The Senate on Wednesday waded into the arrest of the Chairman of Innoson Motors, Chief Innocent Chukwuma, urging President Muhammadu Buhari to call the Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, Mr. Ibrahim Magu, to order.
The industrialist was arrested from his residence in Enugu by EFCC operativea at about 9am on Tuesday. His arrest is said to be in connection with his alleged refusal to repay a loan to Guaranty Trust Bank, GTB.
The EFCC had given reasons for arresting Chukwuma, stating that “his arrest followed his refusal to honour invitation by the Commission having earlier jumped an administrative bail granted him in a case being investigated by the Capital Market and Insurance Fraud Unit of the Commission’s Lagos office.
“Chukwuma rather than honoring invitation by the EFCC, mobilized six truckloads of thugs pretending to be staff of his company to his residence, where they manhandled EFCC operatives,” the EFCC spokesperson, Wilson Uwujaren, said.
But following a point of order raised on the matter by the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, the upper legislative chamber mandated its committee on anti-corruption and financial crimes to investigate circumstances surrounding the arrest of Innoson Motors’ boss and report back within 24 hours.
The Senator Chukwuka Utazi-led anti-corruption committee was tasked to probe claims that an EFCC operative slapped the wife of Chukwuma during the raid of his house, in Enugu.
Coming under Order 42 of the Senate Standing Rules on Wednesday, Ekweremadu told his colleagues that the arrest of the businessman was a national disgrace and an abuse of Chukwuma’s fundamental human rights.
He urged senators to prevail on the EFCC to immediately release the Innoson boss, stressing that the EFCC erred by intervening in a civil matter involving a commercial bank and a private citizen. His views got the nod of his colleagues.
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 supported by Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, who warned that if the Senate fails to act, members 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.
His words, “If we are not careful and deal with this issue, we will all fall victim of this issue. It was a principal officer that was invited here. That matter will be brought here later. We do not know what motivates the EFCC. EFCC in its own Twitter handle said they arrested Innoson boss because he did not honour their invitation. The man said he was not invited. Who is lying? EFCC will lie and put you on your head because they have the means.”
Abaribe questioned the continuous stay of Magu in office, despite his rejection by the Senate on two occasions. He stated that the acting chairman is still holding sway because certain people who own Nigeria have vowed that he must remain in office.
He continued, “The wife of Innoson asked why they were arresting the husband and they slapped her. The facts are there. 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. Maybe they will come after me when I finish speaking. This government must look at how institutions function. Basic rights are basic rights and they must be respected.”
On his part, Barnabas Gemade, Benue-APC, said the arrest of Chukwuma is an abuse and misuse of power, maintaining that it is wrong for the EFCC to arrest a reputable entrepreneur and warned that it could send wrong signals to his foreign partners.
“I want to speak from the angle of misuse of power and authority. The economy is being mismanaged. This story as has been reported, beats one’s mind. EFCC cannot not just get up and looked up and arrest an entrepreneur if the bank did not cook up something. Banks are just parasites. They do not contribute anything to the economy of the nation. Those who are adding to the economy are more important to us than bank directors.
“It will reduce the status of this Senate if we begin to mention names of bank managers who hide stolen funds for corrupt individuals. The Senate should condemn what has happened to Chukwuma who has created over 50,000 jobs. If there is a problem, the bank should settle it. They should not use an inept institution like the EFCC to hound hard working Nigerians. We call for his immediatel 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.
He noted: “I tried as much as I can to restrain myself from contributing. This no doubt, is a carry over of a military mentality. Innoson is an industrialist who is producing cars for this country. Is there no way you can bring such a man to answer questions without breaking his gate to arrest him? 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.”
Contributing to the debate, Senator Bwacha Emmanuel, Taraba-PDP, said the perpetrator of such act should be fished out and punished.
“As a member of this Senate, I sponsored a motion to call for support of the anti-corruption war but as I listen to this story. If truly the wife of Innocent Chukwuma was slapped by a member of EFCC, something has to be done. Somebody must be held responsible, somebody must lose his job. Otherwise, we’ll be wasting our time here.”
In his ruling, the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, stated that the EFCC will drag the country into ridicule if the issue is not addressed promptly.
“As a society that we are all planning, that our country to be civilised, I think this does not speak well of the country. How a private commercial transaction has now become the focus of the EFCC. I think this area is the focus. Whether he is owing or not, I think we must be seen protecting the fundamental rights of citizens.
“I’ve never seen when FBI interferes between City Bank and Ford Motors, or the financial crime agency in UK intervenes. We are just making a mockery of ourselves and we really should be able to do the right thing,” the Senate President said.