The freezing of bank accounts belonging to 20 youths described as #EndSARS promoters by the Federal Government, Saturday, attracted criticisms from senior lawyers, who accused the government of suppressing the rights of protesters. Meanwhile, representatives of youths in Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry and Restitution for Victims of SARS Related Abuses & Lekki Toll Gate Incident boycotted yesterday’s sitting in protest against the federal government’s action.
The panel had scheduled to take evidence from the Nigerian Army, NA, but failed to continue due to the absence of youth representatives, Majekodunmi Temitope and Oduala Bolatito Olorunrinu. The duo did not make an appearance at the panel due to the freezing of Oduala’s First Bank of Nigeria account. Her bank account was allegedly frozen on November 6, 2020, owing to alleged sponsorship of #EndSARS protests. Counsel to the Nigerian Army, Mr A. T. Kehinde (SAN), announced his appearance.
However, Chairman of the panel, Justice Doris Okuwobi (retd), suspended the sitting of the panel till November 14. The Abuja Division of the Federal High Court had granted the nod to freeze accounts of 20 #EndSARS promoters. The order followed an ex-parte order filed through a team of lawyers led by a former Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr Michael Aondoakaa, SAN. However, the senior lawyers, in separate interviews with Sunday Vanguard, urged those whose accounts were frozen to proceed to court.
A former Second Vice President of Nigeria Bar Association, NBA, Mr Monday Ubani, said: “ What is their crime? Has protesting been declared a criminal offence under any enactment? Is there any enactment that criminalised the protests by #EndSARS protesters? Has there been any criminal law made either by the state or federal government? If there is no such law that criminalised that particular act that took place, it is absolutely absurd for any government to freeze any person’s account.
The constitution says nobody can be made liable for any crime that is not written. So if protests have not been criminalised, there is no basis for freezing anybody’s account. It is clearly absurd to hold anybody liable for any crime that is not enacted. I am totally flabbergasted? It is a suppression of rights. It amounts to suppression of rights by the government. It is an infringement on their fundamental human rights. My happiness is that the judiciary will be up and doing in restoring the rights of those whose rights have been violated. And I urge those whose rights have been infringed upon to approach the court.”
On his part, a former Solicitor-General of Lagos State, Lawal Pedro, SAN, said: “ Since the Central Bank of Nigeria obtained a court order before freezing the accounts of the individuals and a public affairs company linked to the #EndSARS protests, the freezing of the accounts is lawful.
Whether or not the order was erroneously granted in breach of the promoters/sponsors rights is another issue. But by virtue of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria, the order to freeze the accounts is binding on all persons and authorities until it is set aside.
“What the persons affected should do is to approach the same court to have the order set aside and the account can be unfrozen by their bankers. However, the judge would only be obliged to set aside the order if satisfied that the order was granted without jurisdiction or as a result of misrepresentation of facts. That is the way of the Rule of Law. In my opinion, the order was wrongly granted and there are substantial grounds upon which an application to set aside the order can be premised.”
Another senior lawyer, Chief Mike Ozekhomen, said: “The protesters were peaceful and were using their resources in managing the protest. They were never violent until suspected government agents started shooting people on sight.For them to now go after the bank account of protesters is wrong, it is unconstitutional. The #EndSARS protesters whose accounts were frozen have one thing to do. They should go to court.”
Source: Vanguard News