…..strikes out CBN’s suit
By Ikechukwu Nnochiri, ABUJA
The Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, on Wednesday, vacated an order is made on November 4, 2020, which directed banks to freeze accounts that were linked to 20 alleged promoters of the #EndSARS protest that rocked the nation last year.
The court, in a ruling by Justice Ahmed Mohammed, ordered all the commercial banks affected by the order, to “immediately” unfreeze the accounts, even as it struck out the suit that was filed against the alleged #EndSARS promoters by the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, and its governor, Mr Godwin Emiefele.
The order came after all the parties notified the court that they had resolved to amicably settle the matter by withdrawing all the processes they earlier filed with respect to the suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/1384/2020.
While the CBN and its governor were represented by a former Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr Michael Aondoakaa, SAN, all the persons affected by the freezing order were represented by human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, SAN.
The senior lawyers told the court at the resumed proceedings in the matter on Wednesday that their decision to withdraw all the processes in the suit was to allow the reconciliation process that is ongoing before various panels of enquiry on police brutality across the country, to progress unhindered.
After he had listened to the parties, Justice Mohammed accordingly struck out the suit.
It will be recalled that the court had on the strength of an ex-parte application that was brought before it by the CBN and its governor, ordered banks to freeze accounts of the alleged promoters of the #EndSARS protest for a total period of 180days.
The court said the order was to allow the CBN to conclude its investigation into an allegation that the accounts were used to finance terrorism.
The 20 persons the listed as Defendants in the suit were Bolatito Oduala, Chima Ibebunjoh, Mary Kpengwa, Gatefield Nigeria Limited, Saadat Bibi, Bassey Israel, Wisdom Obi, Nicholas Osazele, Ebere Idibie, Akintomide Yusuf, Uhuo Promise, Mosopefoluwa Odeseye and Adegoke Emmanuel.
As well as, Umoh Ekanem, Babatunde Segun, Mulu Teghenan, Mary Oshifowora, Winifred Jacob, Victor Solomon, and Idunu Williams.
Meanwhile, the Defendants, in an application they filed to set aside the order, maintained that they were denied fair hearing by the court.
They accused the CBN of not only lying to the court when it painted them as suspected terrorists but also engaging in gross abuse of the judicial process.
The Defendants contended that the freezing order the court issued against them was “anchored on misrepresentation of material facts and based on suppression of material facts” by the CBN.
Listing 13 grounds the court should consider and unfreeze their accounts, they argued that the ex-parte order the court granted to the apex bank only validated an illegal act.
According to them, “The Plaintiff/Respondent unlawfully froze the accounts of the Defendants/Applicants before seeking and obtaining the orders of this Honourable Court on November 4, 2020.
“This Honorable Court on the 4th day of November 2020 pursuant to an ex parte application brought by the Plaintiff/Respondent, made a mandatory order, inter alia, empowering the Plaintiff/Applicant to direct the head of Access Bank of Nigeria Plc, Fidelity Bank Plc, First Bank Plc, Guarantee Trust Bank Plc, United Bank Plc and Zenith Bank Plc to freeze forthwith all transactions on the 20 Bank Accounts of the Defendants/Applicants for a period of 90 days pending the outcome of investigation and inquiry currently being conducted by the CBN without affording the Respondents/Applicants the right of fair hearing.
“The said order of the Honorable Court permitting the Plaintiff/Respondent to freeze the Applicants account for a period of 90 days (renewable for another 90 days) breached the fundamental right of the Defendants/Applicants, to fair hearing guaranteed by Section 36 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and Article 7 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act, Laws of the Federation, 2004 in that no fair hearing was granted the applicant/respondent before the order was made.
“The order permitting the Plaintiff/Respondent to freeze the Defendants/Applicants account violates Order 26 Rules 5, 10 And 11(1) and (2) Of the Federal High Court Civil Procedure Rules, 2019 which prescribes a maximum period of 14 days as the duration of an ex parte order.
“The Plaintiff/Respondent is neither one of the investigative agencies nor prosecuting agencies recognized under the Terrorism Prevention Act, 2011 and the Terrorism Prevention (Amendment) Act, 2013.
“They said others violated the rights of the Defendants/Applicants to own movable property. There was no urgency warranting the grant of the order ex parte.
“The Ex Parte order made by the Honorable Court has determined the fundamental right of the Defendants/Applicants without affording them fair hearing”, they argued.
More so, in a 27-paragraphed supporting affidavit that was deposed to by Marshal Abubakar, a lawyer in Falana’s Chambers, the Applicants, said they were never afforded the opportunity to defend the terrorism allegation the CBN made against them, before the ex-parte order was made, contrary to the provision of Section 36 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and Article 7 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act, Laws of the Federation, 2004.
They told the court that the CBN had since October 2020, ordered banks to freeze all the accounts belonging to them, even before it approached the court for the ex-parte order.
“That on October 15, 2020, the accounts of the Defendants/Applicants were frozen by their respective banks on the orders of the Plaintiff/Respondent without notice and lawful justification.
“That the Plaintiff/Respondent approached this honourable court by way of motion ex-parte to legalize the illegal freezing of the Defendants/Applicants accounts.
“That an ex-parte order was made on the 4th day of November 2020, by which this Honorable Court froze the Respondents/Applicants’ accounts based on the allegation (s) bordering on terrorism.
“That the Plaintiff/Respondent failed and or neglected to furnish this Honourable Court the ground for such belief.
“That the Plaintiff/Respondent’s motion, ex parte did not disclose any fact capable of linking the Defendants /Applicants to any terrorist activity”.
The Applicant said they would suffer economic hardship unless the court vacated the order it made against them.
“That unless the order by this Honourable Court made on the 14th of October, 2019 freezing all transaction in the Respondent/Applicant accounts is set aside or discharged in its entirety, the Respondent/Applicant’s business in Nigeria will be completely ruined”, they added.