From Chidi Nnadi, Enugu, David Onwuchekwa, Nnewi and Obinna Odogwu, Abakaliki and Juliana Taiwo- Obalonye, Abuja
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Innoson Group, Chief Innocent Chukwuma has narrated his ordeal in the hands of operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
The businessmen said he was rudely awoken from his sleep in the wee-hours by gun-totting security officials who stormed his home.
“They arrested me like a criminal, I was putting on the pyjamas I woke up in and was taken to the airport in shorts and a singlet. From there to Lagos,” he said.
EFCC operatives from Lagos had invaded his Enugu residence on Tuesday morning, arrested and detained him at their Enugu office before whisking him away to Lagos on Wednesday where they later released him on bail.
The anti-graft agency claimed that Chukwuma was arrested following “his refusal to honour invitation 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.”
But the industrialist and auto manufacturer told newsmen at the Akanu Ibiam International Airport yesterday that he was not guilty of any of the allegations leveled against him by the EFCC.
“I still maintain that my arrest was illegal, as there was never a period that EFCC under the leadership of Ibrahim Magu invited me for any reason. In due time, I will tell Nigerians the whole truth about this matter. I intend to work faithfully with the 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,” he said.
Narrating how the operatives of the EFCC arrested him, he said: “First of all, I want to thank all Nigerians who stood by me, because GTBank wrote a false petition against me. The EFCC came to my house, jumped over the fence of my compound and whisked me away, but all Nigerians refused to accept this. So, I am thanking everybody who fought for this matter because I was surprised when the EFCC jumped into my compound very early in the morning. When I saw them, I thought they were kidnappers or armed robbers, only to notice that they were actually from the EFCC.
“Immediately I saw them around 5:30a.m, I hid for over two hours until when the weather became a little bit clearer around 7:30a.m, when I was able to see that they were putting on police uniform. Suddenly, I began to hear gunshots and that was when I realised that many policemen had come into my compound, and that was when I came out of my hideout.
“When I came out, they said they wanted to arrest me and that they are from the EFCC. I followed them to their office in Enugu, but up till now, they have not told me my offence.”
The Innoson boss who was later flown to Lagos said that upon arrival at the EFCC Lagos office, the operatives asked him to go without telling him what his offence was.
He insisted that he was never invited by the EFCC, saying “nobody invited me, nobody got me informed prior to my arrest. If they had invited me or written any letter to me, I would have honoured the invitation because I am a genuine businessman and industrialist. I don’t have anything in my cupboard to hide. And that is why I insisted they should tell me what I did, but till now I haven’t been told my offence.”
Chukwuma disclosed that when he was released at the EFCC Lagos office, he refused to leave until he was told his offence, adding, “they had to beg me before I left.”
He said he would make sure that the commission explained why they arrested him. “I have never in my life owed any tax, I pay all my taxes and all my duties. I am a genuine businessman and industrialist, I have a history in my business.”
Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, said he was in the dark as regards the arrest.
Answering question at the end of Federal Executive Council (FEC) Malami replied: “In all sincerity, I wasn’t privy to facts that led to the stated arrest. I haven’t been briefed by relevant agencies but one thing I know is the fact that there has been a case between him and the GTBank that is pending in court and it is being prosecuted. Apart from that, I’m not privy to facts and circumstances that led to his alleged arrest. So, until I’m briefed by relevant arrest agencies, I’m not in a clear position to make any disclosure about the arrest..Until I’m briefed, I’m not in a position to make further comments on it.”
However, South East Elders Forum alleged that it was a plot to pull the Innoson boss down because he is an Igbo man.
The forum which spoke through its convener, Dr. Dozie Ikedife in Nnewi, Anambra State, said it suspected there were higher hands behind the attempt to harass, intimidate and frustrate the Innoson Group for its steady progress in automobile industry and because they were located in the South East.
In its reaction, the Movement for Actualisation of Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) accused the APC-led Federal Government of using the anti-graft agency to intimidate, harass, and embarrass Igbo leaders. It warned that it would not fold its arms and watch Igbo leaders being molested.
In a statement issued by its leader, Uchenna Madu in Abakaliki, MASSOB descried the arrest as insult on the Igbo.
“Attack on Innoson Vehicles Manufacturing Company and its owner is an attack against Ndigbo, we shall never tolerate or keep silence on this wickedness against Igbo enterprises. We shall never allow this insult against our creativities go unpunished,” it vowed.