N2.7b Pension Fraud: The Case Against Maina And His Attempt to Blackmail Investigators
New investigation into the controversial reinstatement of the embattled Abdulrasheed Maina, has alleged that the man tried to blackmail investigators.
Mr. Abdulrasheed Maina
Mr. Abdulrasheed Maina the former Director, Customs, Immigration and Prisons Pensions Office (CIPPO) and acting Chairman, Pension Reform Task Team (PRTT), SaharaReporters can disclose, fled the country on because of the weight of evidence of wrongdoing found against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Mr. Maina, whose return to the country, surprising reinstatement to the civil service and promotion despite absconding from his duty post since 2013 have further sullied the image of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration, has continued to claim innocence from his hideout.
The gathering of evidence against pension fraudsters by the EFCC began in 2010, when the commission was invited by the Office of the Head of Civil Service of the Federation (OHCSF) to assist in the verification/biometric exercise of Federal Civil Service Pensioners. At the beginning, the investigation threw up two fake pensioners, who were beneficiaries of payment mandates dated August 31 2009 and issued to the OHCSF account (210430000545801) at the defunct Fin-Bank for a combined sum of N94.5million.
Both phony pensioners were subsequently invited by the EFCC for questioning. As the investigation progressed, the EFCC found 66 illegally operated accounts maintained by the OHCSF. Further scrutiny of the accounts revealed a variety of dubious strategies through which money was obtained from them.
First, discovered EFCC operatives, was the practice of using phony pensioners. This way, OHCSF staff shop for fake pensioners, who were then asked to open accounts with different names and documents. The fake pensioners operating the account will then withdraw money paid into it, hand it over to the staff that head-hunted them and was rewarded with a slice of the booty as commission. Another trick employed, disclosed EFCC operatives, was the use of “collective allowance”. This entails a director approving the payment for purported staff to a single individual who, after receiving payment in his account, withdrew 90 percent of the sum and handed it over to the director or any official that facilitated the payment.
Also deployed was the use of fictitious contracts, awarded at stratospheric costs, to registered and unregistered companies. According to EFCC investigators, staff of the OHCSF registered companies with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) through which they are awarded contracts that were never executed. Those who executed part of the contracts, awarded at bloated sums, simply diverted payments.
Between 2008 and 2013, the EFCC discovered that a total of N14billion was lost to various sharp practices. Fictitious contracts drained the government of N5.7billion, while payments to state pension boards and similar organs took N4.1billion. Through the National Union of Pensioners (NUP), the country was bled to the tune of N2.3billion, while collective allowances accounted for the laundering of N1.4billion. The sum of N254million was laundered through the Association of Federal Public Service Retirees (AFPSR).
The principal authors of these dubious schemes, investigators found, were Messrs. Steven Oronsanye, then Head of Civil Service of the Federation, Maina, Shuaibu Teidi, Director, Finance and Account; Mrs. Phina Ukamaka, Deputy Director; Mr. Aliyu Bello, Special Assistant to the Director of Administration; and Mr. Olanipekun Emmanuel, Head, Final Accounts.
Others were Messrs. Abdul Mohammed, Assistant Cash Pay Officer; Garba Tahir, a cashier; and M.K Ahmed, Assistant Director, Variation. They were subsequently charged to court on account of their involvement. Charged along with them were two bankers, Messrs. Felix Nwankwo and Eric Omoefe, who assisted the government officials to launder the funds, as well as one Abdullahi Omeiza, who operated 13 pension accounts in as many banks and names. Also charged were Messrs. Ali Abatcha and Actor Zal, former President and Secretary respectively of NUP, who were found to have connived with Mr. Teidi to steal pension funds.
Mr. Orosanye would eventually redeploy one Dr. Sani Shuaibu from the OHCSF Pension Department and appointed Mr. Maina to run the affairs of the department as acting Chairman, Pension Reform Task Force Team (PRTT).
Mr. Maina’s appointment, investigators noted, coincided with more brazen looting of funds. The PRTT, under Mr. Maina, simply invented grander schemes by coming up with a series of fictitious biometric enrollment contracts, phony collective allowances and using carefully selected Information Technology (IT) consultants to load the payroll with fictitious pensioners. The IT consultants were Messrs. Osanrekhoe Afe, Robert Ikhazoboh and Ahmed Mazingari.
Mazingari, owner of Xangee Technologies, was paid for non-existing biometric contracts on the say-so of Mr. Maina and was charged along with him and Mr. Orosanye. Equally charged along with them was Mr. Afe, who introduced the IT firm, Innovative Solutions to the OHCSF for biometric enrollment. He was brought into the PRTT by Mr. Oronsaye.
Investigators discovered that through Mr. Afe, Innovative Solutions was awarded the biometric data capture contract at an initial sum of N63million. But the contractor later requested for an additional N136million, taking the total sum to N199million.
When payment was to be made, said investigators, it was N224.85million that was paid into the account of Innovative Solutions, as reflected in the company’s bank statement. This indicated overpayment to the tune of N25million. Mr. Afe, who was the prosecution witness in the case, admitted that it was Mr. Maina’s idea that the contract be inflated and also requested that the extra sum be transferred to him. Mr. Ikhazoboh was found to have transferred the sum of N166.5million from the account of his company, Innovative Solutions, to Fredrick Hamilton Limited, owned by Mr. Afe. Further analysis of the account showed that Innovative Solutions transferred N35million to Uptrach Communication Limited, which was confirmed by Mr. Ikhazoboh as the sum of the contract to the company that actually executed it.
Mr. Afe was also discovered to have been paid the sum of N119.4million for the biometric enrollment exercise through his company, Fredrick Hamilton, despite having no contract award letter from the OHCSF. This indicated that he did not execute any contract.
