A Nigerian political strategist, Charles Omole, has stated that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC does not have any power to unilaterally freeze any bank account in Nigeria.
In an enlightenment post he made on social media, Omole wrote that the EFCC is required to get a court order before giving banks the order to freeze any account.
A small revolution took place last month in a Lagos court that many may not have noticed. It is normal practice for security agencies in Nigeria to act beyond their powers as experienced by folks on a daily basis.
Reports of bank accounts being frozen by the EFCC is a regular occurrence all over Nigeria. But a court has now reaffirmed the position of the law on this practice. The conclusion of the court was that EFCC HAS NO POWER TO ORDER A BANK ACCOUNT TO BE FROZEN.
THEY MUST OBTAIN A COURT ORDER TO DO SO. Without a court order, any bank that act based on EFCC request is acting unlawfully and will be held legally liable. A High Court ordered Diamond Bank Plc to pay a Lagos-based Lawyer, Adetokunbo Odutola, N25million as damages for unlawfully freezing his bank account, simply on the say so of the EFCC.
In suit number LD/ADR/800/17 filed by Mr Odutola against three banks (two of which settled out of court, leaving only Diamond Bank who refused to settle); the claimant sued for damages and the court awarded N25Million against the bank as compensation to the claimant. The court held that the bank had acted negligently by not insisting on and sighting a court order (authorising the act) before freezing Mr Odutola’s account.
In her judgment of 16th Dec, 2019, Justice Nwaka held, “The bank went ahead to place Post No Debit on the account of the claimant on the instruction of the EFCC. The bank ought to have demanded from the EFCC an order of court to that effect.
It is not in the power of the EFCC to authorise a PND on any customer’s account. The EFCC must not usurp the powers of a court of law. The duty of care owed the claimant by the second defendant (Diamond Bank) is nothing but breached.”
The learned Judge of Ikeja High Court conclude that ours “is a society whose affairs are supposed to be governed and conducted in accordance with the law. The EFCC and the bank taking law into their hands is nothing but shameful.”
This is now a warning to ALL banks in Nigeria; freeze an account without a court order and you will face the music. Our judges are finally starting to curtain the excesses of our Institutions….one case at a time.
It is not uncommon for EFCC to freeze accounts for months or years while “Investigating” alleged crimes. These investigation supposed to have taken place discreetly first; but as normal in Nigeria; it is Arrest first and then investigation after.
A court order allow for independent check & balance on EFCC’s powers to ensure they are not abused or used unjustly. Unless this verdict is successfully appealed; it is now law that Banks must see a valid court order before freezing a customer’s account. Maybe some sanity at last.
EFCC does have power in an emergency situation to put a stop on an account for specified number of hours to allow a court order to be obtained. It does not have unilateral power to freeze an account in perpetuity or beyond to initial hours.