condone any act of insubordination or lawlessness or any act that tends to undermine the Senate and indeed the National Assembly,” Okupe said.  “Under Sections 88 and 89 of the Nigerian Constitution, the National Assembly has the power to summon any officer of state, for questioning or investigation, whatsoever.”

He underlined that that is why Ministers and the heads of their Ministries and parastatals have always obeyed such summons.

"In the case of Maina, the repeated invitations which he flouted led Mr. President to instruct the Inspector General of Police to declare him wanted and I think this was done last week.

"The relationship with the leadership of the Senate and the President of the Senate, David Mark, is such that cannot be tampered with on the altar of favouritism to anybody.”

In language which seemed couched to please the Senate, Okupe added, "The President and the Presidency hold the leadership of the Senate in the highest esteem and will not do anything to spoil that relationship.”

He further stated that the issue of Maina has been referred to the Head of Service, noting that Maina is a civil servant and that he believed the matter will be thoroughly investigated and disciplinary action taken.

It would be recalled that the Senate Probe committee on Pension Reform, which submitted its report in May 2012, was in a dogfight with Maina over allegations of corruption.  Sani Shu’aibu Teidi, a suspect on trial at the Federal High Court in Abuja for the looting of the pension funds, alleged that he and other accomplices paid the Senator Aloysius Etuk-led Senate Committee a N3bn bribe in United States dollars to forestall their prosecution.

The N3 billion was said to have been contributed by corrupt government officials who embezzled the funds and allegedly offered the money to the committee to cover up the fact.

When the committee submitted its report to the Senate, it immediately called for Maina to be probed. 

But Maina found support in the House of Representatives which, in a memo to the Head of Service of the Federation, criticized the Senate report and urged President Jonathan to ensure adequate protection for Maina in carrying out his assignment.

That would explain the huge protection team that Maina enjoys in Abuja.  But if the presidency is responsible for that protection, it would be interesting to see how Mr. Jonathan intends to throw him to the wolves, as Mr. Okupe seemed to indicate on Thursday.

Mr. Okupe’s choice of language suggests that Maina may well be the sacrifice Jonathan is seeking in his battle with the Senate over the budget.  A meeting in Abuja on Wednesday between the executive and the Senate failed to resolve the differences, and Finance Minister/Coordinating Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said afterwards that Mr. Jonathan will not sign the budget this week. 

The budget is the subject of the executive-legislature warfare because each side has loaded it with items that are of financial benefit to its members, in a loot-sharing kind of struggle.  One of those items, a N4billion vote for the First Lady to build a “Mission Office,” was the subject of a public demonstration in Lagos today by Nigerians who are angry that the nation’s resources continue to be in a perpetual-sharing match by top public-office holders.

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