The Indigenous People of Biafra on Monday faulted the allegation of fraud levelled against the Chairman of Air Peace, Allen Onyema, by the United States’ Department of Justice.
In a statement by the IPOB’s Media and Publicity Secretary, Emma Powerful, the group also accused some Nigerians of orchestrating the allegations.
The statement read, “There is an indication that people in Nigeria are behind the xenophobic attacks against Nigerians, particularly Biafra citizens living in South Africa.
“We are aware that Allen Onyema volunteered himself and his Air Peace to evacuate Nigerians and Biafrans stranded in South Africa free of charge.
“The probe of the Air Peace boss, Chief Onyema, who recently conveyed the Igbo and other Nigerians in South Africa free of charge during the xenophobic attack, is suicidal because IPOB must stand for him and it cannot hold.”
Similarly, a group of Igbo professionals, under the aegis of Nzuko Umunna, on Monday appealed to President Muhammadu Buhari to ensure that Onyema was given adequate support to clear his name against charges of money laundering and bank fraud against him.
Onyema, who was indicted by a US grand jury for alleged $20m fraud and money laundering, has vigorously denied the charges, saying, “I am innocent of all charges and the US government will find no dirt on me because I have never conducted business with any illegalities.”
In a statement signed by its Coordinator and Secretary, Joseph Odumuko and Paschal Mbanefo, respectively, Nzuko Umunna said, “The usual pattern of throwing our citizens under the bus whenever they are faced with charges in foreign jurisdictions must be reversed, starting with this case. The Federal Government should activate its much-touted citizen diplomacy, a model that has been elevated to a fine art by the United States itself.”
The group expressed “shock and deep concern” on “the frenzy with which anti-graft agencies have already set up a special panel that has swung into action even on a weekend to fish for evidence to convict a Nigerian citizen,” saying the United States would not go into such frenzy when their citizens were indicted.
It added, “It also tends to give vent to the conspiracy theory making the rounds that this is more of a grand design to liquidate another thriving Igbo business mogul than any attempt at combating alleged fraud. A similar fate was suffered by Messrs Cletus Ibeto, Ifeanyi Ubah, Willie Anumudu and Innocent Chukwuma of Innoson fame, to name a few. This is highly unacceptable in a nascent democracy with a very fragile economy.”
Lending his voice, also against the indictment, a forensic accountant, Prof. Emmanuel Emenyonu, urged Nigerians not to sensationalise the allegation against Onyema, saying the businessman remained innocent until proven otherwise in the court.
In a statement in Lagos on Monday, Emenyonu said it was unfair for the US to be “tossing charges of money laundering, which makes it a low-hanging fruit for sensation-seeking authorities.”
“It is clear that smearing the reputation of an international businessman is cheap. They should concentrate on convincing the court of law on the veracity of their allegations instead of mere smear campaign against an illustrious Nigerian,” Emenyonu said in the statement.
The don said he hoped that “in the coming days the innocence of Onyema would be proven with evidence at the court of law.”