From Godwin Tsa, Abuja
A Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, has ordered some banks to immediately unfreeze 18 bank accounts operated by Constitutional Lawyer Ojukwu Chikaosolu and his company, Stabilization Energy Ltd.
Justice Ahmed Mohammed made the order while delivering ruling on two applications filed by Ojukwu Chikaosolu, challenging the post no debit placed on his 18 accounts on the directive of the CBN.
Justice Mohammed held that from affidavit evidence before the court, it was only the applicant (Ojukwu Chikaosolu) that collected the $4000 Dollars BTA/PTA, and exhibited all travel documents to really show that he travelled and utilized the said money. The CBN can only attach the account used in obtaining the PTA and not all the accounts of the customer.
According to Justice Mohammed”I have perused through the counter affidavit of the respondent (CBN), but I have not seen any averement denying that the applicant did not utilize the $4000 dollars BTA/PTA.
“Publishing the names of alleged violators of the CBN Forex policy without annexing documents leaves much to be desired.
“Another disturbing issue is that accounts of other defendants who never received the BTA/PTA, and never utilized it, were equally frozen on the directive of the CBN.
“Having failed to discharge the burden of proof placed by law on the respondent, this court holds that the action of the respondent (CBN) in directing banks to freeze the accounts of the applicant “is preemptive, unlawful, and cannot stand in eyes of the law.
“It is hereby set aside. The affected banks are hereby directed to unfreeze the bank accounts of the applicants immediately.
However, the court refused to strike out the names of the 178th, 179th, 181st, 182nd and 184th Defendants from the suit, saying such order can only be made in the substantive suit.
The CBN Governor, had by an ex-parte application dated and filed on March 2, 2022, applied for an order freezing 383 bank accounts for 180 days on the grounds that it was investigating allegations that certain customers of commercial/ merchant banks received foreign exchange under the false pretext of international travel.
Consequently, on March 14, the court made an order made empowering the CBN Governor (Respondent) to direct the Head Offices of Banks to freeze the accounts of customers alleged to have received BTA/PTA under false pretence of travelling abroad.
However in a motion on notice dated April 6, filed by Ojukwu Chikaosolu, the applicant prayed for an order setting aside the order made on 14th March 2022, empowering the CBN Governor, (Respondent) to direct the Head Offices of Banks to freeze accounts alleged to have received BTA/PTA under false pretence.
“An order of Court directing the Managing Directors of GTBank Plc, Access Bank Plc, Zenith Bank Plc, Fidelity Bank Plc, Stanbic IBTC Bank Plc and Standard Chartered Bank or anyone under their control to lift and discharge all restrictions imposed on the 18 accounts listed as Nos. 297-315 in the order of this Court made on 14th March 2022.
“An order awarding N500,000,000.00 (Five Hundred Million Naira) against the Governor, Central Bank of Nigeria (Respondent) as compensation and/or damages for this ill-motivated action brought in bad faith.
An affidavit in support of the application stated, “That contrarv to the reason adduced by the Respondent for the application, the 1st Applicant Ojukwu Chikaosolu) herein travelled over 20 times in 2021 but only utilized Personal Travel Allowance (PTA) once, on the 12th October 2021.
“That the 1ts Applicant obtained the said PTA from Zenith Bank Maitama, Abuja simply to satisfy his account officer.
“That the 2nd Applicant (Stabilization Energy Limited) never applied for PTA/BTA (Business Travel Allowance) at any time whatsoever and has not conducted any business.
“That upon the 1st Applicant’s request, Zenith Bank issued the 1st Applicant with the appropriate forms, verified his passport, visa, took his finger print to verifv his BVN and debited his savings account with account number 2084064363 and thereafter issued the 1st Applicant with the paltry sum of $4000, whereafter his passport was duly stamped.
“That Zenith Bank duly obtained copies of the 1st Applicant’s travel documents upon the release of the $4000.
“That the 1st Applicant embarked on the journey the next day 13th October 2021 from Lagos boarding Delta Airlines and landed into Atlanta, USA on the 14th October 2021, also taking off from the USA landing into London Heathrow on 17th October 2021 and eventually returned to Nigeria after duly utilizing the $4000 issued to him as PTA.
“That at no time to the Applicants’ knowledge did Zenith Bank published his name or that of the 2nd Applicant as defaulters of the PTA/ BTA pursuant to the Central Bank of Nigeria’s letter to all banks of 30th August 2021 with reference BSD/DIR/PUB/LAB/14/059.