Eventually, President Goodluck Jonathan directed the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Isa Bello Sali, to take disciplinary action against Abdulrasheed Maina, Chairman of the disbanded Pension Reform Task Team, empowered to trace stolen pension fund. Jonathan’s latest wield of stick is a dramatic change of stand.
Hitherto, in response to the demand of the Senate that he should dismiss the Pension Reform Task boss, Jonathan claimed (and some would agree with him) that he has no such power, adding that only the Head of Service can do that.
The Senate should not gloat. Jonathan, even now, has not necessarily met the demand for Maina’s dismissal for his (Maina’s) contempt for the Senate. Instead, Maina is being disciplined for absenting himself from duty without lawful authority, a punishment very circumstantial only because of Maina’s (advised?) escape from the country.
He has gone with the money he was accused of failing to account. That is the end. Escaping from the country in such circumstances is part of the Nigerian system. When the late President Umar Yar’Adua assumed office and tried to prosecute some of his erstwhile colleagues by the EFCC, they similarly escaped abroad and returned only after Yar’Adua’s death, and with another former colleague at Aso Rock, the fugitives of those days are today holding federal government appointments.
What happened to the EFCC’s charges against them under Yar’Adua? Abdulrasheed Maina will return and still be appointed to government post. When, therefore, Jonathan directed the discipline against Maina, he (Jonathan) either contradicted himself or suddenly usurped the very power he earlier claimed not to have.
Nothing stopped Jonathan from directing the same Head of Service in the first place to discipline Maina for not honouring the summons or even the warrant of arrest, both issued by the Senate. At least, that could be documented as giving Maina the right of fair hearing guaranteed for every Nigerian under the constitution.
On his part, did the Head of Service, Isa Bello Sali, have to wait for the make-believe threatened showdown between the Senate and Jonathan, or eventually the directive from Jonathan before disciplining any officer for absence from duty without authority? Government’s rules and regulations (still known as General Orders of the colonial days?) are quite clear on such disciplinary matters.
Surely, Maina created minefield for a showdown by the Senate and Aso Rock. But nobody should have been deceived that there would ever have been a zero hour.
The tension created is usually for public consumption aimed at an unimpressive self-assertion by both sides. However, in a way, Jonathan deserves some sympathy in view of the danger posed by the national assembly in what is becoming gradual usurpation of the constitutional power of the Presidency by the Legislature.
National Assembly is to legislate while the Presidency is to administer, including sole authority to appoint and discipline/remove public office holders and public officers. On such matters, there might be co-operation or even concession from the Presidency.
But in the past few months, the National Assembly seemed to have usurped the power to dictate to Jonathan especially those he should not allow around him in administering the country.
There was the case of Ms. Bolanle Onagoruwa of Bureau of Public Enterprises. The Senate, rightly or wrongly, insisted on her removal. She was removed and nothing today can be done on her matter.
While the matter was still on, the same National Assembly demanded the dismissal of the Director-General of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Ms. Aruma Oteh, for some contrived allegations to attain a desired end, not the least, vindictiveness for discharging her official obligation on the Stock Exchange. Still in pursuance of that vendetta, the National Assembly arrogantly claimed it did not approve any kobo for SEC and would have nothing to do with Aruma Oteh unless and until Jonathan removed her. And then the National Assembly would pick for Jonathan, their candidate for a new Director-General of Securities and Exchange Commission?
The prevailing situation was, therefore, such that Jonathan had to assert himself. Otherwise, unless checked, the National Assembly, in its obsession with power to remove public officers, might sooner than later direct Jonathan to remove his wife, Patience, from Aso Rock, on the ground that after all, Patience Jonathan is not a nominal federal permanent secretary but a nominal permanent secretary in Bayelsa State Government.
Unfortunately for Jonathan, Maina was a wrong and indeed hopeless case on which to stand and fight, even if the same Jonathan had to make his point against usurpation of his constitutional authority by the National Assembly.
Both Jonathan and National Assembly were merely excercising in sabre- rattling. What could the Senate do if Jonathan refused to discipline Maina? Nothing. All Jonathan would suffer was a further dent on his regime in public perception of corruption.
By the way, at a stage, there was the deceit that the National Assembly was after President Jonathan himself rather than Maina. Traditional rulers must also avoid the role of advocates for rogue civil servants.
The situation was not helped by a careless and perhaps an indolent media which, in highlighting Jonathan’s initial inaction on the threatened Senate showdown, drew analogy between Securities and Exchange Commission boss, Aruma Oteh and Abdulrasheed Maina, the disgraced head of the Pension Reform Task team.
One is a fugitive from justice who fled abroad while the other is at her desk at Securities and Exchange Commission. One was driven by guilty conscience to abscond while the other flaunted her integrity as unassailed to retain her job.
One shunned a Senate probe into his (own) probe of Pension Fund and later treated with contempt a summons to appear before the Senate to answer questions, while the other attended a House of Representatives probe into her official activities and when, on a day, she couldn’t attend because of another official engagement at Aso Rock, she wrote the House of Representatives panel in advance to that effect.
Even for this courtesy, the House of Representatives panel unnecessarily harassed her with threat of arrest. A warrant of arrest was issued by the Senate against one who was also consequently declared wanted by Nigeria Police, while the other was even cleared by a probe set up by higher authorities at Securities and Exchange Commission.
Little wonder the Federal Government retained her on her job. Even the Senate lately recoiled ever threatening to deny the Securities and Exchange Commission the necessary allocation in the 2013 budget. Suppose Jonathan had acceded to Senate’s insistence to dismiss the innocent lady? Where then is the analogy between Aruma Oteh and Abdulrasheed Maina?
Just as the media were wrong in likening one to the other, the national leadership of Nigerian Union of Journalists, on its part, today stands discredited for giving a clean bill of clearance to Maina, the fugitive from justice. Jonathan and the Senate both cleverly avoided the minefield prepared for them by Maina.