What justification can anyone possibly have for stealing from the aged, many of whom are infirm? Can anyone with a conscience consciously dip their hands into funds saved up by the aged particularly to keep the discomforts of old age and infirmity to a minimum?
On November 8, 2021, the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja confirmed that Abdulrasheed Maina the former Chiarman of the defunct Presidential Task Team on Pension Reform had no conscience whatsoever. In sentencing him to sixty-one years imprisonment which would run concurrently for eight years, the Court gave him an opportunity to turn a new leaf albeit from the spartan accommodations of the Nigerian Correctional Service. As if they would not accord him preferential treatment as they have accorded high-profile convicts in the past.
Many Nigerians on hearing of Maina`s sentence lamented what they described as its gross inadequacy in punishing such a heinous crime. Nigerians who hold China in awe have even asked loudly why corruption does not draw death as it does in China. Surely, as the world continues to move away from the death penalty, Nigeria is not about to embrace something which has not been shown to have any value beyond the insatiable lust for revenge.
Maina is a metaphor for the thieving Nigerian public officer and the system which keeps the yam and the goat in close proximity.
As Nigeria`s democracy has struggled to give Nigerians a fighting chance at good governance in spite of a ponderously dysfunctional federal structure of government, the institutions of government have grown weaker by the day, providing loopholes wide enough to let through the thieves of Nigeria`s commonwealth.
The metaphor of the national cake has come to sharply define the contours of public service in Nigeria as nothing more than a brazen banquet prepared with public funds to which only a few are inexplicably invited.
Thus, public service in Nigeria has become for many an opportunity not to serve but to be served the choicest portions in satisfaction of their gluttonous appetite.
So, for many Nigerians, any shot at all at public service whatsoever is an opportunity to secure their immediate future, and even the future of their unborn generations.
It explains the staggering amounts that today stand unaccounted for from Nigeria`s coffers. It explains the fact that while a select few live in opulence built with the sweat of others, too many others have to make do with so little.
So, the gods of Nigeria`s corruption smiled on Maina and he came into pension funds – funds marked for aged, frail and infirm men and women. Funds meant to give them strength for their final journey.
Disbelieving his good fortune, Mr. Maina, unlike many of his shrewdly corrupt public service counterparts bit more than he could chew, drawing in the process the epileptic wrath of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
Mr. Maina proved the consummate Nigerian corrupt public officer with connections in high places. Once the size of his sleaze broke into the hearing of horrified Nigerians, there were arrests, escapes, dramatic court appearances, even some detention time for a high-profile Nigerian politician.
However, it undeniably appears that with Maina `s predicament, too many slimy squirrels scurried in too many directions for the comfort of Nigerians. The trial took all of nine years. At some point, he became a fugitive from justice. At another point he was reinstated into the Civil Service. At yet another point, he took in a meeting with Nigeria`s Attorney- General in faraway Dubai.
When the Senate made moves to investigate him, Maina quickly climbed the high horse. He approached the Federal High Court where he obtained orders scuttling the investigation.
Even after he was sentenced to eight years in prison, an unsightly melee ensued between men of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and men of the Nigerian Correctional Service over his custody.
Mr. Maina is the typical Nigerian public officer – corrupt, evasive, arrogant and boasting many powerful people on his payroll. Usually, when people like him are put under pressure, the shockwaves are felt in a lot of places because many people are immediately in danger of exposure.
So, they scurry around to protect their own and cover their tracks. This kind of perverse preservative behaviour is one of the most difficult challenges facing the anti-corruption war in Nigeria.
Mr. Muhammadu Buhari may give off a whistle-clean public image but there is no doubt that Nigeria has a lot of people who are tainted by corruption but remain largely untouched and untouchable by anti-corruption efforts.
Like Maina, unless those people are apprehended, prosecuted and incarcerated, Nigeria`s anti-corruption efforts will continue to have a sickeningly hollow ring to it.
But who will arrest them, who will prosecute them, who will incarcerate them? When they have some of Nigeria`s most powerful public officers in their corners, who can hold them to account?
As for the insatiably greedy commercial banks which compromise Nigeria`s anti-corruption war by embracing men like Maina and their blood money, Nigerians are not unaware of the hideous thievery of the scoundrels who staff them. Very soon, the long arm of the law will search them out and strangle them.