A thief is a thief whether he steals a golden crown or a cocoyam. The way we are now glamourising stealing and making celebrities of common felons, indicates that we are too far gone in our descent into amoralism.
It wasn’t quite many decades ago when stealing was a shameful thing. There was something called a ‘family name’ which would be tarnished if any member of that family was caught stealing. People would rather die poor than feed fat on stolen funds. The worth of a family lineage was measured on the scale of integrity. Marriages were cancelled if pre-nuptial investigations revealed that one of the forebears of either party had been a thief aeons ago. Now, who cares!
Thieving is now a badge of recognition in an era when it is fashionable to live fast, die young, and have a chubby-looking corpse. But if your death is going to make people roll out the drums in celebration of good riddance, what then have you lived for?
Abdulrasheed Maina, former pension reform boss, had his day in court after a most melodramatic saga across four different countries.
He has thrown in every trick in infamy to escape justice. He first fled to Europe and then showed up in UAE before negotiating a secret return through some highly placed contacts who kept him one step ahead of the law. The impression many people had was that the man was simply not arrestable. When you have tons of unearned billions and you are willing to share a fraction of the loot with accomplices, you cannot lack takers in today’s Nigeria.
When he re-emerged in Abuja and checked into a hotel under cover, the security agents ferreted him out, but not before his then teenage son, Faisal, had pulled a gun on security operatives. The young man was a final year Telecoms Engineering student at the Canadian University of Dubai. He was disarmed and arrested with his father. Among the items recovered by security agents on the occasion were a pistol with live ammunition, a bulletproof Range Rover SUV, a BMW Saloon car, foreign currencies, a Phantom 7 drone and ‘sensitive documents’.
The legislator representing Maina’s home base in the Senate, Senator Ali Ndume, decided to stand surety for the accused, signing a N500 million bail bond. Shortly after he was granted bail, Maina fled again. Furious, Justice Okon Abang ordered Senator Ndume remanded in prison custody. To regain freedom, the senator was given three options: produce the fugitive in court; pay N500m bail bond into the Federation Account; or forfeit his property in Asokoro, Abuja, worth N500m, to the Federal Government.
Security operatives followed a trail that led to Niger Republic before they could re-arrest Maina. Upon re-arraignment, he displayed consummate acting skills as he slumped in court. He did not faint when he was jumping bail; he was hale and hearty as he criss-crossed various neighbouring countries, but he ‘fainted’ in the temple of justice when confronted with details of his monumental theft.
Maina reminds one of Fela Anikulapo’s evergreen number, “Authority Stealing”. When a person with a wonky mind suddenly finds himself in a position of authority, the thief in him is not cured by his ascendancy to that exalted position. If he had been a man of lower status, he would steal a mango. In an exalted position, he would readily steal his people’s Tomorrow. There is no greater thief than he who steals hope by robbing retirees of their pension.
One of the prosecution witnesses, Rouqayyah Ibrahim, told the court that Maina acquired properties in Dubai, United Arab Emirate, United States of America, and a $2million property in Jabi, Abuja.
In Dubai, his company, Northrich Company owned over 50 cars that were used for transportation business, and he owns a villa in a High Ground area. His wife Laila Abdurrasheed also owns cleaning services, called Spotless and Flawless. Another of Maina’s companies, Kangolo Dynamic, has not done any business but was swimming in hundreds of millions. Another outfit, Colster Logistics, had a dollar account with an inflow of over four hundred thousand dollars from cash deposits. Over N500 million was discovered in the account of Kangolo Dynamic.
At the end, when the judge pronounced a sentence of 61 years, (effectively eight years) on an unrepentant Maina, many people thought that Maina got away lightly.
The court also ordered Maina and his firm, Common Input Property and Investment Limited, to restitute about N2.1billion to the Federal Government, after which it ordered that the company should be wound up.
Sir Terence David John Pratchett OBE, the English humorist, satirist and novelist, would have described Maina as a special kind of thief: “This thief was an artist of theft. Other thieves merely stole everything that was not nailed down, but this thief stole the nails as well.”
Before Maina was canned, his fugitive son, Faisal, had been sentenced to 14 years’ imprisonment having been found guilty on all the three counts of money laundering involving N58.1million of public funds. Faisal was absent from court when the judge read the judgement convicting him on all the three counts and sentencing him on Thursday. The convict is believed to have fled to the United States.
Many of Maina’s victims died of poverty. When they could not access their expected retirement benefits, their old age became one of misery, of regret for serving an ungrateful nation. With the humongous amounts Maina moved around from the sweat of hapless citizens, it is clear that if he ever serves out his eight-year jail term, he will retire into affluence.
Someday soon, when the nation is ready to confront corruption headlong instead of simply pinching its toes, we shall have to have a conversation on the role of lawyers in oiling the engine of the monster. If your theft is massive enough, senior lawyers will be falling over each other to take your brief. And they will apply all the tricks in the books to stultify the cause of justice. The old pensioners had to depend on the state through the EFCC to fight their case while the thief lined up an array of senior counsels.
Of course, I do agree that every accused person is presumed innocent until proven guilty and that every lawyer has a right to design the kind of defence he wants to put forward for his client. However, the way we allow the law to be bent in the service of prominent thieves will be the death of us all. Isn’t there something called morality anymore?
The EFCC has done well to successfully prosecute this redoubtable felon. Forgiveness is out of the question for two reasons: (a) The thief had no mercy on the helpless pensioners whose entitlements he brazenly stole; and (b) the hermit says If you forgive the hyena for stealing your fowl, next time he will take your goat.
Let Maina’s conviction be only the beginning. There are still hundreds of penitentiary candidates out there waiting to be harvested.
There are serious questions as to who Abubakar Malami, federal Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, is serving — and whether or not he has his hands in the illegal storming of Supreme Court Justice Mary Odili’s residence by fake security men. Malami’s ‘loyalty’ to four consultants who want to cream off $419 million from federal allocation to states puts him in the direct line of the governors’ fire. At the official rate of N411 to the dollar, that amounts to N172,472,970,000 (about N172.5 billion) for a few scraps of paper in the name of consultancy. In Black Market lingo, that is about N224.2 billion.
Only in Nigeria is that kind of shakedown possible.
While awaiting judicial pronouncements on the matter, perhaps the AGF will now react to Lawyer Femi Falana’s call on him to recover a $62 billion debt owed by six international oil companies, namely Shell Petroleum Development Company, Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited and Chevron Nigeria Limited, Nigeria Agip Oil Company, TotalElf Nigeria and Pan Ocean Oil Company.
Acting on behalf of the People’s Alternative Political Movement (PAPM), the Senior Advocate of Nigeria wrote: “Our clients have instructed us to remind you that the Federal Government has not enforced the above-mentioned Judgment of the Supreme Court of Nigeria delivered on October 20, 2018. In the said Judgment the apex court had directed the Federal Government to immediately take steps to recover all revenues lost to oil-exploring and exploiting companies due to wrong profit-sharing formula since August 2003.”
I think the recovery of the said funds should be in the AGF’s front burner, that is assuming that he is Attorney-General of the Federation — and not AG of special interests or AG of executive whims.
- Wole Olaoye is a public relations practitioner and a public affairs commentator and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Readers comments are welcome.