#EndSARS: CBN Asks Court Not to Unfreeze Campaigners’ Accounts

#EndSARS: CBN Asks Court Not to Unfreeze Campaigners’ Accounts

…Says They Are under Hammer for Terrorism Financing The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has asked Justice Ahmed Mohammed of a Federal High Court, Abuja not to unfreeze the accounts of #EndSARS campaigners because they are still under probe for terrorism financing. The CBN said this in a counter-affidavit in opposition to a motion on

…Says They Are under Hammer for Terrorism Financing

The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has asked Justice Ahmed Mohammed of a Federal High Court, Abuja not to unfreeze the accounts of #EndSARS campaigners because they are still under probe for terrorism financing.

The CBN said this in a counter-affidavit in opposition to a motion on notice filed by Gatefield Nigeria Limited, a company that sponsored freelance journalists to cover the #EndSARS protests held across the country in October, to push against Police brutality and harassment of the citizenry.

The apex bank had through an ex parte order frozen the account of Gatefield Nigeria Limited and 19 other persons who played a leading role in the protests.

However, Gatefield opposed the CBN’s action in court, insisting that the act was illegal because the apex bank had frozen the accounts even before the court order to do so was obtained.

Counter-Affidavit

In a counter-affidavit filed by a lawyer, Mr A.J. Apera, on behalf of the CBN Governor, Mr Godwin Emefiele, the apex bank stated that it duly obtained a court order on November 4, 2020 to freeze the accounts.

The CBN, however, made no mention of #EndSARS in the court papers but only told the court that all those whose accounts were frozen were under probe for suspected terrorism.

The affidavit read in part, “That the bank accounts frozen by this honourable court in this case are suspected to be involved in transactions bordering on terrorism financing and that the said accounts are being investigated by the Central Bank of Nigeria in that regard.”

The apex bank said it did not need to inform the #EndSARS campaigners about the freezing of their accounts because of the nature of the investigation which is terrorism-related.

It added, “That the allegations involving the defendants’ accounts being investigated by the Central Bank of Nigeria border on terrorism and that there was an extreme urgency warranting the grant of the ex parte order in this suit.”

The apex court said it had the legal right to investigate the defendants because it had to do with financing and funds being stored in financial institutions.

The CBN said it would forward its findings to the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) for further investigation.

The affidavit further read, “That it will be in the best interest of justice that the instant application be dismissed as the investigations being conducted by the Central Bank of Nigeria in respect of the defendants’ frozen accounts have not been concluded.”

The UK Parliament had last week slammed the Federal Government for freezing the accounts of #EndSARS campaigners under the guise of probing terrorist financing.

The accounts have been frozen for 40 days while none of the accused has been invited for questioning.

Following a court order by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), the accounts of those perceived as leaders of the EndSARS movement were ordered to be frozen at the following banks: Access Bank, Fidelity Bank, First Bank Nigeria, Guaranty Trust Bank, United Bank of Africa and Zenith Bank.

A Federal High Court in Abuja presided over by Justice Ahmed Mohammed granted the request of the CBN filed on October 20 in suit FHC/ABJ/CS/1384/2020 to freeze the accounts of 19 individuals and a company known as Gatefield Nigeria Limited for participating at the #EndSARS protests organized to end police brutality in Nigeria.

Affected Activists

The affected activists include Bolatito Racheal Oduala, Chima David Ibebunjoh, Mary Doose Kpengwa, Saadat Temitope Bibi, Bassey Victor Israel, Wisdom Busaosowo Obi, Nicholas Ikhalea Osazele, Ebere Idibie, and Akintomide Lanre Yusuf,

Others are Uhuo Ezenwanyi Promise, Mosopefoluwa Odeseye, Adegoke Pamilerin Yusuf, Umoh Grace Ekanem, Babatunde Victor Segun, Mulu Louis Teghenan, Mary Oshifowora, Winifred Akpevweoghene Jacob, Victor Solomon and Idunu A. Williams.

The order of Justice Mohammed read as follows:

“A mandatory order is made empowering the plaintiff/applicant to direct the head office of Access Bank of Nigeria Plc, Fidelity Bank Plc, First Bank of Nigeria Plc, Guaranty Trust Bank Plc, United Bank for Africa Plc and Zenith Bank Plc to freeze forthwith all transactions on the 20 bank accounts listed for a period of 90 days pending the outcome of investigation and inquiry currently being conducted by the Central Bank of Nigeria.

“It is, however, directed that the 90-day freezing order, when it lapses, may be renewed upon good cause shown by the applicant. It is also directed that any person, whether artificial or natural, that is affected by this order may apply to the court to have his grievance or complaint heard by the court. The suit is adjourned till February 4, 2021.”

The Federal Government was able to freeze the accounts of 20 #EndSARS campaigners after telling a Federal High Court in Abuja that the funds in their accounts might have been linked to terrorist activities.

This is according to a written address in support of a motion ex parte filed by the Central Bank of Nigeria. The CBN had in the second week of October frozen 20 accounts and thereafter approached the court to seek an ex parte order to freeze the accounts.

In the case with suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/1384/2020, filed before Justice A. R. Mohammed, the CBN, however, made no mention of the fact that the 20 accounts were owned by persons involved in the #EndSARS protests, but told the court that the funds might have emanated from terrorist activities.

