By Uche Amunike
I had never given much thought to the man called Allen Onyema before now. Not even for one day. I travel with his airline, alright, but I never ever gave a thought about who the owner was or what he looked like or where he hailed from or if he was dark or fair. As a matter of fact, rumour once had it that Air Peace Airlines belonged to the wife of Former President Goodluck Jonathan and I actually believed it. Nigerians are funny. Really. Someone sits in the comfort of his home, forms an opinion and spreads it as rumour. Before you say Jack Robinson, every listener not only believes it, but spreads the news even further. So, for a long time, I actually assumed that Air Peace belonged to good old Dame Patience Jonathan. That was until news hit the airwaves that Air Peace CEO lost his dad. It was in August. Just a few months back.
That was when I realized that our own brother owned Air Peace and not Dame Patience Jonathan like we all erroneously believed. After that, things went back to normal and life was good. I never gave any thought whatsoever about Allen Onyema. His name was hardly in the news, anyway. Perhaps it was, but never struck a chord. That was until the Xenophobic attacks started again in South Africa. Nigerians died in their numbers and when the government of Buhari seemed to drag their feet about coming to their aid, this silent achiever took the bull by the horns and rescued 503 Nigerians from the risk of being killed in South Africa. That was how his name, Allen Onyema, hit the airwaves yet again. In fact, that was the second time I ever got to hear his name being mentioned in the news, after his dad’s funeral. He sent his aircrafts to South Africa to evacuate Nigerians back to our dear country for safety. He did this for free. He was our hero and we were truly proud of him. Of course, losing hundreds of millions of dollars in a humanitarian act like he did was worth celebrating him for.
After that incident, life went back to normal for everyone and Allen Onyema went back into his shell and nobody heard about him, again. Nigerians, however woke up weeks ago to hear disturbing news about Allen being a money launder. The United States government has charged him for $20m fraud and money laundering, with claims that he moved the funds from Nigeria through United States bank accounts with falsified documents in the purchase of his airplanes. His own countrymen are also accusing him of having ulterior motives for evacuating stranded Nigerians from South Africa; some say he is eyeing the gubernatorial seat of his state which was why he did the South African Evacuation. I could go on and on. And it hurt me very deeply because a man who has worked so hard for himself and gainfully carved out a niche is standing in the full glare of his own countrymen, being judged like a common criminal.
Very soon, the EFCC will be on his doorstep to do their bit. Before you know it, he is a finished man reduced from grace to grass, the Naija way. He has however indicated that he is innocent of all accusations and is ready to defend his innocence in the US courts. He attested that he has never laundered money in his life, nor committed any bank fraud anywhere in the world. He averred that every dime he wired to the USA for aircraft purchases went through the Central Bank of Nigeria as it should. This is where I am seriously bothered. A friend of mine asked me during an argument if I knew how he made his money. Biko, he was never a nonentity. I have done a background check on this man and found out that at the inception of Air Peace, no bank agreed to lend him money. That was until Fidelity bank offered him the first loan. He took a pretty big risk when he floated Air Peace. They almost ruined him by failure to give him license to fly. And he did not just walk up to Fidelity to ask for billions of Naira loan. He had facilities that qualified him to collect the loan. It is a credit line. If you give your bank the required collateral, they’ll take your facility if you do not repay the loan. CBN and EFCC have a big role to play here before the approval to open Letters of Credit is given.
All Letters of Credit have a portion that is not utilized which most times, customers withdraw and use for other things after meeting the initial purpose of the Letter of Credit. The customer however must pay back the loan in full to the bank. So, Allen took a loan, bought an aircraft and used the balance of the loan for other things. It’s a loan facility he knows he must pay back. That is how Letters of Credit work. Let me explain it further with an example given by my friend who is a finance officer. If you have goods to buy for like $8m, you will approach your bank for say, $10m. This is because the Letter of Credit will be open with a Proforma invoice which is not the actual cost of the goods you intend buying. The actual cost can be more or less than the Proforma invoice and in most cases, the Letter of Credit can be overdrawn to the maximum. So, once the goods are delivered and the full Letter Of Credit Value is not drawn, most Nigerian business men withdraw that balance from the Letter of Credit to a separate account and use it for some other thing. Note that the Letter of Credit is a loan and the borrower must pay. Assuming you don’t utilize all, you pay for what you used.
