The House of Representatives has asked the Central Bank of Nigeria (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 in violations of the provisions of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) and Section 608 of Banks and Other Financial Institutions Act (BOFIA 2004).
The lawmakers said deriving from the Constitution and BOFIA, it is offensive to froze accounts such as: “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 fair hearing to the account holder. Accounts frozen but till date have not being referred to the Nigeria Police Force, National Drug Law Enforcement Agency or any other appropriate regulatory authority for investigation.
“Accounts frozen that are unconnected to the account suspected for involvement in the commission of crime. Accounts remaining frozen after court authorized period of freeze has elapsed without obtaining a fresh order from a court of competent jurisdiction.
“Accounts remaining frozen even after concluded investigation has not indicted the account holder. Accounts frozen without documentary proof of petition or reason for suspicion of involvement in the commission of crime”.
The House also mandated the Committee on Banking and Currency to immediately invite all relevant and affected stakeholders to a public investigation of circumstances surrounding the freezing of all accounts currently frozen by the CBN in Nigeria with a view to identifying:
“Any cases of contraventions of statutory provisions by the CBN in the freezing of accounts. Any verifiable cases of victimization or vendetta against account holders by the CBN in the freezing of their accounts.
“Provisions of the subsisting enabling act that might require immediate amendment considering the tendency for abuse by the CBN ambiguity of related clause(s), contradictions with provisions of other subsisting legislation, jurisprudence or global best practices and controversy surrounding the addition of related Section of the Act after amendment of the act had been published in the Laws of the Federation of Nigeria (LFN) 2004.
“Whether appropriate sanctions will be required to be recommended against erring staff of the CBN including the Governor especially when the administration of related provisions of the act is in the Governors name. The Committee will be required to submit a formal report to the House in Four (4) weeks for further legislative action”.
The House reached these resolutions at plenary on Wednesday, following a motion of urgent public importance, sponsored by Mark Gbillah (PDP, Benue).
Presenting the motion, Gbillah expressed concerns about the plethora of petitions and “save our soul” (SOS) appeals from Nigerian Citizens across the country in recent times about the untold hardship and poverty they are experiencing from extended freezing of their personal, corporate and other accounts by the CBN.
He decried reports of the current unprecedented freezing of over 5000 bank accounts in Nigeria by the CBN and allegations of injustice, illegality, victimization and prejudice by the CBN against innocent Nigerians in the freezing of their accounts.
The lawmaker was: “Worried about innumerable allegations from affected Nigerians that the CBN in its claim of exercising the CBN Governors powers to freeze bank accounts under Section 608 of the Banks and Other Financial Institutions Act (BOFIA) 2004, incessantly violates Nigerians fundamental human rights to fair hearing and presumption of innocence until proven guilty as enshrined in Section 36 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) when it freezes accounts arbitrarily for extended periods without the knowledge of the account holder, the provision of an opportunity for the account holder to provide an explanation or referral of the matter to section 608 as an appendix to the 2004 amendment of the BOFIA after it was omitted from the body of the act in the 2004 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria (LFN) also raises concerns about whether this section was legitimately signed into law at the time.
“Concerned about the plethora of impending litigation against the CBN which every Nigerian constitutionally has the right to Institute but that will distract the CBN from its primary statutory functions and unnecessarily expend monumental tax payers funds for the acquisition of legal representation by the CBN which should ordinarily have been avoided but for the Indiscretion of its employees”