A group under the aegis of Access to Justice have condemned the freezing of the accounts of EndSars protesters by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) via ex-parte order
Access to Justice, in a statement made available to TheNigeriaLawyer (TNL) titled: “CBN’s Descent into Partisan Political Arena and Abetting of Political Repression is Appalling and Gross Abuse of its Regulatory Powers” signed by its convener, Joseph Otteh, said freezing of the accounts started around October when the EndSARS protests were relatively peaceful.
According to the group, “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 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.”
Access to Justice expressed concern that CBN is losing independence and becoming political.
“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.”
The Group contended that objects of CBN are enumerated in section 2 of its enabling Act and does not include power to direct freezing of anyone’s account for involving in a civil protest. They added that CBN is not a criminal law enforcement arm of the government. “If any crime is alleged to be 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.” they said
They lamented that CBN “has usurped the powers of law enforcement authorities, and makes itself, illegally, accuser, investigator and prosecutor. In so doing, it acts well outside the perimeters of its statutory powers.”
The implication, according to Access to Justice, is that the actions of CBN “are huge and very troubling.” they said the civil rights and political liberties are now greatly endangered if CBN is allowed to get away with it.
They feared that “the Bank can replicate the same actions against political opponents of the government, and civil society, in order to weaken them, deprive them of the means and ability to function or hold government accountable. This is an unfortunate (and probably unprecedented) corruption and distortion of the role of a central bank. The CBN Governor is taking the Bank down a very contagious, perilous, slope.”
Furthermore, the group expressed concern that the ex-parte order was granted despite absence of urgency. According them, the court should have requested that the affected EndSars protesters to be put on notice of the application so they can defend themselves and show reasons why the order(s) should not be made against them.
“Hon Justice Mohammed’s order, is, therefore, regrettable and unfortunate; it is not consistent with established judicial precedents, and will undermine public confidence in the Judiciary. Asking those caught and crippled by the order to apply to court for review after the order was made is like medicine after death. They ought to have been heard in the first place, before the order was made!” the statement partly reads
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