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Access Bank letter confirms CBN froze #EndSARS accounts before getting court order

Gatefield was targeted for supporting journalists to cover the historic #EndSARS protests.

• November 11, 2020
CBN Governor Godwin Emefiele
CBN Governor Godwin Emefiele

Peoples Gazette has obtained an Access Bank letter that cushions civil society fears that Governor Godwin Emefiele did not follow extant regulatory procedures before ordering indiscriminate freezing of bank accounts linked to champions of Nigeria’s historic #EndSARS campaign.

Court documents first published by the Gazette showed the Central Bank governor obtained a one-sided order to freeze accounts linked to #EndSARS from the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court on November 4.

But a letter from Access Bank to Gatefield Limited, a media rights think-tank that owns one of the affected accounts, confirmed a CBN freeze directive on October 26, more than a week before an ex-parte order was granted by Justice Ahmed Mohammed.

Mr. Emefiele’s lawyers filed the controversial ex-parte motion to freeze the accounts on October 20, but it took more than two weeks to convince a federal judge to sign it. But Mr. Emefiele proceeded, nonetheless, to commence enforcement in the intervening period.

There were also indications that CBN might have frozen bank accounts of some #EndSARS protesters even before filing the motion on October 20, and weeks before it was approved on November 4.

Some #EndSARS protesters had complained of interference with their bank accounts since at least October 13, less than a week after the protests began on October 8. Both CBN and Flutterwave denied claims of interference at the time.

Straddling on the directives of the CBN, Access Bank froze all transactions from Gatefield’s account, the letter showed, barely days after the organisation announced grants to support journalists covering #EndSARS activities.

Mr. Emefiele did not return requests for comments from the Gazette Wednesday morning. A spokesman for Access Bank did not return messages seeking comments.

Gatefield CEO Adewunmi Emoruwa says the media rights group, which raised funds to support journalists covering the #EndSARS campaign, has commenced legal proceedings against Access Bank for illicitly imposing restrictions on its account.

“We feel vindicated by the November 5th court order obtained by the Central Bank of Nigeria to restrict our journalism fund account,” Mr. Emoruwa said in a statement to the Gazette. “Access Bank informed us in writing in October that their decision to restrict our account was based on an order of the Central Bank of Nigeria.”

“This development proves that Access Bank acted illegally in complying with the alleged directive without any prior court order.

“This shows a roguish disregard for the due process enshrined in the Nigerian law regulating banking and financial institutions. We have gone ahead to challenge Access Bank in court and we are convinced that we will obtain justice,’’ Mr. Emoruwa said.

Gatefield’s lawyers said the CBN’s oversight directive to Access Bank was not sufficient grounds for the bank not to exercise its own legal examinations before compliance. The lawyers also said a previous precedent was set last year when GTBank was fined for complying with an EFCC freeze request without a valid court order.

Last week, Stanbic IBTC founder Atedo Peterside said he advised other bank executives not to comply with Mr. Emefiele’s directive to freeze accounts of citizens for exercising their fundamental rights to protest decades of police brutality.

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