Whatever You Do, Don’t Tribalise Onyema’s Case with the United States [Opinion]

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Some say Onyema is on trial because he’s Igbo. That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard all year.

The biggest news out of Nigeria in the last couple of days has to be the indictment of Allen Ifechukwu Athan Onyema, the Chairman, CEO, and founder of Air Peace, a Nigerian airline, by the United States Department of Justice (DoJ) for alleged bank fraud and money laundering.

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The United States has also moved for the arrest of Onyema “for moving more than $20 million from Nigeria through United States bank accounts in a scheme involving false documents based on the purchase of airplanes.”

I genuinely feel for Onyema and I pray he emerges from this unscathed. A couple of friends who have dealt with Onyema say he’s a kind and good man at heart. Onyema also has this rags-to-riches story that should inspire anyone.

Helping to evacuate Nigerians during the latest xenophobic attacks in South Africa also endeared Onyema to many and earned him deserved brownie points. That was an uncommon act of patriotism as was widely acknowledged. However, Onyema ‘s lawyers now have the difficult task of proving his innocence beyond reasonable doubt.

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“Be rest assured that I also have my lawyers on this and these mere allegations will be refuted. I never laundered money in my life, neither have I committed bank fraud anywhere in the world. Every Kobo I transferred to the US for aircraft purchase went through the Central Bank of Nigeria LC regime and all were used for the same purpose.

“The American companies that received the funds are still in business. I never took a penny from any US bank or Nigerian bank. I am willing to defend my innocence in the US courts,” Onyema said through his lawyers in the wake of the indictment.

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His fate now lies with his lawyers, the US justice system and Nigeria’s extradition policy agreement with the United States, unfortunately. Which is why I have been left very confused by people who say this is the federal government trying to send one successful Igbo man out of business and tarnish his image for full measure.

I don’t see what the federal government, the presidency or President Buhari stand to gain from sending one of the nation’s biggest aviation players out of business, given the thousands of persons who are directly tied to Air Peace’s apron strings at the moment.

Besides, Air Peace’s troubles are Nigeria’s troubles as well because the collapse of the airline would have a monumental impact on a Nigerian economy that still can’t create enough jobs.

All of Nigeria should be Air Peace at the moment and just as well. In the same token, the regionalists and tribalists who are trying so hard to tar Onyema’s troubles with all kinds of ethnic brushes should be told how silly and daft they sound.

 

The likes of Ohaneze who are calling on “fellow Nigerians, leaders of thought and civil society organisations in the country to rise to this new judicial brigandage designed to destroy our own in a foreign land,” should be told in clear terms that their fight is a misplaced one.

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Onyema is on trial for an alleged crime allegedly committed in a land where prosecutors are so diligent, painstaking and thorough. The US DoJ doesn’t do all that tribalism and ethnic nonsense that has stymied our development as a people for decades. Ohaneze and all the socio-cultural groups beating drums of ethnicity would be better of contributing to Onyema’s defense. That’s the only way they can help the man.

Whether you are Igbo or Efik, if you do the crime, you should do the time. When we start chasing shadows instead of keeping our eyes on the ball, we imperil the fates of those we pretend to love.

JUDE EGBAS

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