If you are looking for one of the greatest Igbo business men, if not the best, that man is Chief Innocent Chukwuma. From a humble beginning as a tyre merchant in Nnewi, he slowly became an authority in the importation, and later, assembling of motorcycle parts. When he conquered that aspect, he veered into what has catapulted him to the top league in the industrial sphere: a vehicle manufacturer. With his two plants in Nnewi and Enugu, Innoson, as Chuwkwuma’s business name goes, has carved a niche for himself not only in Nigeria, but in the entirety of Africa whose custom he now enjoys. By virtue of this latest feat, Innoson has also become one of the greatest Nigerians. At least, if not for anything, he answered the call of his Fatherland to embrace local manufacturing. But alas, today, Innoson who should be getting the plaudits and grabbing the headlines for his feat, is instead, drawing headlines for the wrong reasons. He is being hounded by Buhari’s police dogs, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.
That is Nigeria for you.
Last week, news filtered in about his arrest by the officials of the EFCC at his Enugu office. The arrest was in connection with, as we were made to understand, a business transaction that went sour with his bankers, Guarantee Trust Bank.
Now, before I drop what has been on my mind since this thing started, I think it will be good indeed to furnish you with the genesis of INNOSON’s problem. It is provided below as copied from the social media:
The Genesis of Innoson Vs Customs Court Case
Innoson established the first indigenous motorcycle assembly plant in Nigeria and based on this effort, the Federal Government, through the Federal Ministry of Finance gave a concession to him to pay 5% on his imported motorcycle CKDs.
The approval is in form of a certificate. The certificate runs for 12 months after which it is renewed.
Between October and December 2004, Innoson imported about 25 containers of motorcycle CKDs, his certificate was yet to expire. The certificate expiration was on 12th July 2005.
When the goods arrived in Nigeria, Innoson made efforts to clear the goods.
He paid the required duty as calculated by COTECNA- the inspection agent and he was issued a Clean Report of Inspection (CRI) which showed the duty he was expected to pay.
His bank, GTB paid the money to the Federal government. And then he was issued with a Customs Revenue Receipt. The Receipt was issued by GTB that made the payment. The original copies were handed over to the customs.
After the payment of the duty, Innoson submitted all relevant documents to the Nigerian customs but the customs failed to release the goods. The goods were not released because they alleged that Innoson under paid the duty. When Innoson learnt of this, he referred them to the concession certificate which allowed him to clear its goods based on 5% duty rate.
In spite of showing the certificate to them, Customs refused to release the goods and showed his clearing agent a circular letter which removed the name of Innoson from the list of companies enjoying such concession.
Upon receiving the letter, Innoson protested by sending a written protest to the Minister of Finance. The Minister of Finance gave a directive through a letter to The Nigerian Customs to allow Innoson clear its goods.
The Nigerian Customs then instructed their officers to allow Innoson clear its goods at the concessioned rate of 5%. The directive was also done in writing vide a letter dated 13/12/2005.
With the letter from the Minister of Finance as well as The Nigerian Customs, Innoson re-submitted its documents to the Nigerian Customs officials to enable him to take delivery of the goods.
After the submission of the documents, they still delayed in processing the documents. After the delay, he was given approval to take its goods as overtime cargo through a written approval dated 1st Feb 2006, 2nd Feb 2006 and 9th Feb 2006 for the three bill of laden respectively.
After receiving the written approvals, Innoson made attempts to clear the goods. After customs had passed the entry, Innoson could not locate the goods at the wharf. His clearing agent continued searching for the goods at the wharf until the 1st of March, 2006 when they learnt that 18 of the 25 containers had been sold by the customs.
Upon hearing the goods had been sold by the customs, Innoson contacted its solicitors to write to the Ministry of Transport, Finance and the Comptroller-General of Customs which they did.
After sending the letter, the Minister of Finance invited Innoson to a meeting. At the meeting, Innoson was referred to the Chairman of the Presidential Special Committee on Port Decongestion and the Comptroller-General of Customs.
The meeting between the three parties was held on 12th May, 2006 at Customs office in PZ Complex, Ikorodu Town, Lagos.
At the meeting of 12th May 2006 with the Hon. Minister of Finance, Transport and the Assistant Comptroller General of Customs and other stakeholders, the Chairman of the Presidential Special Committee on Port Decongestion referred Innoson to the Assistant Comptroller-General of Customs.
The Assistant Comptroller-General directed Innoson to forward all relevant documents to his office so that he can be compensated.
On 18th May, 2006, Innoson forwarded the documents requested for by the Assistant Comptroller General of Customs through his solicitors.
The Customs ignored the documents that was forwarded and sold the remaining containers. Innoson is yet to come to terms why customs sold his containers. First of all, he was not notified that his container was seized. He was not informed that his containers were to be sold.
The said containers never contained any contraband goods but contained motorcycle CKDs. He did not at any time abandon the containers containing the motorcycle CKDs at the port.
He was never taken to court. Innoson was not aware that there was a court order to sell his goods. The Federal Government gave him a concession to pay less duty because he owns an automated assembly line and as a result of the promise to increase the local output. The assembly line had a workforce of about 750 workers.
