Press the Reset Button
As human beings, many times during the course of our lives, we press the reset button and try to make changes for the betterment of our lives – whether it is a decision to start a regular physical exercise regime and develop healthier eating habits, or to get prayerful, or to develop a better work ethic, or to be more prudent in our expenditure and so on. The time has come, for Nigeria to press the reset button. To say that our dear country Nigeria is worse than a Pandora’s Box, in the state of confusion that we presently find ourselves in, is indeed, an understatement; and as a matter of urgency, many reparative buttons must be pressed to lift the country out of the abyss of failure that it has been sinking into – it is certainly not too late, to retrace some of the bad steps we have taken. It is foolhardy for Government to continue to play the ostrich, wasting its time on irrelevancies like gagging the media, instead of facing the issues and doing the needful.
As a Lawyer, in making the above assertion about the desperate need for Government to press the reset button, the first place to look to back up this postulation, is Chapter 2 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended)(the Constitution), that is, the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy, to see how much successive administrations (present company included) have deviated from their constitutionally mandated objectives, by their failure to achieve them. Contrary to Section 16(1)(b) of the Constitution, many Nigerians including my humble self, are unhappy. I never imagined that I could be a ‘cry baby’, but these days, when I watch the various television programmes or read forwards on social media about some of the happenings here, I find tears falling from my eyes, a confirmation of how dire and urgent the need for a positive reset is.
Last Monday, as I was flicking from channel to channel watching the various breakfast television programmes, I began to feel exhausted so early in the morning on the first working day of the week. I saw that several key Workers’ Organisations/Unions are either still on strike, or threatening to go on strike; and their various demands all boil down to insufficient remuneration, unpaid salaries and poor working conditions – contrary to Sections 16(2)(c), (d), 17(2)(c), (3)(a), (b) and (e) of the Constitution, which mandate that working conditions must be humane, reasonable minimum living wage for workers and so on.
I felt thoroughly ashamed for this country whose educational standards were once world class, when the President of ASUU (Academic Staff Union of Universities) mentioned in one of those television interviews last Monday, that some University laboratories no longer had Bunsen burners, but had to make do with kerosene stoves instead! He mentioned that ASUU’s claim against the Federal Government was in the region of N100 billion (I don’t know how ASUU came up with the particular amount they are demanding, or whether all their demands are legitimate), and that Government had counter-offered N20 billion or so. I thought to myself that, whatever the case, it is obvious that the public universities are in extremely poor condition and require serious revamping, and if for example, Government halved the N127 billion budget of the National Assembly (NASS) to N63.5 billion, and added some of the savings of N63.5 billion to the N20 billion they are offering ASUU, ASUU would have been back on the job ages ago, and our children, back in their tertiary institutions to receive a better quality of education.
But, in a country where little or no value is placed on education, because the less educated seem to thrive more than the educated, whether in Government, other sectors or in the country generally; where the constitutional educational qualifications to hold the most crucial and highest positions in the land, in Government and NASS are extremely low (except that of the Attorney-Generals), what would be the need to waste scarce resources on education?
As if the ASUU strike is not bad enough, NUPENG and PENGASSAN were also threatening to follow suit – soon the country which has more or less been on lockdown since March because of the Covid-19 pandemic, will finally shut down from strikes! The meaning of all this? That Government is not fulfilling its primary purpose – the security, welfare, prosperity and happiness of the people.
CBN Freezing the Accounts of #ENDSARS Protesters
Government does not seem to be in synch with the governed (the people), at all. If it is, after the #ENDSARS protests which garnered so much international support, so much so that a Petition to implement sanctions against Nigerian Government officials will soon be debated on the floor of the British Parliament (since the Petition has received the requisite 100,000 signatures), would the sensible thing to do as a follow up, be to have the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) unlawfully freeze the accounts of those who Government deems to have been in forefront of the protests, having established the fact that Sections 39 and 40 of the Constitution and Articles 10(1) and 11 of the African Charter on Human and People’s’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act)(ACHR Act) give Nigerians the right to express their opinions, associate to further their common interests, and protest peacefully?
The last time I checked, the Central Bank of Nigeria (Establishment) Act 2007 (the CBN Act) which in Section 2 states the objects/functions of the CBN, does not provide that the CBN can investigate crimes and freeze peoples’ bank accounts arbitrarily.
In Guaranty Trust Bank v Akinsiku Adedamola & 2 Ors 2019 5 N. W. L. R. Part 1664 Page 30 at 43, the Court of Appeal (per Tijani Abuba JCA) held inter alia that, there must be an order of court, to freeze an account. In the case of the #ENDSARS Protesters, their accounts were frozen on the instruction of the CBN, without a court order. The CBN which does not have the right to order the freezing of bank accounts – and should have handed the matter over to the appropriate authorities like the Police or EFCC (Economic and Financial Crimes Commission) for investigation and further action if there was suspicion of the commission of a financial crime – then sought to regularise its illegal act, by obtaining an ex-parte order from court. Even the EFCC which is empowered to investigate financial crimes, cannot just instruct a bank to freeze an account without an ex-parte order. There must be an allegation of the commission of a crime against the customer whose account is to be frozen, and an investigation which follows due process, to start with. To the best of my knowledge, aside from the fact that this process was not followed, the CBN Act does not endow the CBN with powers to investigate crimes.
