…Receives heroic welcome in Enugu
…Ohanaeze, S-East elders tackle EFCC over arrest
By Chioma Gabriel, Ikechukwu Nnochiri, Dennis Agbo & Chimaobi Nwaiwu
ENUGU—The Chief Executive Officer of Innoson Group of Companies, Chief Innocent Chukwuma has denied the allegation by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, that he forged tax waiver documents.
The auto manufacturer also denied that he was ever invited by the EFCC, noting that throughout his ordeal with the agency, he was never told why he was arrested and humiliated.
He also confirmed that he was arrested like a common criminal and was taken to Lagos from Enugu in shorts and singlet.
Fielding questions from newsmen at Akanu Ibiam International Airport on arrival in Enugu, yesterday, the industrialist said he was yet to decide on what he would do to the EFCC on his humiliation. Chukwuma said: “I thank everybody, who fought on this matter. I was suprised that in the early morning, they (EFCC operatives)jumped into my house. I thought they were kidnappers or armed robbers but finally, I noticed it was EFCC. Around 7:30 am, they said they wanted to arrest me and I followed them to their office and up till now, they have not told me what offence I committed.
“When I got there, they said I should go, but they didn’t tell me what I did.
“EFCC under Ibrahim Magu has never invited me, nobody invited me, they just jumped into my house. If they invited me, I would have answered them because I am a genuine businessman. I am an industrialist, I don’t have any skeleton in my cupboard.
“That’s why I asked them to tell me what I did, but up till now, they have not told me what I did. I said I will stay with them until they tell me what I did.”
Asked if he was considering court action against the EFCC, Chukwuma said: “I don’t know for now if I will go to court against this unlawful arrest, but what I know is that they have not told me what I did.
“I have never forged tax waiver documents in my life. I pay all my taxes, I pay my duties;I am a genuine businessman; I’m an industrialist.
“In due time, I will tell Nigerians the whole truth about this matter. I intend to work with EFCC on this alleged investigation, so as to clear my name, which has been badly damaged, and I will follow up this so-called investigation to its logical conclusion.”
Crowd welcome Chukwuma at Enugu airport
Following his release, a large crowd yesterday gathered at the airport to receive him with some of them carrying placards and singing praises of Chukwuma, as an innocent man.
He expressed gratitude to President Muhammadu Buhari, “for his belief in the rule of law,” and to members of the National Assembly, for speaking against his arrest and condemning it as illegal. He also thanked the media, human rights groups, his workers and the general public, who condemned his arrest.
Ohanaeze tackles EFCC
Also yesterday, the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo condemned what it called the gestapo manner in which Chukwuma was arrested by operatives of EFCC.
The President-General of Ohanaeze, Chief Nnia Nwodo lamented that Chief Innocent Chukwuma, who is a major employer of labour in Nigeria could be treated in this shabby manner.
“Perhaps, Chief Chukwuma got that vexatious treatment, because of where he came from. It’s similar to what happened when Shagari was overthrown by Gen Buhari and was placed on House arrest, while his Vice, Dr Alex Ekwueme was sent to Kirikiri prison,” Nwodo lamented.
He warned that this kind of discriminatory treatment portends great danger to the corporate exisence of the country.
Ohanaeze also decried attacks on the person of its President-General, Chief Nnia Nwodo describing such attacks as uncharitable and saying that most of those attacking him have no roadmap for the future and progress of Ndigbo, except their staccato sentimental vituperatons that have nothing to do with the reality on ground.
The group in a statement yesterday said those attacking Nwodo “simply have no plan for what would have happened to 12 million Igbos in the North, if the northern youths had carried out their quit threat to Ndigbo on October 1.
“The truth is that some of these attackers are agents of some groups and individuals outside Nigeria who fund and promise them an eldorado and when the chips are down, they would abandon them to their fate,” Nwodo said.
“Referendum can only be gotten through the UN, AU and of course, through the co-operation of the Nigerian National Assembly. But until that happens, Ohanaeze Ndigbo with other progressive forces in Nigeria will continue to clamour for the restructuring of Nigeria.”
S-East elders blow hot, say Chukwuma should be celebrated
Meantime, the South East Elders Forum, SEEF, has warned against any attempt using trumped up allegations and other behind the scene game to harass and intimidate Chief Innocent Chukwuma. SEEF warned against the use of the EFCC to pull him and his business down because he is an Igbo man.
The forum expressed anger that a notable industrialist like Chief Chukwuma, who is the pride of Ndigbo and Nigeria in general because of his achievements in the automobile industry and other ventures, coupled with the employment of thousands of Nigerians, will be treated as a nobody for no justifiable reason.
“We are saying enough of this harassment of South East successful industrialists and businessmen, and we will not take any injustice against our sons. We appeal to the bank or whosoever for that matter to stop harassing and intimidating Chief Innocent Chukwuma.
