The arrest of Dr Innocent Chukwuma, founder and CEO of Innoson Motors, in the morning of December 19th,2017, at his residence in Enugu, by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission sent shock waves through the Nigerian media space and elicited negative reactions from prominent Nigerians mostly in the South East. It also led to a social media campaign calling on all Igbos to close their accounts with Guaranty Trust Bank, as a form of protest against his arrest, which the bank is widely believed to have been the brains behind it. While the social media campaign fizzled out without making any significant dent on the finances of GTB and Mr Chukwuma was released from EFCC detention 48 hours later in Lagos; what i have been unable to understand is the raison d’etre for his arrest as there are 3 different stories making the rounds in the media as the reason for his arrest and they are all emanating from one source-the EFCC
Initial report about the whole saga suggested that the EFCC acted on a complaint against Innoson by GTB over a financial transaction which turned awry. The second report suggests that the EFCC claims that Dr Chukwuma was arrested for certain tax waivers made in favour of Innoson which it considers fraudulent. The third report claims that Dr Chukwuma and his brother Charles are being investigated by EFCC over Capital Market and Insurance Fraud to the tune of N1,478,366,000 billion naira. In accordance with the biblical saying “Whose report do you believe?” Nigerians are asking the EFCC “Whose report should we believe?” Or is Dr Chukwuma being prosecuted based on all 3 reports?
According to the EFCC, Innoson is accused of stealing motorcycle parts and raw materials belonging to GTB. The motorcycles were ordered by Innoson from it’s manufacturers and suppliers overseas with a loan from GTB. Under International business rules and because the goods in question were procured with a loan from GTB, the Bills of Ladings and other vital documents needed to clear the goods at the port in Nigeria, were kept in the possession of GTB until the loan was repaid. The bank accused Innoson of forging banking and shipping documents to clear the goods at the port without it’s knowledge or approval. Mind you, all of these occurred in the year 2012. Innoson, however denies any wrong doing in that transaction and according to it’s spokesperson, Mr Cornel Osigwe, speaking ex-cathedral “We have it now on good authority that there is a grand conspiracy by an international competitor of Innoson Vehicles who have conspired with a financial institution to pull down Innoson Vehicles at all costs because of the latest increase in patronage of Innoson Vehicles by the federal government”. Note, in it’s defence Innoson never told us when it paid back the loan said to be worth over a billion naira, how much exactly did it pay back, was it full repayment of partial repayment, and when exactly GTB handed over the documents to them which enabled him to clear the motorcycle parts at the port rather it conceded that it’s documents were indeed deposited with GTB in the temporary but that permanent ownership lies with it (Innoson). They also did not provide any proof or evidence to back up it’s claim that there is an international conspiracy against it.
Innoson went ahead to make a counter-claim that GTB owes it about N8 billion naira and that the bank told him they could not pay him such a princely sum but rather offered him the bank’s shares of the same amount in lieu of cash, an offer Dr Chukwuma graciously accepted. The N8 billion naira in question is a judgement debt against GTB for making illegal deductions from Innoson’s company account at the Nnewi branch of the bank to the tune of N506 million naira over several years. Innoson went to court and won against GTB but the bone of contention now between Innoson and GTB is the amount of interest to be paid with Innoson arguing that it should be 22% (amounting to N8 billion naira over several years including damages) which is the interest rate that GTB uses in calculating his loan repayments while GTB is insisting that it will calculate the damages based on 7% interest rate. The issue now is not that of payment of damages to Innoson by GTB but how much to pay since the judgement secured by Innoson from a Federal High Court, Awka, Anambra State did not specify the amount to be paid or the interest rate to be used in calculating the damages to be paid.
The third report that Dr Chukwuma and his brother Charles are being investigated by the EFCC over Capital Market and Insurance fraud to the tune of N1.4 billion naira is bogus, ambiguous and holds no water since Dr Chukwuma is not known to have any of his companies quoted on the Nigerian Stock Exchange including Innoson Vehicle Manufacturing. Also, the EFCC did not expatiate, elucidate or give details of the transaction or how the fraud was perpetuated.
The only claim that is uncontested in this saga is the issue of judgement debt against GTB. Why has Innoson waited until this moment instead of seeking a judicial interpretation of the judgement debt awarded him against GTB at the Supreme Court? Even if GTB pays at 7% interest rate, it still amounts to about N2 billion naira so why has GTB not paid or made any attempt to pay rather it resorted to reporting another matter for which it has been defeated in court severally and which is currently pending before the Supreme Court to the EFCC- to do what if i may ask?
Also, why would Innoson forge documents to enjoy tax waivers which he is eminently qualified and eligible to get as an industrialist operating in an infant industry in Nigeria and also as an employer of labour?
The EFCC claims that Dr Chukwuma signed an undertaking to pay his debt to GTB in 2012, yet they couldn’t present any evidence of the undertaking that was signed by Dr Chukwuma 6 years ago not even a photocopy of the original document. Or did rats eat up the documents shortly after they were allegedly signed at the Enugu office of the EFCC in 2012? Why did GTB, as a law-abiding corporate citizen of Nigeria not go to court with the undertaking allegedly signed by Dr Chukwuma to enforce the resolutions which he promised to abide by in 2012? Has GTB lost faith in securing justice through the judicial process hence the resort to EFCC- an organization famous for it’s strong arm tactics and crucifixion of unconvicted individuals in the court of public opinion, for a matter that is currently pending before the Supreme Court?
I condemn in all totality the shabby treatment meted out to Dr Chukwuma by the EFCC before, during and after his arrest. It should also be clear to all and sundry by now that President Muhammadu Buhari does not hate the Igbos. Federal patronage from the Nigerian military, the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) amongst many other federal agencies of government of Innoson vehicles defeats allegations of ethnic bias and witchunt by the Buhari administration against Igbos.
The way forward is for the President to mandate the EFCC to withdraw from the matter and allow the law take it’s course since the case is already at the Supreme Court. All parties should sign an undertaking under the supervision of the Nigerian Police to abide by the judgement of the Supreme Court which is the highest court in the land and put an end to all litigation on this issue. Innoson should also approach the Supreme Court to get a judicial interpretation of the judgment debt awarded him against GTB by the Federal High Court in Awka, Anambra State. The Central Bank of Nigeria should compel GTB to pay the judgement debt against it to Innoson or offer him the bank’s shares in lieu of cash.