Abuba JCA in GTB case (Supra) went on to say: “the Commission (EFCC) or its officers must, first, go to court and obtain an ex-parte order before freezing the account. Any failure to follow due process, will render the action taken by the Commission a violation of the rights of the customer”.
This simply means that, even if the CBN had the powers to freeze an account (which it does not), it did not follow due process in so doing to the #ENDSARS Protesters, and that both the CBN and the Banks that adhered to its instructions without a court order, violated their rights. In the GTB case (Supra), the 1st Respondent whose account was frozen without following due process, was awarded N500,000 costs – an order for costs awarded against the CBN (and banks that froze customers accounts without a court order) should be one of the reliefs sought by the #ENDSARS Protesters whose accounts were unlawfully frozen.
The Federal High Court, in Suit No: FHC/ABJ/CS/1384/20 Governor CBN v Bolatito Odulaja & 19 Ors (#ENDSARS Protesters), presided by Ahmed Mohammed J who granted the ‘retroactive’ ex-parte freezing order – what irreparable damage would have occurred to the CBN or anyone else, to warrant the hearing of the motion ex-parte, instead of directing that the Respondents be put on notice (Order 26 Rule 5(1) & (2) of the Federal High Court (Civil Procedure) Rules 2019 (FHC Rules) – so that they could exercise their right to fair hearing as guaranteed by Section 36(1) of the Constitution? (See Article 7(1)(a-d) of the ACHR Act). What interest of justice was being served, by freezing the account of these youngsters for 90 days instead of 14 days, if at all they had to be frozen? (Order 26 Rule 10(1) FHC Rules).
The bottom line is that the CBN matter was handled from back to front, instead of the other way around! It went from freezing the #ENDSARS Protesters bank accounts, to obtaining an ex-parte order, and then investigation, contrary to the decision in the GTB case which unequivocally decided that it should be investigation (by the appropriate agency), ex-parte order (if enough evidence is shown that a crime has been/may be committed) and then, freezing the account.
This bank account freezing action of Government through the CBN, simply shows that the youngsters are being punished for daring to protest against Police brutality and bad governance. Worse still, the Police whose duty it is to protect the lives and property of Nigerians (Section 4 of the Police Act 1943) have refused to return to their beat after the #ENDSARS protests, seemingly to punish Nigerians for protesting against the brutality of some of their members; and Government has been unconcerned about this development, not mandating that the Police resume their duties! This kind of pettiness and not-so-subtle type of suppression and oppression of Nigerians in a supposed democratic setting, is unacceptable. Or could it be that Policemen are actually scared of being assaulted by Nigerians, if they come out onto the streets? If that is the case, then they are getting a little taste of how the people, especially the Youths feel, when they are brutalised by Police/SARS on the streets, especially for doing absolutely nothing, like late Kolade Johnson.
Again, I wept last Friday, as I watched on television, shop owners of the Shoprite Surulere Shopping Complex, in their now empty shops, looted and destroyed by miscreants on Looting Wednesday, while the Police stationed at Bode Thomas Police Station, almost opposite the Complex (and other law enforcement agencies) stood by and did nothing to assist them. Watching the owner of Clayart Place, Lekki Expressway, Okey Adibe, whose Complex was looted and then burnt, saying that he would have to borrow money from the bank or whoever would lend him money to rebuild his place and restart his business, was pitiful. The Federal and Lagos State Government must inject funds into the businesses of all those who were affected and suffered devastating losses, as the security, protection of property and welfare of the people is the duty of Government (Section 14(2)(b) of the Constitution), and it is glaring that Government at all levels failed in this regard, on Looting Wednesday.
Going forward, it would be better for the Federal Government who is in control of law enforcement, to not only call the Police and Army to order, but to examine the demands for good governance from not just the #ENDSARS Protesters, but Nigerians as a whole, and start to address them. A video trended recently, of a soldier brutalising a motorist in Kaduna or so, shouting the usual “I will kill you, and nothing will happen”, as onlookers pleaded with him to stop his assault on the motorist who did not seem to know what offence he had committed. The essence of the #ENDSARS protests, is not to replace SARS/Police brutality with that of the Army.
This must stop; and it will only stop if the President sends out a clear directive that brutality by men in uniform will not be tolerated, and will be punished severely with immediate dismissal and criminal charges, and make public examples of people like the Kaduna soldier, immediately.