“Innoson boss is not an ordinary fish. He may be a young man but we want to warn that the young man is not an ordinary fish. He is an electric fish and you know what happens to you when you use your bare hands to catch an electric fish.”
SEEF through its Convener, Dr Dozie Ikedife, said the group is suspecting, from the look of things, that there are higher hands behind the attempt to harass, intimidate and frustrate the Innoson Group of Companies for its steady progress in the automobile industry because, all its industries are located in the South East.
“Let’s make sure there are no higher hands bent on sinking the Innoson Group. However, even if human beings try, God in His infinite wisdom will not allow enemies of progress to succeed,” Ikedife stated.
EFCC has interests—Traders Association
In a similar vein, a former President General of Onitsha Markets Amalgamated Traders Association, OMATA, Chief Pius Ozoh Anaekwe yesterday said that the way EFCC is acting in Innocent Chukwuma’s matter with the alleged bank he had issues with shows that the leadership of EFCC has an interest it is protecting in the matter.
Addressing newsmen in Onitsha, Chief Anaekwe said the “chairman of EFCC should know that any work he is doing in EFCC is illegal because the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has not cleared him and I do not expect Nigerian courts to entertain any case brought by Mr Ibrahim Magu, because he is still having issues over his clearance with the National Assembly.”
He appealed to the Federal Government not to send Nigerians working in IVM and other subsidiary companies owned by Chief Chukwuma, into the unemployment market with the recent onslaught against him.
Chukwuma’s arrest, reckless display of power by EFCC—Ex-NBA President
In a related development, former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Mr. Joseph Daudu, SAN, yesterday, berated the EFCC, describing the arrest of chairman of Innoson Group of Companies, Chief Innocent Chukwuma, as “a reckless display of power.”
According to Daudu, who is the co-ordinator of the Rule of Law Foundation, “The state must not be seen to operate in a manner where individuals are forced to the point of defending themselves in the face of percieved oppression, hence leading to a point of anarchy.”
Speaking at an end of year press conference the Foundation held in Abuja, the ex-NBA boss said: “It is no longer news that in the present administration, the investigation and prosecution powers of the state have been reduced to a state of mockery where individual fights are settled in a manner where the hand which controls the agencies of the state uses such agency or body to harass his perceived political enemies.
“The professionalism expected of the enforcement agents has been denigrated and ridiculed by persons who though purported to be civil servants, are political attack dogs in reality.
“It is more worrisome, the fact that the affected agencies, such as the EFCC and the DSS have no understanding of their powers and terms of engagement. Just as a few days ago, the media was awash with news of arrest and detention of the Chief Executive Officer of Innoson Nigeria Limited, Dr. Innocent Chukwuma by the EFCC in a Gestapo styled operation where both Dr. Chukwuma and his family members were allegedly assaulted by EFCC operatives.
“While the issues leading to Dr. Chukwuma’s arrest remain unresolved, there seems to be no reasonable justification for the actions of the EFCC.
“While certain reports suggest that the EFCC acted on a complaint against Dr. Chukwuma by Guarantee Trust Bank over a financial transaction, other reports suggest that the EFCC claims that Dr. Chukwuma was arrested for certain waivers made in favour of his companies which it considers fraudulent.
“It is however interesting to note, that none of the above excuses should warrant a criminal investigation especially one commenced in the way and manner undertaken by the EFCC without notice or prior invitation.”
“The use of maximum force to arrest individial for non-violent offences is a reckless display of power which should be condemned and put a stop to without further ado.
“There is no difference between a reckless sate and a common criminal gang where the statr unleashes force on defenceless individuals.
“Law enforcement agents who engage in any reckless display of power must be investigated and dismissed in the least. The primary duty of law enforcement agencies is to protect individuals against oppression.
“However, the opposite seems to be the case in Nigeria where law enforcement agencies are the primary proponent of oppression against the citizens. There is a need for the regulatory agencies to pay closer attention to the training welfare and discipline of law enforcement agents to ensure that the nation is not shooting itself in the foot by engaging persons with questionable character in law enforcement.
“It is contrary to the social contract between the people and the state that a state which cannot protect its people with maximum force will oppress such people with excessive force.
“The state must understand that any application of unnecessary force on individuals is equal to oppression and nature abhors oppression.
“Indeed, where there is a breach of our criminal laws, the state must act to enforce the necessary correctional consequences. However, in so doing, tge sanity of the society must be preserved and protected.
“The relevant authorities must therefore draw a line between power and duty and also ensure that every intending officer undertakes a comprehensive training on ethics.
“Also, law enforcement agents must engage in a continous professional training ti sustain their understanding of their rules of engagement”, he added.