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Maihaja: Understanding the new Sheriff at NEMA

The Director General of NEMA, Engr. Mustapha Yunusa Maihaja

I am one Nigerian who keenly and unflinchingly monitored President Muhammadu Buhari’s electioneering campaigns. And after his victory at the general elections and eventual assumption of office as President of Nigeria in May 2015, I also devoted special attention in his speeches, beginning with the maiden address to the nation.

And in all the two, very important segments of his engagements with Nigerians, I discerned that President Buhari admitted inheriting a country that was on the brink of total collapse. He promised to reclaim Nigeria for Nigerians; but also cared to itemize three main areas of priority and immediate action of his Presidency.

The President resonated lucidly that his administration would battle the suffocating insecurity in the country to a standstill, recover the economy and diversify it and also, fight corruption with the venom of a wounded lion until it is completely uprooted and purged from the system. I have no doubt that President Buhari has enormously impacted of these three prioritized areas and a lot more.

But my understanding of the President’s body language, he is a leader limitlessly angered by the entrenched corruption in the system more than anything else. All of us know that the problem of corruption in Nigeria is multifaceted, deep-rooted and widespread.

In his speech at the Anti-corruption Summit in London recently, President Buhari expressed the depth of the thriving and simmering corruption in Nigeria, nay Africa in these words:

“Corruption is one of the greatest enemies of our time. It runs completely counter to our values, as it rewards those who do not play by the rules and also creates a system of patronage where the resources are shared out by a small elite, while the majority are trapped in poverty…”

However, what gladdens my heart is that very many of the President’s appointees have keyed into the “change agenda” and the focus of the present administration by avoiding corrupt or fraudulent acts. But we must admit the strain of men adjusting to positive change.

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And I know, the heart of an average human being is more tilted towards evil and when evil becomes institutionalized like in Nigeria, the dragnet spreads to unimaginable limits, sprouting overt and covert layers. And beneficiaries of such evil against the state frustrates every plan to end it because of the accruing personal benefits. And they seek to corrupt others; while those who resist are blackmailed or even framed-up with phantom charges.

By my personal judgment, the infinitesimal fraction of elites in the country have picked up daggers with President Buhari because of his consistent refusal to consent to their continued plundering and looting of the commonwealth of Nigerians.

I can confidently assert a similar scenario has been extended to Buhari’s trusted appointees who have doggedly refused to be enmeshed in corrupt or fraudulent acts. Their staid stance never to turn the offices they head into centers for feasts of sleaze by these disgruntled elites is causing malignancy.

This appears to be the burden of the current Director –General (DG), National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Engr. Mustapha Maihaja. Some subordinate staff of the agency, occupying positions as high as Directors, who profited immensely from fraudulent acts of the past leadership of the agency are pushed by the false illusion that change is impossible in NEMA under its incumbent leadership led by Engr. Maihaja.

But I have noticed they have been incredibly proved wrong by the realization that change in NEMA is not only possible, but it has berthed unshakably. It is source of the conspiratorial attacks and loggerheads with the NEMA DG, Engr. Maihaja. It has propelled the detractors into recruitment of external forces, with same inclinations to assist them battle the NEMA boss to a standstill; a battle they are not making progress.

I understand the lead conspirator and former NEMA Mr. Sani Sidi Muhammed who led the campaign to allegedly defraud NEMA to a mindboggling sum of N2.5 billion was sacked before the appointment of Engr. Maihaja as replacement. It means his investigation for the alleged financial crime may be unhindered. But he was in this fraudulent crusade with numerous Directors still serving with the agency.

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What has kept baffling me is that the EFCC discovered the alleged fraud of N2.5 billion and launched preliminary investigations, which pointed to something bigger. I am sure and it is apparent the anti-graft agency had difficulties getting into the roots of the matter with the indicted Directors still manning the offices’ documents were to be obtained for perusal.

The anti-graft agency therefore transmitted a letter to NEMA Governing Board, statutorily chaired by the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, requesting the suspension of the suspects. This was to allow free access documents and unhindered investigations.

NEMA Board deliberated over the report and approved it. But the Directors rushed to their allies in the House of Reps who have an axe to grind with the NEMA boss over his alleged refusal to patronize them with juicy contracts from the agency. By the action of the suspended Directors, it gave leadership of House of Reps led by Speaker Yakubu Dogara a weapon to blackmail and intimidate Engr. Maihaja.

Curiously, Speaker Dogara constituted an adhoc committee led by Hon. Ali Isa to probe funds remitted to NEMA under Maihaja, an outing they staged out with fabricated and frivolous accusations. And suspiciously too, the Reps Committee was emphatic that they were instructed not to probe into the issue of the established N2.5 billion reportedly embezzled from NEMA.

The indicted directors have gone back mount their offices in compliance with the House of Reps order for their reinstatement. But who is the fool who would hand over to the anti-graft agency, a document from his office incriminating him? I am convinced; the indicted Directors would have mercilessly tampered with any document implicating them. That’s the sense of justice the House of Reps is flaunting in the guise of fighting corruption.

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The indicted officials in the alleged fraud, awarded contracts to themselves through personal, non-existing or proxy companies, which were not executed but paid fully; overinflated contracts and over invoiced receipts, paid millions of naira to family members and created artificial IDPs camps among others.

And days have rolled into weeks and weeks in months, but the House of Reps committee probing the NEMA boss, Engr. Maihaja has failed to get any modicum of fraud to crucify him from the basketful of allegations they heaped on his person and office. And I learnt they have allegedly resolved and perfected fresh plans to use other crude means to get Maihaja out of office for refusing to understand with them.

I am infinitely baffled after assessment of the whole drama that Engr. Maihaja is guilty of one sin in the estimation of the indicted Directors and their allies in the House of Reps. It is his rejection of their overtures to share public funds to them under fictitious contracts like done to the their former colleagues in the House.

President Buhari attracts my compassion so much. While he strives every minute to curb corruption in the system, the majority of loud voices out there chorusing concern for public interest are not on the same page with him. They scheme with their strength and might on how they can corruptly enrich themselves at the detriment of Nigerians.

But let them have my assurance that a breakthrough can only come , if they succeed in compromising the integrity of Maihaja to open the public till for them to pilfer and plunder. Sadly, it seems an uphill task because there is a new Sheriff in town, who cannot be intimidated by their antics .

Ogwu is Executive Director, Centre for Social Justice, Equity and Transparency and based in Abuja.

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