Last week, the biggest news story in Nigeria was the arrest of Innocent Chukwuma, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Nigeria’s premier indigenous auto-making company, Innoson Vehicle Manufacturing Company Limited, Nnewi, Anambra State, by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
Reports have it that the EFCC came to his GRA Enugu residence in large number and arrested him in his shorts and singlet. Innoson claimed that the EFCC did not inform its boss of the reason for his arrest. There was also an allegation that even the wife of Chukwuma was slapped by an EFCC official when she requested to know the reason for the arrest of her husband.
The EFCC said Chukwuma mobilised his staff to prevent them from arresting him. A statement signed by the spokesman for the EFCC, Mr. Wilson Uwujaren, inter alia, said: “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 honouring invitation by the EFCC, mobilised six truck loads of thugs pretending to be staff of his company to his residence, where they manhandled the EFCC operatives.”
But Innoson countered it by saying that its boss never received any invitation from the EFCC, neither did he ever jump any bail: “We wish to deny the EFFC’s claim categorically that Dr. Innocent Chukwuma (Innoson) was invited by the Commission or was there any time that he jumped an administrative bail granted by the EFCC.
“Dr. Chukwuma (OFR) is a law-abiding citizen, a public figure and a well-known industrialist of international repute. There is no how he would be invited by the EFCC and he would ignore or refuse to honour the invitation.
“Dr. Chukwuma has never had any issues or query from the EFCC recently. The last issue he had with the EFCC was an invitation extended to him in 2012 based on a complaint against him by Guaranty Trust Bank, GTB, which he duly honoured.”
The arrest of Chukwuma elicited spontaneous outpouring of anger against the EFCC as well as the GTB, which was seen as the company that engineered the arrest because of its business deal with Innoson. The anger was why the EFCC should get involved in a business transaction that had been in court for years and had received judgements by the two levels of court and was awaiting final judgement by the Supreme Court. It was seen as an act of intimidation and a show of power.
The issue was raised on the floor of the Senate the next day by the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, where it was extensively discussed in anger. Ekweremadu narrated the story he was told by the Innoson boss of how he was arrested and added: “Any person who is arrested and detained should be informed about the reason for their arrest. As I speak, Mr. Innocent Chukwuma has yet to be informed of what led to his arrest or detention.”
Senators who spoke on the issue criticised the arrest of Chukwuma and the manner of the arrest, with Senator Barnabas Gemade emphasising the issue of “misuse of power and authority” by the EFCC.
The usual way security agencies in other climes attend to criminal issues is that they take their time to investigate a case and gather incriminatory evidences against the suspect. Such evidences are those that are so water-tight that the suspect will have no way of wriggling out of the case. Sometimes, it takes months and even years to conclude investigation. If the evidence against the suspect is not concrete and sufficient to nail him, an agent provocateur may be used to set traps for him. Once he is arrested, it is almost certain that he will be found guilty in court.
But in the case of the EFCC, the DSS and the police, most times it is after the suspect is arrested that they start concluding their investigation and tidying up their case. Consequently, they usually keep a suspect in detention, even beyond the dictates of the constitution, while tidying up their case against the suspect.
With the reputation some security agencies of the government like the EFCC and the DSS have gained in recent times because of their mode of arrest of suspects, the arrest of Chukwuma by the EFCC was seen as being in character with the recent undemocratic manner of arrest employed by these agencies. It seems the EFCC derives joy from the dramatic way it arrests accused persons. And once an accused person is embarrassed by the dramatic and showy way he is arrested, the EFCC feels that it has achieved a wonderful result. It does not matter if the person is discharged and acquitted by the court a few months after, or if the court strikes out the case for lacking merit.
The manner of arrest of Chukwuma was meant to embarrass him, but it ended up attracting sympathies to him. The first reason was that it was seen as a business deal between two companies that went awry. The issue had gone to two different High Courts which gave judgement in favour of Innoson. The GTBank appealed the verdicts and the Appeal Courts ruled in Innoson’s favour. The bank took the cases to the Supreme Court. The rulings of the Supreme Court on the two cases are being awaited. That the EFCC was brought into a case that was in court was seen as strange. The way Chukwuma was arrested was seen as being in out of tune with democratic principles.
The second reason was that given that Innoson is a manufacturer and an employer of labour in the Nigerian economy, which is tough for manufacturing, such manner of arrest was seen as a discouragement for investors in the economy. With the death or exit of many manufacturing companies from Nigeria, people believed that the few manufacturers that defied all odds to remain in the national economy should even be pampered by government and agencies of government.
The third reason was that it made Innoson to be seen as a victim of high-handedness of the EFCC courtesy of GTBank. In all situations, the underdog or victim gets the sympathies of the masses.
Consequently, the incident got the attention of many people who did not even know about Innoson or those who never took interest in its business.
Maybe due to the outpouring of anger, the EFCC released Chukwuma on bail the next day, and he received a hero’s welcome in Enugu. A few days later, it was announced that the EFCC had filed a four-count case of forgery against Chukwuma, his brother and Innoson. The court will determine the case in the months and years ahead.
Nobody is above the law. The security agencies should do their work without fear or favour. But what should be paramount in their minds is not “embarrassing” a person or proving that they are powerful. The ultimate aim should be to help in making it easier for the court to find the person found guilty. In a democracy a human being is assumed innocent until proved otherwise by a court of law. And every human being deserves respect and courtesy. Treating a person like a criminal is a trait seen in dictatorships. It paints a terrible picture of a country that calls itself a democracy.