Innoson boss arrest: Senate lampoons EFCC … Orders 24-hour probe
The Senate on Wednesday took turns to criticise the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission for the Tuesday arrest of the Chairman/Managing Director of Innoson Vehicle Manufacturing, Innocent Chukwuma.
The lawmakers accused the EFCC of highhandedness and using military approach.
They, therefore, mandated the Senate Committee on Financial Crimes and Anti-Corruption to investigate the matter and report back to the chamber on Thursday.
Though the Senate rejected an additional prayer by Senator Monsurat Sunmonu, which was seconded by Senator Oluremi Tinubu, that the Committee on Women Affairs investigates the alleged assault on Chwukuma’s wife by EFCC operatives, the lawmakers added the task to the terms of reference of the probe panel.
Operatives of the EFCC had stormed Chukwuma’s home at Savage Crescent in the GRA area of Enugu State on Tuesday, during which some of the senators alleged that his wife was assaulted before the businessman was forcefully arrested.
The EFCC operatives, who were accompanied by heavily armed policemen, stormed the building around 7.30am.
At the plenary on Wednesday, Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, raised a point of order to criticise EFCC for the arrest, which, according to him, was a private issue between a bank and its customer.
“If we reduce our security agencies into agencies of debt recovery, then we are doomed as a nation,” Ekweremadu stated.
Ekweremadu said, “I would like to seek your indulgence to raise the matter of Mr. Innocent Chukwuma who we call ‘Innoson,’ by the EFCC over a matter between Mr. Chukwuma and Guarantee Trust Bank.
“At the inception of this Senate, we all took an oath to defend the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. God forbid that a day will come when we will sit back as a Senate and watch an attack on the liberty of any citizen.”
Narrating the details of his conversation with the Innoson boss, Ekweremadu said, “Yesterday, I got a number of messages indicating that Mr. Innocent Chukwuma was arrested by the EFCC over a transaction between him and GTBank.
“This morning, I made an effort and I spoke with him. His story is straight forward: he said he was at his house at 5am on Tuesday when he heard gun shots and he thought they were assassins and he went into hiding.
“After about two hours, he saw some people and policemen, and he thought that help had come. So, he came out of hiding and ran to a policeman who promptly arrested him.
“He tried to find out what his offence was and they told him that when they get to the police station, they would inform him of the offence. As of today, nobody has told him what the offence is.
“Any person who is arrested and detained should be informed about the reason for their arrest. As I speak, Mr. Innoson Chukwuma has yet to be informed of what led to his arrest or detention, but if you go through the media today, the story is that he is owing GTB.
“As a lawyer, I’m at a loss (for words) on how a transaction between someone and his bank will concern the EFCC.”
Ekweremadu added, “The story he told me is that he was not owing the bank anything; that he borrowed money from the bank, which he had since repaid, but the bank kept charging him money and withdrawing it from his account.
“They set up an audit and the auditor came to a conclusion that they had deducted more than N500m.
“He insisted on 22 per cent (interest on the deductions), the bank said they would pay 17 per cent; that was where they had the disagreement.”
Also commenting, Senator Emmanuel Bwacha stated that if, truly, Chukwuma’s wife was slapped by an operative of the EFCC as Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe claimed to have been told, “someone must be held to account; he must lose his job and he must be prosecuted.”
The Deputy Senate President said the Innoson boss won a case he filed against GTB at a Federal High Court and won again at the Court of Appeal, while the matter was pending at the Supreme Court.
“The fact that the matter is in court and it was a commercial transaction, gives no room for the intervention by EFCC.
“I appeal to this Senate to ensure that Mr. Innocent Chukwuma is released promptly,” he said.
Speaking on the matter, Senator Barnabas Gemade said he would speak from the angle of “misuse of power and authority” by EFCC.
According to him, “the matter bleeds the heart, as reported by the media.”
“Today, our economy is queued in the wrong direction. Bankers who trade in money have become lords in this nation because raw cash has become such an important commodity, that most of them who deal in it have become more important than any other citizen who produces goods and services,” Gemade said.
He said bankers were feeding fat “like parasites” on the country’s money (cash) economy.
He said, “I think this Senate should condemn whatever has happened to this entrepreneur who has employed thousands of people, giving them a sense of livelihood, adding to the economy of this nation and building the Gross Domestic Products of Nigeria.
“We should order that in whatever circumstances GTB has issues with Innoson, they should follow due process in dealing with the matter and not to seek advantage of an …. institution to stampede the poor man in accepting a deal, which is practically unacceptable in normal transaction or business.”
Also, the Deputy Majority Leader, Senator Bala Ibn Na’Allah, said there were issues that had made the country to fall below “civic standards.”
He said, “This is no doubt a carryover of the military mentality. I keep asking: why is Nigeria so unique? These things don’t happen even in the African countries that surround us.
“We will admit that our procedures, which we, unfortunately, inherited (from the military) must be reversed in order for us to meet world’s civic standards.”
President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, in his remarks, said those who spoke on the matter raised important issues.
He said, “I think this does not speak well for the country. How would a private commercial transaction now become the focus of EFCC? I think this is the area where our focus should be.
“Whether he owes (the bank) or not, we must be seen to be protecting the rights of individuals. I don’t think you have heard where FBI interferes in the affairs of Citibank and Fords Motors, or the financial crimes agency in the United Kingdom interfering in an issue between Barclay’s Bank and a customer.
“Honestly, we are just making a mockery of ourselves and we really need to be able to do the right things.