Lawyers react to Court’s Order Freezing Accounts without BVN
Legal practitioners have being reacting to the order by the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, freezing all accounts in Nigeria banks without a Bank Verification Number (BVN).
By the interim order of injunction handed down on Friday by Justice Nnamdi Dimgba, banks are to stop outward payments or any transactions in respect of the accounts without BVN until the substantive application filed by the Federal Government and the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice is heard and determined by the court.
A constitutional lawyer, Silas Joseph Onuh said the BVN for every bank account holder is legal as it is a policy of the federal government and that the federal government has the legal right to make.
According to the legal practitioner, the government policy comes like bye-laws, and added that, “If the federal government said you must have a BVN to operate a bank account, you must have it to operate an account.”
“Once that is taken away from you, it means that the right is taken away from you.”
“What would have been unlawful is if the federal government had not gone to court and unilaterally freeze accounts without BVN.”
“They went to court, and the court made the order as they requested, it is proper. There is a law that backed the order made by Justice Dimgba, if not, he won’t have made the order”, Onuh stated.
A constitutional lawyer, Johnmary Chukwukasi Jideobi, in his reaction said the directive for every bank account holder with any bank to have a BVN is legal as the directive was made pursuant to the regulatory power of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), under the Money Laundering Act.
Jideobi said the BVN is a guide line, considered as a subsidiary, which has same force of law like the enabling act, which is the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, by virtue of Section 18(1) of the Interpretation Act.
According to him, “The BVN is legal, but whether none compliance will amount to forfeiture is another issue altogether.”
“People who are affected can go to court to challenge it because it is a violation to the right to own a property.”
“Money is a property and the Federal government cannot go to court to seek an injunction stopping one to own money (property) in bank”, Jideobi said.
Recalled that Justice Nnamdi Dimgba who gave the order following a motion exparte brought before him by the Federal Government on October 17, 2017 also ordered banks to disclose any investment made with funds from accounts without BVN in any product, interest incurred and other relevant information related to the transaction made on the accounts.
The court also ordered that banks shall disclose the names of the accounts as operated, account numbers, outstanding balance, domiciliary account and the branch/location of all accounts without BVN as well as disclosing any investments made with the funds from accounts without BVN.
The court also directed the CBN and the Nigeria Interbank Settlement Systems (NIBSS) to validate the information contained in the affidavit of compliance /disclosure filed by the respective banks within seven days from the date of service on the CBN.
Justice Dimgba also made an interim order appointing a bank examiner from the apex court to examine the books of any bank that fails to comply with the court order to file affidavit of disclosure.
“That an interim order is hereby made granting leave to the applicants or any officer authorised by them to advertise the accounts without BVN disclosed by the banks in a widely circulated national newspaper as a notice to any person, corporate body or financial institution who have any interest in any of the said accounts to claim ownership of same within 14 days of the publication of the order and show cause why the proceeds in the account should not be permanently forfeited to the Federal Government of Nigeria”.
The exparte motion dated September 28, 2017 had, the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice as plaintiffs/applicants, with Access Bank Plc, CitiBank Nigeria Ltd, Diamond Bank Plc, Ecobank of Nigeria Ltd, Fidelity Bank of Nigeria Plc, First Bank Plc, Guaranty Trust Bank Plc, Heritage Bank Plc, First City Monumental Bank Plc, Keystone Bank Nigeria, Skye Bank Plc, Stanbic IBTC Bank Plc, Standard Chartered Bank Nigeria, Sterling Bank Plc, Union Bank of Nigeria Plc, United Bank for Africa Plc, Unity Bank Plc, Wema Bank Plc, Zenith Bank Plc and the CBN as defendants/respondents.
The motion exparte was argued on behalf of the Federal Government by a counsel, A. D Tyoden, praying the court to grant all the orders as granted by Justice Dimgba of the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja.
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