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Freezing bank accounts without BVN is illegal – Lawyer

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-Human rights lawyer faults BVN as a policy not backed by law.

-This he said in reaction to a court order which may compel account holders without BVN to forfeit their cash to the federal government.

Human rights lawyer, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, has described as illegal, the court order which will make account holders without bank verification number (BVN) on their accounts, forfiet funds in such accounts to the federal government.

Justice Nnamdi Dimgba of the Abuja federal high court division, had directed affected banks to within 14 days, advertise accounts without BVN in a national newspaper.

The court order follows an application by the attorney-general of the federation, Abubakar Malami.

But the lawyer, Adegboruwa citing section 36(1) of the 1999 constitution (as amended) and Article 7 of the African Charter, submitted that it is not proper to determine the rights of parties in their absence.

He said the BVN is a policy decision that is not “backed by law”.

He also submitted that government’s efforts and activities targeted at boosting its revenue base, should not be done to the detriment of the citizens’ welfare.

“I am very well concerned about how we deploy interim orders for permanent purposes, such as to forfeit valuable assets, without any or fair hearing from the person(s) concerned,” the statement read.

“I think it is improper to obtain interim orders to freeze bank accounts of estates that are in dispute between the beneficiaries, of estates of deceased persons that are still being contested, of profits of companies that are still subject to litigation or other disputes, just to mention a few examples of the arbitrariness of these orders.

“There is nothing in section 3 of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act 2011, that makes BVN a condition precedent for operating a bank account in Nigeria. Nothing at all. What the law requires is verifiable identity of the customer, such as name, address, photographs, identity cards, etc. BVN is policy decision of the Central Bank of Nigeria and a court of law should not base its orders on executive policies that are not backed by law.

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“I get truly worried with the way we adopt ex-parte applications to determine very serious and weighty issues of law.

“The other point is the bindingness of an ex-parte order upon the whole world and upon all millions of bank customers in Nigeria, who are not directly parties to the suit. How proper is it, for a court to seek to determine the rights of parties in their absence, in view of the clear provisions of section 36(1) of the 1999 Constitution and Article 7 of the African Charter.

“Why this desperation, if one may ask? I support that money suspected to be proceeds of crime should be traced, isolated and forfeited if the owner cannot successfully account for it. But to proceed to seek to forfeit all monies in all banks meant for all customers in Nigeria, on the ground of absence of BVN is manifestly illegal.

“I therefore humbly urge the honourable attorney-general of the federation to review this case with a view to tempering the tenor of these rather outlandish orders.

“The quest to scoop revenue for government should not be at the detriment of the constitutional and fundamental rights of the citizens. Which is why I have been praying that these orders are not real, but rather one of the usual social media gimmicks.”