Terrorism Financing

The written address read in part, “My lord, the nature of the transactions undertaken through the defendants’ accounts are of suspected terrorism financing in contravention of Section 13(1)(a)and(b) of the Terrorism (Prevention)(Amendment) Act, 2013 and Regulation 31(2)(a)and (3)(b) of the Central Bank of Nigeria Anti-Money Laundering/Combating the Financing of Terrorism Regulations, 2013.”

In a supporting affidavit deposed to by one Aondowase Jacob on behalf of the CBN, it was stated that the Head of the Economic Intelligence Unit of the Governor’s Department, CBN, Joseph Omayuku, had conducted an investigation on the accounts of the defendants and other individuals and entities held with certain banks in Nigeria.

According to the affidavit, the investigation showed that the owners of the accounts may have been involved in terrorist activities.

It added, “There is a grave allegation that the defendants are involved in suspected terrorism financing via their bank accounts in contravention of the provisions of extant laws and regulations. The aforesaid transactions undertaken by the defendants, using their bank accounts, can cause significant economic and security harm to the public and the Federal Republic of Nigeria if left unchecked.

“The applicant (CBN governor) is thus desirous to have the court empower him to direct the freezing of the 20 accounts listed on the annexure to this application and all other bank accounts held by the defendants.

“A freezing order of this honourable court in respect of the defendants’ accounts would also enable the investigation of the activities of the defendants to a logical conclusion with a view to reporting same to the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit.”

The apex bank said unless the order was granted, it would not be able to ensure that the money remained intact, while investigations were ongoing.

The 20 accounts frozen by the CBN are domiciled in Access Bank, Guaranty Trust Bank, Fidelity Bank, United Bank for Africa and Zenith Bank. The accounts were said to have been flagged after they received money with the narration #EndSARS.

One of the frozen accounts, marked 0056412470 and domiciled in Access Bank, belongs to Bolatito Olorunrinu Oduala, an #EndSARS campaigner, who was appointed into the Lagos State judicial panel set up by Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu.

Another frozen account marked 0033974485 and domiciled in Access Bank belongs to Bassey Israel, the medical team coordinator for the #EndSARS protests in Port Harcourt.

Similarly, an account marked 0054676984 domiciled in Access Bank belongs to Gatefield Nigeria Limited, which paid freelance journalists to cover the protests.

Justice Mohammed froze the accounts for 180 days subject to renewal, but said anyone who was not satisfied with the ruling was free to challenge it.

Ex-Parte Orders

But a leading human rights Lawyer, Mr Femi Aborisade has condemned the freezing of their accounts through ex-parte orders obtained by the CBN, as amounting to a criminalization of the exercise of the freedom to protest peacefully, which is donated by section 40 of the Constitution as a fundamental right.”

“The clampdown on the unofficial leaders of the #EndSARS movement shows that the Federal Government has concluded they are criminals in spite of the impression given that the various Panels of Inquiry set up at the state levels are to provide appropriate remedies for those who have suffered abuse of rights in the hands of security agencies.

“The #EndSARS protesters are not slaves who have no rights; they are citizens who are entitled to the right of peaceful protest, which is also universally recognized in international instruments, particularly the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which has been domesticated as an enactment of the National Assembly pursuant to constitutional provisions,” he said..

Warning that, “Ordinary Nigerians did not resist military dictatorship to have a so-called civil rule, which treats ordinary people as conquered people deprived of rights,” he posits that, .”There is no crime known to law in the protesters making contributions to finance peaceful protests.”

Explaining further, Aborisade says, “Assuming without conceding that an offence was committed by those who contributed resources to support the #EndSARS protest movement, the CBN lacks the power under the law to act as an anti-graft agency. The ex-parte order obtained by the CBN is therefore a feature of unending impunity and an abuse of the judicial system.”

“Peaceful protest is universally recognized as a form of civil disobedience, permitted under the law. Civil disobedience is no insurrection and no one ought to suffer any disadvantage or repressed on account of participation in any act of civil disobedience.

EndSARS Committed No Offence

“The #EndSARS protesters have committed no offence known to law. In Chief of Defence Staff & Anor v. TIJAH (2016) LPELR-40818 (CA), the Court of Appeal held that civil disobedience should not be equated to mean mob violence, riot, insurrection and offences growing out of mob violence, no matter how numerous the participants.

“From the treatment being meted out to the leading members of the #EndSARS protest movement, it is clear that the Federal Government of Nigeria has criminalized and miscategorized peaceful protesters as insurrectionists, contrary to the law of the land,” Aborisade, also a labour activist insists.

He called on organized labour to condemn and take practical action to resist the clamp down on the #EndSARS protesters. “If we allow the clampdown on the young #EndSARS protesters without challenge, it would be used as a precedent to be applied to the labour movement in the future.”

Govt Behaving Like Terrorist

Speaking in the same vein, a leading member of the #EndSARS protesters, Ms Aisha Yesufu, described the freezing of the #EndSARS protesters’ accounts as illegal, noting that the government “is behaving like a terrorist.”

She questioned the freezing of the accounts ahead of the court injunction ordering the banks to block the accounts.

Yesufu stated, “The question is, why did they freeze the accounts before obtaining a court injunction? Why the illegality? Our judiciary should know that it is an independent arm of government and there is separation of power.

“The government should be ashamed of itself. The United Arab Emirates just convicted some Nigerians, who were accused of terrorism, and we are hearing that the government would appeal on their behalf. That is where the problem is.”

 

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