If all is used, you’ll then pay for the Credit Line in full. That was what the United States accused Allen Onyema for. He purchased the aircraft and diverted the remaining portion of the Letter of Credit. Let it be clear that the entire money on the Letter of Credit value is a loan which he knows he must pay. Money laundering is when one wires funds without due process through the banks! Still wondering how many times the United States have made accusations to Jim Ovia, Elumelu, Wale Adenuga, Dangote and other billionaires. If the transactions done by Allen are legitimate here in Nigeria, why are they disturbed? Allen Onyema has done a great job of enhancing air travel in Nigeria. He did noble by sacrificing N280m to evacuate Nigerians in South Africa. He has lived a life of sacrifices by adding value to families and the larger society. Thankfully, he is a lawyer and I am pretty sure he will face the US courts with the Igbo spirit in him and the good wishes and prayers of all families that he helped to turn their tears to cheers. I will end this piece with a post I saw on social media, concerning Allen Onyema. It was authored by the CEO of GPACT & SEAL COMMUNICATION, Owerri. It made a lot of sense to me. I hope you like it too…
I can’t change my position and stand about Allen Onyema. I am hundred percent for him. Why this indictment all of a sudden?
Is Allen the only business man that wires billions from Nigeria to US banks? What of Dangote, Adenuga, Jim Ovia and other notables who wire something bigger or similar to that? Have they been asked to explain sources of the money they wired? Why have they not been indicted of money laundering and bank frauds? So, wiring huge sums now from Nigeria even through legitimate channels amount to money laundering? Since Onyema never duped any individual or bank, never got involved in drug scandal, never got involved in internet fraud and had never been a player in Nigerian politics, I view this US indictment as a set up. This was how Atiku got indicted for nothing until the whole thing fizzled out as mere political barricade! Air peace is a functional business with global evidence and presence physically established. He wired monies to buy Airplanes and it is not debatable. Probing to know whether the cost were inflated or not is an over kill. There is no business transaction anywhere in the world that is not inflated! Everyone is guilty including Americans and every government worldwide, including individuals and corporate bodies. Let the United States of America first and foremost, track down billionaires that wire money into their country whose wealth are proceeds of gun running, drugs, terrorism, Oil theft/bunkering and stolen public funds. Onyema’s source of wealth is none of their business. Afterall, there are so many ‘Onyemas’ in Igbo land who preferred to bury their money locally as landlords of thousands of houses instead of venturing into unknown and very risk prone terrains like Aviation as courageously done by Onyema. Onyema’s we alth is not the business of the USA. He never made his money there and had never been convicted or accused of criminality anywhere in Nigeria or abroad. They should also probe how notable Igbo men became the first league of multi-millionaires in Nigeria even before independence. The first Nigerian millionaire was Green Mbadiwe. Chief Sir L.P Ojukwu at a point was the richest man in Nigeria because he dominated the transport and haulage business during the Second World war. What of Late L.N Obioha of the Niprock fame? What of the legendary Nnanna Kalu of Okporoko Aba fame? What of Nwosu Iheme of Okporoko Aba fame? What of EkeneDiliChukwu of Luxurious Bus fame? These were famous Igbo Entrepreneur/Multi-millionaires whose sources of wealth have remained a big mystery to non initiates till date.
The Igbos are a daring cum shrewd business risk takers and ingenious people who see far ahead of time .Their foresight led them to comb and explore unfamiliar terrains and before you know it, they dominated the business environment. Allen is not different from those forbearers and must have judiciously mobilized funds through Igbo ingenuity and diversified into Aviation which before his arrival was dying in Nigeria. Allen is a product of Igbo business spirit that is visibly evident in Aba and Onitsha. Since Allen never defrauded anybody nor embezzled any public fund, they should leave him alone. America is gradually fading its famed disposition. This latest official pronouncement to cripple Air peace and Onyema is economically vindictive and destructive to the emerging African entrepreneurial prowess represented by Chief Allen Onyema!