From: FRED ITUA, Abuja
Acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission’s (EFCC), Mr. Ibrahim Magu, on Wednesday, came under fire on the floor of the Senate, over the arrest of the Managing Director of Innoson Motors, Mr. Innocent Chukwuma.
To this end, the Senate has mandated its committee on Anti-Corruption and Financial Crimes to investigate the circumstances surrounding the arrest of Innoson Motors’ boss and report back to it, latest Thursday.
The Red Chamber mandated Sen. Chukwuka Utazi-led anti-corruption committee to investigate claims that an EFCC operative slapped the wife of Mr. Chukwuma during the raid of his house, in Enugu. It also called for the immediate and unconditional release of the business.
Chukwuma was reportedly arrested at his Enugu home, on Tuesday, by operatives of the EFCC, over his alleged refusal to repay a loan to Guaranty Trust Bank.
Coming under Order 42 of the Senate Standing Rules yesterday, Deputy Senate President, Ike 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, while calling on President Muhammadu Buhari to call Magu to order in the discharge of his duties.
He said the EFCC erred to have to intervened 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 reechoed by Sen. Enyinnaya Abaribe. In his contribution, Abaribe said 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.
“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 said Magu is still holding sway because certain people who own Nigeria have vowed that he must remain in office.
Abaribe 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.”
Former Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) chairman, Barnabas Gemade, said the arrest of Chukwuma is an abuse and misuse of power. He said 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 Mr. 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.”
Senate Chief Whip, Professor Olusola Adeyeye, said if a man of Chukwuma’s influence could be arrested like a common criminal, no Nigerian is therefore safe in the country.
He said there is 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 added that the practice must stop.
Adeyeye said: “I am sad. I believe that my sadness envelopes the whole chamber. When injustice is forced on any Nigerian, it is forced on all of us. When you can treat someone who can call a politician and have any access to anyone can be arrested like a criminal, then we are in trouble. If means if anybody writes a petition to the EFCC, any of us here can be arrested.
“We should not only condemn this. We need to ensure that this nonsense stops. The EFCC is a creation of the law. The law is clear on what the EFCC can address. How can EFCC slap any man’s wife? I wish women of Nigeria can rise up and insist that this nonsense stops. 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.”
Sen. Sam Anyanwu who heads the Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions committee, queried the relevance of the Senate, if it could not stop what he described as the illegal action of the EFCC.
Said he, “Some of us who are new in this chamber say things the way we see it. We are not political about it. I do not understand the workings of the Senate. As it stands today, does the EFCC have a chairman? The man was rejected and he is still there. I want them to plant money in my village and my people will not allow them go alive. Somebody died in EFCC’s custody and his body is still in the mortuary for over a year.
“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.”
Senate Deputy Minority Leader, Bwacha Emmanuel, said he is embarrassed by the action of the EFCC. He said as a parliament, the Senate must take a position and act swiftly.
He said: “I sat here and listened to this story. I am embarrassed, saddened and feeling bad. I am just finding it difficult to comprehend the dehumanising impact of this treatment. I know this man personally. As a parliament, we need to act. If truly that the wife of Innoson was slapped by EFCC operatives, someone must be held responsible.
“If that is not done, we will be wasting out time here. If we do not do something to protect this democracy, somebody will crumble this house. What is the business of EFCC with a transaction between a bank and an individual? 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 does not speak well of the country. He said in the United States of America, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), does not get involved in trivial issues like this.
“Truly, those who have contributed have raised important issues. As a society, this does not speak well for the country. How a private transaction has become the business of the EFCC is what I do not know. I have not seen the FBI intervenes between people involved in a transaction. We are just making a mockery of the institution,” he concluded.
Spokesman for the EFCC, Wilson Uwujaren, in a telephone conversation, while reacting to the backlash that trailed the anti-graft officials’ arrest of Chukwuma, said the Commission was still studying the Senate reaction and would react at the appropriate time.