The initial dust raised by the arrest of the Group Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Innoson Motors, Innocent Chukwuma, by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), yesterday, snowballed into an outrage as the nation’s upper legislative chamber and the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) flayed the involvement of the anti-graft commission in civil matter.
At plenary, the Senate mandated its committee on Anti-Corruption and Financial Crimes to investigate the circumstances surrounding the arrest of the local automobile firm’s boss and report back today. It also called for his immediate and unconditional release.
But hours later, the EFCC, in a statement signed by its spokesman, Wilson Uwujaren announced the released of the businessman on bail.
It said Chukwuma and his brother, Charles (who is still at large) were being investigated by the Insurance and Capital Market Fraud Section of the Commission’s office in Lagos over matters bordering on N1, 478, 366, 859.66 fraud and forgery.
The industrialist, among other infractions, allegedly used forged documents to secure tax waivers, EFCC claimed.
However, IPOB, in its reaction, described Chukwumah’s arrest as part of a deliberate policy by the All Progressives Congress (APC) administration to de-industrialise the South-East and destroy indigenous Biafran businessmen.
A statement by the Media and Publicity Secretary of IPOB, Emma Powerful warned those involved in the “orchestrated campaign” to frustrate Innoson Motors to desist from their evil act before it is too late.
According to Powerful, “Ohaneze Ndigbo and South East governors are to blame for this major embarrassment and humiliation of the topmost entrepreneur in black Africa. What Innoson Motors has accomplished so far, no indigenous business in sub-Saharan Africa has been able to do. If Innoson Motors were owned by a Northern Hausa Fulani man, he would have been revered and idolised to high heavens. But because it is a business owned and run by a Biafran and equally sited in Biafraland, it must be destroyed.
“Since the emergence of this Buhari administration, Biafrans of Igbo extraction have been lurching from one persecution or another. After Operation Python Dance which had the backing of Ohaneze Ndigbo leadership and South East governors, the Buhari regime have turned it’s attention to the destruction of economic interests in the South East starting with Innoson Motors, in the hope of frustrating the first indigenous automobile company in West Africa because he opened his factory in Igboland.”
Coming under Order 42 of the Senate Standing Rules, Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu had told his colleagues that the arrest of the businessman was a national disgrace and an abuse of his fundamental human rights.
Ekweremadu who said the EFCC erred to have intervened in a civil matter involving a commercial bank and a private citizen, urged Senators to call on President Muhammadu Buhari to call Ibrahim Magu to order in the discharge of his duties.
His views got the nod of his colleagues who minced no words in their condemnation of EFCC.
Ekweremadu said: “The detention of Innocent Chukwuma, owner of Innoson Motors is the issue. It is purely a civil matter. At the inception of this Senate, we took an oath to defend the constitution. Yesterday (Tuesday), I got a number of messages that a matter between Chukwuma and GT Bank. They (EFCC operatives) came into his compound and he heard gunshots.
“He looked through the window and thought help had come. He had to come out of his hiding. Instead, a policeman arrested him. He asked what his offence was? He was told he will be told when they get to the station. The constitution is clear that no person should be detained more than 24 hours without telling him his offence. As I speak, he is yet to be told of his offence.
“What I gathered is that he was arrested by the EFCC over a certain money he is owing the GT Bank. Instead of them to settle it, EFCC got involved and arrested him like a common criminal. He was bundled like a criminal. If we allow the EFCC to get involved in things like this, we will be setting a bad precedence. This is a man who has created over 50,000 jobs in a country where there are no jobs.”
Ekweremadu’s position was reechoed by Enyinnaya Abaribe, who said if the Senate failed to act, lawmakers may soon become victims. He specifically cited the ongoing investigation and invitation of the immediate-past Senate president, David Mark by the anti-graft agency.
Abaribe questioned the continuous stay of Magu in office, despite his rejection by the Senate on two occasions.
“How can a financial transaction between an individual and the bank get the attention of EFCC? The point is, how can state institutions be used for personal purposes? This is supposed to be a personal transaction which is already in court.
“EFCC is getting involved in self-help. We are not running a Banana Republic. This is because we have a man in EFCC who was not cleared by the Senate. He is still there. This is because some people who own Nigeria have vowed that he must remain there.”
Former Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) chairman, Barnabas Gemade, said it was wrong for the EFCC to arrest a reputable entrepreneur. He warned that it could send wrong signals to his foreign partners.
“They should not use an inept institution like the EFCC to hound hardworking Nigerians. We call for his immediate release,” he said.
Deputy Leader of the Senate, Bala Ibn Na’Allah said the action of EFCC is a mentality inherited from the military era. He said Chukwuma could have been invited without resorting to the invasion of his private residence.
“There are other civilised standards. Why is Nigeria so unique? These things do not happen in other African countries around us. Our procedures, which we inherited, must be reversed. We must condemn this thing. When we opted for democracy, it was to enable us predict what will happen. To allow people to do what they like because they are occupying some offices should be condemned. What happened in Enugu yesterday (Tuesday) is a wrong signal. It will send a wrong signal to his foreign partners that he is a criminal. We must adopt civilised standards.”
Senate Chief Whip, Professor Olusola Adeyeye, said no Nigerian was safe if a man of Chukwuma’s influence could be arrested like a common criminal.
While he said there was no greater threat to democracy than when people violate the liberties of the citizens, he called on Nigerians to condemn the action of the EFCC.
Adeyeye said: “The EFCC must not take the law into its hands. It has been said that the rights of this man have been violated. If a case was taken to court and he won at these courts, what is the business of EFCC? There is no greater threat to democracy than when you violate the liberties of the citizens.”
Senator Sam Anyanwu who heads the Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions committee, queried the relevance of the Senate, if it cannot stop what he described as the illegal action of the EFCC.
“I do not know what we are doing in this Senate. If we allow this thing to stand, we will not be able to do anything. Is Magu the only person in this country? Are there no other Nigerians who can do the job? Is there anybody who is not owing banks? One day, the EFCC will arrest a man who cannot impregnate his wife.”
In his contribution, Deputy Minority Leader, Bwacha Emmanuel, who said he was embarrassed by the action of the EFCC said parliament must take a position and act swiftly.
According to him, “if we do not act, one day, it will be our time. The Executive must act and address this issue.”
President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, in his final intervention, said the action of EFCC did not speak well of the country.