On Wednesday, members of the Senate took turns to criticise the EFCC for the manner in which the industrialist Mr. Innocent Chukwuma was picked up on Tuesday in Enugu.
The lawmakers accused EFCC of highhandedness and adopting military approach in the execution of its duties.
They therefore mandated the Senate Committee on Financial Crimes and Anti-Corruption to investigate the matter and report back to the chamber on Thursday.
The Senate, however, rejected an additional prayer by Senator Monsurat Sunmonu, which was seconded by Senator Oluremi Tinubu, that the Committee on Women Affairs should investigate the alleged assault on Chwukuma’s wife by the EFCC operatives.
The lawmakers added the task to the terms of reference of the probe panel.
The EFCC operatives, who were said to be accompanied by heavily armed policemen, stormed the building around 7.30am.
At the plenary on Wednesday, the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, raised a point of order to criticise the EFCC for the arrest, which according to him, is a private matter between a bank and its customer.
“If we reduce our security agencies to agencies of debt recovery, then we are doomed as a nation,” he stated.
Ekweremadu added, “I will 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 the Guaranty Trust Bank.”
Narrating details of his conversation with the Innoson boss, the Deputy Senate President said, “Yesterday, I got a number of messages indicating that Mr. Innocent Chukwuma was arrested by the EFCC over a transaction between him and GTB.
“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 his 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 of the reason for the 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 on how a transaction between someone and his bank will concern the EFCC.”
Ekweremadu described Chukwuma as one of the greatest industrialists in Nigeria and who has employed over 5,000 people.
He decried that such a man could be “bundled like a common criminal over a transaction between him and his bank.”
Senator Emmanuel Bwacha stated that if truly Chukwuma’s wife was slapped by an operative of the EFCC as Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe had alleged to have been told, “someone must be held to account; he must lose his job and he must be prosecuted.”
The Deputy Senate President added that 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.
Speaking on the matter, Senator Barnabas Gemade said he would speak from the angle of “misuse of power and authority” by the EFCC.
He said bankers were feeding fat “like parasites” on the country’s economy.
Gemade noted that EFCC would not have taken the step if GTB had not presented a “cooked-up” report to the commission, “with specific inducement to go and deal with this man.”
Also, the Deputy Majority Leader, Senator Bala Na’Allah, said there were issues that had made the country to fall below “civic standards.”
The Senate President, 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 the 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 interferes 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.”
Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, who also contributed, insisted if the Senate failed to act, members might soon become victims.
The Abia South lawmaker specifically cited the ongoing investigation and invitation of the former Senate President, David Mark, by the anti-graft agency.
Deputy Senate Leader, Bala Ibn Na’Allah, noted that the action of EFCC was a mentality inherited from the military era.
He said Chukwuma could have been invited without resorting to the invasion of his home.
Senate Chief Whip, Professor Olusola Adeyeye, said if a man of Chukwuma’s influence could be arrested like a common criminal, no Nigerian is safe in the country.
The Osun Central senator noted that there was 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 and insisted that the practice must stop.
Senate President Bukola Saraki, in his ruling, said the actions of the EFCC did not speak well of the country.
The IPOB, in a statement his media and information director, Emma Powerful, described the “humiliating arrest as part of the grand plan to emasculate Biafrans economically”.
An emergency meeting of Eastern consultative Assembly (ECA) is expected to hold this week to deliberate on “this humiliation on a leading light in our land,” according to a statement by the group’s secretary, Evangelist Elliot Ugochukwu-Uko.
According to the ECA, the alleged legal issues he has with a commercial bank that led to his humiliating arrest was also said to be in court.
But, the firm yesterday came out in defence of its arrested boss.
The company, in statement by its head of corporate communications, Mr. Cornel Osigwe, denied EFFC’s claim that Chukwuma was invited and he jumped an administrative bail granted by the commission.
It stressed that “Dr. Chukwuma (OFR) is a law-abiding citizen, a public figure and a well-known industrialist of international repute”.
The statement added: “There is no how he would be invited by the EFCC and he would ignore or refuse to honour the invitation.”
The firm said Chukwuma has never had any issues or query from the EFCC recently.
“The last issue he had with 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 company added that commission was being economical with the truth by stating that Chukwuma ‘mobilised six truckloads of thugs’ pretending to be staff of his company to his residence, where they manhandled EFCC operatives.
Meanwhile, the Innoson Group, on Wednesday, said the EFCC lied in the reasons the anti-graft agency gave for the arrest of Chukwuma.
The EFCC had explained that Chukwuma’s arrest followed his “refusal to honour an 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.”
The anti-graft agency added that Chukwuma brought six truck-loads of thugs, who manhandled its operatives when they moved to arrest him.
Reacting to the development, Innoson group, in a statement signed by the Head, Corporate Communications, Cornel Osigwe, said the anti-corruption commission lied in the reasons it gave for the arrest as well as in the account of what transpired during the incident.
Innoson group said Chukwuma was never invited by the EFCC.
Meanwhile, the EFCC has released Chukwuma but accused him and his brother, Charles, of perpetrating fraud to the tune of N1.4bn.