By Lucy Nwachukwu
Abuja – An academic, Prof. Charles Nwekeaku, has commended the court order stopping the Federal Government from freezing accounts without Bank Verification Number (BVN).
Nwekeaku, an Associate Prof. at the Nasarawa State University, Keffi, while speaking with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on Tuesday in Abuja, described the order as a great relief.
The Abuja Division of the Federal High Court, had on June 22, stopped the Federal Government from freezing all accounts without BVN
The court, in a judgment delivered by Justice Nnamdi Dimgba, held that government failed to fulfill certain condition precedents that would entitle it to secure final forfeiture order in respect of funds in such accounts
Dimgba held that the government failed to comply with section 17 of the Advanced Fee Fraud.
He maintained that for government to succeed in obtaining final forfeiture order, it must be proved that funds in such accounts were abandoned or unclaimed, and were also products of unlawful activity.
Dimgba also held that government must have placed an advert for anyone laying claim to such funds to come forward for it to succeed in freezing the accounts.
“Advertisement, therefore, is a necessary condition to be fulfilled’’, the court held, adding “relief sought by the plaintiff cannot be granted at this stage”.
Dimgba noted that the Federal Government neither adduced any evidence to prove that funds in the accounts were proceeds of crime, nor indicated efforts it made to ensure that banks complied with interim orders of the court.
The court had in an ex-parte order on Oct. 17, 2017, directed the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), and 19 commercial banks in the country to disclose all accounts in their custody without BVN and amounts in them.
The court further granted an interim order directing the banks to freeze funds in such accounts by stopping “all outward payments, operations or transactions”, pending the hearing of a substantive application.
The application was filed by the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr Abubakar Malami, Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) seeking permanent forfeiture of funds in such accounts to the Federal Government.
Nwekeaku described the decision by the government as unfair because Nigerians were not given conditions at the time they opened their accounts.
“I think it was a great relief when the court ruled that government should stop action on that because a number of people may not be in country.
“We agree that the banks have given notice to people to obtain the BVN, but there are some Nigerians who have been outside the country since then.
`There may be some people who also tried to obtain this BVN but for one reason or the other did not succeed and the process is not yet completed.
“I think it was a terrible decision on the part of the government, moreover, when Nigerians opened this account there were no conditions for opening the accounts.
“And to implement conditions now is not good, it is against the rule of law, so I think the court was right and it is a good development,’’ Nwekeaku said.
The don said that the benefits of BVN could not be overempharsised, thus more time should be given for the process to be completed.
He said it was important for every person to get the BVN done as it would help reduce the high rate of fraud and dissuade people from making money illegally.
“When people make money illegally, they will find it difficult to deposit it and if they can’t deposit this money the urge to acquire illegal funds will be minimised.
“We agree that BVN has advantages, but more time should be given because to ask for complete forfeiture of whatever is in the account is like `using a sledge hammer to kill a fly’, it is not good enough.
“Moreover, I think banks have other ways of persuading customers to get the BVN done.