In total, investigators found that Mr. Afe was credited with a total sum of N289.05million, out of which, by his own admission, he transferred over N250million to Mr. Maina. Mr. Afe admitted benefiting to the tune of N35million, which he promised to refund. He also confessed that he sometimes issued blank cheques of his Skye Bank account (1341770007353) to Mr. Maina, which the latter used for withdrawals. Occasionally, he said Mr. Maina accompanied him to the defunct Oceanic Bank to make withdrawals, which he handed over him. This, said investigators, was confirmed by Oceanic Bank account officer to Fredrick Hamilton Limited.
Similarly, one Mr. Salami Kareem Adesokan confessed that a total sum of N147million was fraudulently paid via various banks by the OHCSF into the accounts of three companies, Fatidek Ventures, Jolance Limited and Oblando Nigeria Limited, which he collected as cash and delivered to Mr. Maina’s confidential secretary, Ann Igwe.
The EFCC equally discovered that the sum of N153.1million paid by the OHCSF office to Xangee Technologies for the phony biometric contract was transferred to a bureau de change, converted to US dollars and delivered to Mr. Maina through his relative named Ali Khalid Biu.
Another secretariat staff of Mr. Maina, Kate Chinwe, was found to have received over N56million for collective allowance, office equipment and biometric enrollment. Her company, Vivians Ebony Nigeria Enterprises received N16.7million for biometric enrollment. She confessed to have received the amounts in cash, handed them over, as instructed by Mr. Maina, to one Ibrahim Abdulkarim who would deliver to him.
Abdulkarim, a member of the PRTT, was also fraudulently paid N80.1million as collective allowances on Mr. Maina’s orders. The former acting PRTT Chairman, said investigators, was found to have operated eight different accounts with Fidelity Bank. The accounts were operated with the names Cluster Logistics, Drew Investment and Construction Limited, Kongolo Dynamics Cleaning Limited, Dr. Abdullahi A Faizal, Nafisatu Aliyu Yeldu and Abdulrasheed Maina.
Analysis of the accounts yielded a turnover in excess of N2.7billion, with 95 per cent of the sum deposited in cash. It was equally discovered that he operated the accounts in connivance with Dahiru Zubairu and Toyin Meseke, both staff of the private banking department of Fidelity Bank; Kalid Biu, Maina’s relative; and Abubakar Gombe, account officer of one of the accounts investigated at the Kaduna branch of Fidelity Bank.
Forensic analysis of Meseke’s phone, said investigators, revealed text messages and email correspondences showing specific instructions from Mr. Maina on how to run the accounts. It also showed Mr. Maina’s phone numbers as 08098887733, 08037872471, 08142277550, 07037900714, 08106842813, 08091501002, +9711552717234 and +97126294678.
Danjuma Zubairu, Fidelity Bank Group Head, Private Banking, was said to have approved most of the transactions via telephone and email instructions from Mr. Maina. Meseke was found to have bought $200,000 (then the equivalent of N33.8million) from one Bashir Mohammed Taura, a bureau de change operator, and instructed him to ensure its delivery to Mr. Maina in Dubai on 5 May 2014. Meseke also bought $250,000 (then the equivalent of N45million) from the same operator and directed him to get it across to Maina in Dubai on 25 May 2014.
Earlier on 10 March 2014, Meseke facilitated the transfer of N33.1million to AlNasra Bureau de Change and Jiek Bureau de Change on behalf of Mr. Maina from Cluster Logistics account for the purpose of buying US dollars. He also facilitated the liquidation of Mr. Maina’s fixed deposit of N100.85million, which was later transferred to Neural Wax Bureau de Change in exchange for dollars. The dollar equivalent of the sum was subsequently transferred to one Mairo Bashir, Mr. Maina’s relation, at the United Bank of Africa branch in Maitama, Abuja.
The former PRTT boss was found to have paid N26.5million from his Kongolo Dynamics account on October 20, 2008, and a balance of N4.4million to one Mr. Tijanni Yusuf on November 19, 2008, for the purchase a property at 12, 11th Road, Kado Estate, Abuja. On March 15 2010, four bank drafts totaling N30million were issued from the Kongolo Dynamics account in favor of one Mr. Titus Adeboye, who told the EFCC that the money was meant for the purchase of a block of shops, located at C2 Ibrahim Taiwo Road, Kaduna, for Mr. Maina.
The embattled former PRTT boss topped it with the acquisition of the property at 10 Amisi Musa Street, Jabi Abuja, paying $2million (then the equivalent of N340million. He paid the sum in cash to one Mr. Adamu Modibbo in June 2012.
Investigators said they established that all accounts were linked to Mr. Maina through telephone, email correspondences and testimonies of account officers and other bankers involved in the transactions. They also confirmed that the origin of the laundered funds into his accounts were fictitious contracts and other dubious sources, particularly from the OHCSF Pension Department and CIPPO, which Mr. Maina headed between 2008 and 2013.
The EFCC report also noted in its report that the findings of a special audit ordered by the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation confirmed its own findings.
Mr. Maina’s reaction to the investigation was to flee the country to avoid prosecution. In addition, he also attempted to discredit the investigation by calumniating Mr. Habibu A. Aliyu, who headed the EFCC team that investigated the matter. In an interview on Brekete Family, a program on Love FM, Abuja, Mr. Maina assailed the person of Mr. Aliyu and other officers involved in the investigation, forcing the EFCC operative to write to the Inspector-General of Police and seek permission to institute legal action against the former PRTT boss.
In a letter dated 16 November 2016, Mr. Aliyu said the former PRTT boss’ attack on his person during the radio program left him distressed. He also requested that the EFCC should report the presenter of the program to the National Broadcasting Commission.