The Federal High Court in Abuja has adjourned the applications filed by 20 #EndSARS campaigners challenging the order freezing their bank accounts till after the expiration of the court’s 90-day restriction.
PREMIUM TIMES reports that the order freezing the accounts was issued by the court at the instance of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) on November 4, 2020.
Since the order expires on February 4, 2021, the court on Tuesday, adjourned the continuation of the defendants’ application seeking the reversal of the freezing order till February 10.
This implies that the court will only be ready to hear the application almost one week after the order defendants are challenging will be deemed to have expired.
The hearing of the application raising issues of rights violation was stalled for the third time on Tuesday.
The judge, Ahmed Mohammed, was to hear the defendants’ application challenging the order on December 8, 2020 and adjourn for judgment.
Mr Mohammed started the hearing on December 8, but despite sitting till about 6 p.m. that day, he was unable conclude the hearing because he had earlier devoted most of his sitting hours of the day to the hearing of the pre-election case filed by the All Progressives Congress (APC) against Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State.
The judge, who gave the political case a marathon hearing till he delivered judgment on January 5, had adjourned the continuation of the #EndSARS campaigners’ application till December 9, but the court could not hear it because it clashed with the Edo State case that day.
The case was then adjourned till Tuesday, but Mr Ahmed did not sit, as he was said to have been granted a vacation to make up for the period he spent hearing the time-bound Edo State case during the Christmas break observed by his other colleagues.
Speaking with PREMIUM TIMES on the issue on Tuesday, Femi Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, who is defending 19 of the 20 defendants said “the order lapses on February 4, and the adjournment of the case till February 10 will make the case academic”.
Efforts by our reporter to speak with Michael Aondoakaa, a former Attorney-General of the Federation, who obtained the ex parte order against the 20 defendants on behalf of CBN, were unsuccessful as several calls placed to his regular telephone line indicated that it was switched off.
A text message also sent to the same line had also not delivered as of press time on Tuesday.
It will be recalled that the CBN governor, Godwin Emefiele, had on October 15, 2020 directed various banks to place a Post-No-Debit order on the accounts linked to the 20 #EndSARS campaigners who mobilised support for the anti-police brutality demonstrations that took place in Nigerian major cities in October 2020.
Those affected are: Bolatito Oduala, Chima Ibebunjoh, Mary Kpengwa, Gatefield Nigeria Limited, Saadat Bibi, Bassey Israel, Wisdom Obi, Nicholas Osazele, Ebere Idibie, Akintomide Yusuf, Uhuo Promise, Mosopefoluwa Odeseye and Adegoke Emmanuel.
The rest are, Umoh Ekanem, Babatunde Segun, Mulu Teghenan, Mary Oshifowora, Winifred Jacob, Victor Solomon, and Idunu Williams.
About three weeks after the post-no-debit order was placed on their accounts, the CBN, through its lawyer, Mr Aondoakaa, on November 4, 2020, obtained an ex parte order of the Federal High Court in Abuja freezing their bank accounts for 90 days.
The judge, Mr Mohammed, premised his decision on CBN’s allegation that the 20 defendants were suspected of terrorism financing.
The court order was widely condemned by those who viewed it as a judicial validation of the Federal Government’s plot to criminalise citizens’ constitutional rights to protest.
Protesters challenge court order
The 20 defendants, through their lawyers, subsequently filed an application challenging the court’s ex parte order and urged the judge to immediately vacate it.
Mr Falana, who canvassed 13 grounds to challenge the court order, contended that the ex parte order “was anchored on misrepresentation of material facts and based on suppression of material facts”.
He added that it “constitutes a gross abuse of the process of this honourable court”.
ALSO READ: #EndSARS: Court stops criminal case against Davido, Falz, 48 other activists, celebrities
The lawyer also questioned CBN’s authority to label anyone as a terrorism suspect, maintaining that the apex bank “is neither one of the investigative agencies nor prosecuting agencies recognised under the Terrorism Prevention Act, 2011 and the Terrorism Prevention (Amendment) Act, 2013.”
He insisted that issuance of the restriction order was unlawful and violated his clients’ fundamental rights.
He added that that the ex parte order “was made to validate an illegal act”.
This, he said, was because the CBN had “unlawfully” frozen the accounts of the defendants/applicants before seeking and obtaining the court order on November 4, 2020.
He also said the facts deposed to in support of the CBN’s application “are all false”, adding that the court “was misled to believe them to be true before granting the ex parte order”.
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