A Lagos High Court sitting in Ikeja, has issued a warrant of arrest against the chairman of Innoson Motors Nigeria Limited, Innocent Chukwuma, over his failure to appear in court. Justice Mojisola Dada made the order on the request of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) counsel, Anselem Ozioko.
The EFCC had instituted a suit bordering on fraud and stealing against Chukwuma, alongside his company, Innoson Motors Limited, and his brother, Charles Chukwuma. Innoson did not appear in court for the scheduled arraignment.
Consequently, Justice Dada said, “A bench warrant is hereby served on Innocent Chukwuma. He will remain in custody till the next adjourned date. The case is adjourned till March 14 for possible arraignment.”
Earlier during the proceedings, a mild drama ensued in the courtroom, with Justice Dada threatening to charge Prof J. N Mbadugha, the defence counsel for Chukwuma and Innoson Motors Ltd, for contempt of court. The threat against Mbadugha following his alleged disrespectful conduct and outburst against the court in his opening address. When the matter was called, Charles Chukwuma, a third defendant, was not present and had no legal representation.
Mbadugha then shouted, “This proceeding is a clear abuse of court processes. The EFCC is a reckless arbiter. My lord wants to override the decision of the Supreme Court.”
Justice Dada, in response, said, “Your whole comportment, conduct and countenance smacks of disrespect to the court and rule of law. I will report you to the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA). You are insulting the court. You will go to prison from here. If you think the court is defenceless and powerless, you’d be surprised.”
Mbadugha, who initially said he was ready to be charged for contempt, later apologised to the court, saying he had withdrawn his earlier statements. Ozioko asked that a bench warrant be served on the defendants for non-appearance, faulting their disposition that they appeared before the Senate Committee, but failed to come to court to answer charges.
He further submitted that the defendants have criminal charges against them and have to come to court, but expressed surprise that his learned friend was in court, full of venom and disrespect for the court. Justice Dada inquired about the third defendant from Ozioko, who replied, “We got across to the 3rd defendant. We are prepared to amend the charge.
“However, we shall be applying for a bench warrant on all the defendants, particularly the second defendant.” The Judge granted his request and issued warrant on the third defendant.
The defendants were to be arraigned on a four-count charge of conspiracy to obtain property by false pretenses, obtaining property by false pretenses, stealing and forgery. EFCC alleged that they committed the offences between 2009 and July 2011 in Lagos. It also alleged that the defendants, with intent to defraud, conspired to obtain by false pretenses, containers of motorcycle, spare parts and raw materials, property of Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB) from Mitsui OSK Lines Limited, Apapa, Lagos.
In his reaction to the arrest warrant, Head of Corporate Communications, Innoson Group, Cornel Osigwe, in a statement, quoted Chukwuma saying that as a law-abiding citizen, he is not afraid of arraignment in the court, but insisted that he must be arraigned through the due process of law.
The statement said the decision of Justice Mojisola Dada “was done in bad faith because the judge did not grant Mbadugha a fair hearing.”