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Access to Justice (A2J) has denounced the actions of the Central Bank of Nigeria, and expressed dismay by the order given by Hon. Justice Ahmed Mohammed, to freeze the bank accounts linked to #ENDSARS Protesters.
In a release, A2J said: “The freezing of accounts linked to #ENDSARS Protesters began well before the court issued its order, specifically in October 2020, at the time the #ENDSARS protests were taking place, and were adjudged relatively peaceful. The CBN reportedly ordered commercial banks and payment platforms, to freeze accounts linked to persons associated with the protests. Following up its actions afterwards by seeking a court order, shows that the CBN knew it was acting illegally when it directed commercial banks to freeze the aforesaid accounts, but went ahead anyway to do so. Court orders do not have a retrospective effect, therefore, the CBN’s prior actions were wholly unlawful and unconstitutional”.
A2J continued its statement, saying: “This organisation is concerned about the growing erosion of the CBN’s independence and political neutrality. The CBN is transforming into a partisan political organ of the government, and putting its vast regulatory powers into illicit partisan political uses, for the purpose of suppressing the legitimate exercise of constitutional rights of freedom of speech and expression. This is appalling for a Central Bank, for many reasons”, including the fact that the CBN arguably has no legal powers to direct the freezing of accounts of anyone, on account of a civil protest.
A2J also stated that the CBN has no power under the law, to act as a criminal agency or law enforcement arm of the government. That if any crime is alleged to have been committed by the protesters using their banking accounts, a report of the alleged crime(s) should have been made to a duly established law enforcement agency, for investigation; such agency could then take any action relevant to the investigation, including applying for a court order to freeze accounts. A2J further stated that, by directing that the accounts be frozen in the absence of a criminal complaint, the CBN, which has no direct relationship with the account holders, usurped the powers of law enforcement authorities, and illegally made itself the accuser, investigator and prosecutor; and in so doing, acted well outside the perimeters of its statutory powers. A2J accused the CBN Governor of taking the Bank down a very contagious, perilous, slope, while expressing dismay that the court’s order was made ex-parte, in other words, without hearing the other side.