By Adedayo Akinwale
The House of Representatives has called on the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to review its decisions that led to the freezing of over 5,000 bank accounts.
It said the review should be done within 48 hours and the accounts unfreeze within one week.
The House gave the directive yesterday following the adoption of a motion over allegations of unjustified, inhuman, illegal and premeditated freezing of bank accounts of some customers moved by Hon. Mark Gbillah at the plenary.
Gbillah expressed concern about the plethora of petitions and “Save our Soul (SOS)” appeals from Nigerians over the untold hardship they are experiencing from extended freezing of their personal, corporate and other accounts by the apex bank.
He said reports of the freezing of over 5,000 bank accounts in Nigeria by the CBN violated the provisions of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and Section 608 of Banks and Other Financial Institutions Act (BOFIA) 2004.
Gbillah stated that the number of accounts being frozen by the CBN appears to be taking a toll on the nation’s economy and livelihood of Nigerians, stressing that it underscores the seeming flagrant abuse of power by the CBN when compared to central banks of other nations.
He expressed worry about innumerable allegations from affected Nigerians that the CBN in its claim of exercising the CBN governor’s powers to freeze bank accounts under Section 608 of BOFIA Act, 2004, incessantly violates Nigerians’ fundamental human rights to a fair hearing and presumption of innocence until proven guilty as enshrined in Section 36 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), when it freezes accounts arbitrarily for extended periods without the knowledge of the account holders, the provision of an opportunity for the account holders to provide an explanation or referral of the matter.
The House, therefore, “Ask the CBN to within 48 hours commence a review of all currently frozen accounts in Nigeria and to, after one week, remove the freeze order on accounts frozen under the following clear violations of the provisions of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) and Section 608 of BOFIA 2004; accounts frozen before a valid court order was obtained; accounts frozen without obtaining a court order from the required court of competent jurisdiction; accounts frozen without providing the opportunity for a fair hearing to the account holder; accounts frozen but till date have not been referred to the Nigeria Police Force, National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) or any other appropriate regulatory authority for investigation.
“Accounts frozen that are unconnected to the account suspected for involvement in the commission of a crime. Accounts remaining frozen after a court authorised period of freeze has elapsed without obtaining a fresh order from a court of competent jurisdiction.”
The House also directed the apex bank to unfreeze accounts remaining frozen even after the concluded investigation has not indicted the account holder.
It also directed the CBN to unfreeze accounts frozen without documentary proof of petition or reason for suspicion of involvement in the commission of a crime.
The House mandated the House Committee on Banking and Currency to immediately invite all stakeholders to a public investigation of circumstances surrounding the freezing of all accounts by the CBN.