The Central Bank of Nigeria’s (CBN) penchant for freezing bank accounts of activists amounts to gross infringements of fundamental rights to a fair hearing and property, activist lawyer, Femi Falana SAN said on Wednesday.
The fiery senior lawyer said this in reaction to the order of Justice Ahmed Mohammed of the Federal High Court, Abuja unfreezing the bank accounts of 20 #Endsars promoters.
Recall that the hitherto violence-free EndSARS protests in October 2020 soon degenerated to bloody clashes, following the reported hijack of the protests by hoodlums, the CBN, on November 4, 2020, got an ex-parte order to freeze the accounts of 20 persons claiming that they were under investigations for money laundering and terrorism. The court granted the order for 90 days which expired on February 4, 2021.
When the ban was not lifted after the expiration, Falana approached the court, seeking an order to vacate the freezing of the accounts. CBN through its lawyer, Michael Andoakaa SAN also approached the court to seek an extension of the order. At Wednesday proceedings, both parties agreed to withdraw their applications to allow the 90 day ban which had expired ab initio, to take effect. Justice Mohammed thereafter vacated to order freezing the activists accounts.
After the proceedings, Falana said that CBN shouldn’t have frozen the accounts in the first instance.
He said: “On November 4, 2020, the Central Bank of Nigeria approached the Federal High Court for an ex parte order to freeze the bank accounts of #endsars protesters. The CBN asked for 180 days to investigate the #endsars protesters for the offences of money laundering and terrorism. Convinced that the CBN was telling the truth the court ordered that the bank accounts be frozen for 90 days. Since the #endsars protesters did not commit any offence whatsoever the CBN did not investigate them until the ex parte order expired on February 4, 2021. It was on the basis of the expiration of the ex parte order that the case of the CBN was struck out by the federal high court today;
“It is pertinent to recall that during the dark days of military dictatorship in Nigeria, those of us in the front line of the battle for the restoration of democratic rule in Nigeria were routinely arrested and detained under the obnoxious State Security (Detention of Persons Decreed) No 2 of 1984. But we regained our liberty on the orders of courts that acted as guardians of the civil rights of the Nigerian people, even when Judges were required to blow muted trumpets;
“In desperation, the military dictators charged us with sundry criminal offences including a treasonable felony for having the temerity to challenge their corrupt practices and human rights abuse. But the courts ensured that we were admitted to bail in liberal terms;
“Our passports were impounded at the airports and confiscated by the National Security Organisation (now State Security Service) to prevent us from travelling abroad to expose the atrocities of the dictators. But the passports were released to us on the orders of our courts;
“It is on record that the Central Bank of Nigeria which was them manned by professional bankers never filed any ex parte application to freeze our accounts;
“Let the CBN stop freezing the Bank Accounts of activists because it constitutes a gross infringement of the fundamental right to fair hearing and property. If the CBN does not desist from the illegal practice, our courts should turn down frivolous applications for freezing the bank accounts of activists and other citizens”.