The questions that remained unanswered include:
Whether the Customs has the right to refuse the release of the goods as stated in the CRI? The CRI reflected the 5% concession.
How long do goods stay before it is declared as an overtime cargo? Do goods stay in the port for 3 months and thereafter become overtime?
Were the Customs Officials actually carrying out their official duties or was there a conspiracy to destroy Innoson by some people?
There was a time lag between the periods the goods were to be cleared. Innoson never applied for an overtime clearance at any time. His goods were never gazetted before they were sold.
Innoson had paid the duty as stated in the CRI but the customs insisted that Innoson must pay 30%.
Innoson was not given any notice to the effect that its containers were to be sold as overtime cargo after the approval granted to him to clear the containers as overtime cargo.
Even as an overtime cargo, there are procedures to be followed in selling it. These procedures were not followed. The usual procedure when there is conflict of figures for payment is for customs to lodge a protest.
Innoson is not aware that any committee was set up to sell his containers. The customs equally did not advertise the sale of his container in any newspaper.
The procedure the presidential Special Committee on Ports and the Customs for selling good by auction is as follows;
(a) To notify the owner of their intentions to sell the goods by auction.
(b) To give notice of the intended auction sale to the public through newspaper publication.
(c) Set up a joint disposal committee to sell the goods by auction.
None of these provisions of the law was adhered to in auctioning his goods for sale. Therefore the Presidential Special Committee and Ports decongestion had no basis for auctioning Innoson’s goods after all genuine efforts by him to clear its goods.
Based on the damages that were incurred by the seizure and subsequent auction of his goods by the customs, Innoson through his solicitors sued the Nigerian Customs to the Federal High Court, Lagos division.
The trial court therefore ordered the Custom to pay Innoson the sum of N2.4B being the cost of his goods and damages incurred.
Furthermore, Innoson got a garnishee order from the Court ordering GTB to pay the judgment debt of N2.4B to him.
GTB decided to cry more that the bereaved by appealing the court ruling on the garnishee to the Court of Appeal, Ibadan Division.
However in a unanimous judgment, delivered on 6th February 2014, the Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal and affirmed the judgment of the trial Court and ordered the GT Bank to pay the said sum of N2.4B to Innoson.
Still aggrieved, GTB appealed to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court is yet to deliver its judgment.
It is interesting to state here that GTB has withdrawn the money due to be paid to Innoson from Customs account with it and has held the money till date, doing business with it and has been making profit out of it.
Now that is the story. But before I go further, I will ask a question I asked in some of my social media groups: if Innoson were a certain Aliko Dangote, do you, my reader, think he wold have undergone such a traumatic experience? The answer, of course, is a resounding NO!
There are folks who dismiss any agitation by our section of the country as mere expression of ethnic sentiments. But then, has the government of the day done much to make us not feel this way? I will gladly donate my right arm if anyone convinces me that if it were Dangote that had such issues, especially after court orders for him to be compensated, that nothing would have been done to the defaulters?
But then, Innoson isn’t Dangote. He is only a business man, unfortunate to have come from a part of the country where it is a crime to grow, to rub shoulders with his contemporaries and to be daring in his field. He is the first Nigerian to have fully gone into vehicle manufacturing after the initial attempt by one Dr Izuogu in the eighties. Izuogu was frustrated the same way Innoson is being frustrated now. It was also a similar experience with our own Ibeto who was into cement. So this is not a new experience.
But do we all fold our hands and watch Innoson, the modern pride of the Igbo Nation, being torn to shreds by a government that may even be tormenting him to protect other people’s business interests?
To me, this is the time for the Igbo Nation to say that enough is enough. We have to learn to protect our own. And the people that should be leading the crusade are our own Gov Willie Obiano and APGA. Yes, Innoson is from Anambra and he has invested in Anambra. He is therefore our son, our own. This is therefore the time for Obiano and APGA to put their famous war cry, ”Nkea Bu Nke Anyi”, to action. That war cry shouldn’t only surface during elections. The time to chant it to good effect is now!
After Obiano, the next person to lead the action is the Enugu State governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi. Yes, he should join because Innoson invested heavily in Enugu and it was in Enugu that he was arrested. Ugwuanyi should not just be interested in the huge revenue he makes from Innoson’s investment.
There are also the other Southeast governors, legislators, Ohaneze Ndigbo, opinion leaders and stakeholders. These people have to get involved and orchestrate a loud noise that will at least leave the impression, according to the tortoise, that two men fought.
I’ve known Innoson closely for some time. He is a down to earth, humble, hardworking young man. There are no false airs around him. He is solely devoted to his business empire. Politics does not interest him. It is just business, business and more business. He couldn’t have got this far by cheating or by cutting corners. Granted that he is human and open to mistakes, I’m convinced however that he is a man of few mistakes.
But then, even those few mistakes can land anyone in trouble. They have also landed Innoson in trouble. His one big mistake was choosing a bank that is run by outsiders, rather than our people. What happened to Diamond Bank, Fidelity Bank and some others? But then, it shows that Innoson is human, after all. I hope he has learnt his lesson from this one mistake.
But we are not to throw him away with the bath water. He remains our own and should not be abandoned. Nkea Bu Nke Anyi. Over to you, Obiano, APGA, Southeast governors and others.