The Federal High Court in Abuja, on Wednesday, ordered the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to unfreeze the accounts of 20 #EndSARS campaigners targeted by the apex bank after last year’s anti-police brutality demonstrations.
PREMIUM TIMES reported on Sunday how the accounts of the protesters remained frozen despite the expiration of the 90-day order on February 2.
The judge, Ahmed Mohammed, issued the order unfreezing the accounts after the legal teams of both the CBN and the 20 defendants decided to end the case on Wednesday.
The judge commended the two lawyers for their “commitment to ensure justice” after they announced their decision to withdraw all pending applications and the entire suit.
“In the light of this, the ex parte order issued on November 4, 2022 freezing the accounts of the defendants pending the investigation by the Central Bank of Nigeria is here by set aside.
“An order is also made unfreezing the accounts of the defendants,” Mr Mohammed ruled on Wednesday.
Earlier, CBN’s lawyer, Michael Aondoakaa, a former Attorney-General of the Federation, told the judge he filed an ex parte application for the extension of the expired order on Tuesday, but later got instruction from the CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele, to withdraw the case.
Mr Aondoakaa, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, said he was withdrawing the suit in the spirit of reconciliation behind the setting up of the various Judicial Panels of Inquiry set up to probe cases of police brutality in the aftermath of the #EndSARS protests.
He said, “This matter involves young people. I talked to my colleagues and I advised, let us discard all the processes. I will withdraw my processes and they will withdraw theirs.
“By implication, the order goes, the accounts will be unfrozen, and nobody will be indicted.
“The government has set up reconciliation panels. We should give room for a rethink on this matter.
“We have the instruction form my client, the Governor of CBN, that in the spirit of reconciliation, we should not apply for the extension of the order.
“So we are withdrawing our ex parte motion. We should allow reconciliation and peace to reign.”
‘Freezing order expired last week’
Responding, the defendants’ lawyer, Femi Falana, also a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, confirmed that he had discussed with Mr Aondoakaa “on the way forward in this matter.”
He, however, insisted that “the order ex parte made by this court expired last week.”
He said he had filed “a motion to have the order quashed” but “has been overtaken by event, since the order has expired.”
After hearing the two lawyers, the judge set aside the order and struck out the suit.
Mr Aondokaa promised to ensure that that “the accounts are unfrozen” as soon as the court’s written order is issued.
The #EndSARS protesters and promoters targeted in the case by the CBN included 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.
The 20 account holders affected by the freezing order had participated in or contributed to the #EndSARS protests which were triggered by grievances arising from years of harassment and rights violations by operatives of the defunct Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
The protests led to the disbandment of the police tactical squad in October last year.
In the twilight of the protests, the CBN governor, Godwin Emefiele, on October 15, 2020, directed various banks to place a Post-No-Debit order on the accounts linked to the 20 #EndSARS campaigners.
About three weeks after, 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 gave the order based on CBN’s allegation that the 20 defendants were suspected of terrorism financing.
PREMIUM TIMES reported how the court order was widely condemned as an attack on democracy.
The protesters challenged the order but the judge, who kept adjourning the case, did not conclude hearing on the matter until Wednesday.
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