The Federal High Court sitting in Abuja has ordered the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, to unfreeze 18 bank accounts operated by a constitutional lawyer, Mr. Chikaosolu Ojukwu and his company, Stabilization Energy Ltd.
The apex bank had on March 14 obtained an interim order that permitted it to freeze the accounts for 180 days.
It had in an application it filed before the court, alleged that Ojukwu and his firm engaged in foreign exchange scam.
It told the court that investigation revealed that the lawyer was involved in illegal forex transaction, alleging that he obtained $4000 from a commercial Bank in the guise that it was for his Personal Travel Allowance, PTA.
CBN, therefore, persuaded the court to issue an order for a post-no-debit restriction on all the bank accounts that was linked to the Defendant, pending the conclusion of its investigations.
It said the action was necessary to ensure that the economy does not collapse, alleging that there are many “unwholesome practices in the Nigeria forex market”.
However, following an application that was filed by the Defendant and his firm, Justice Ahmed Mohammed, in a ruling on Monday, ordered the immediate unfreezing of all the accounts.
The court held that the Plaintiff (CBN), “was reckless in its action to freeze the accounts without conducting due diligence”.
Justice Mohammed said there was evidence before the court to establish that Ojukwu had after he obtained the $4000 as PTA, travelled to Atlanta on October 14, 2021.
He noted that the Defendant exhibited his international passport that was duly endorsed by the Immigration, both at the entry and exit points.
“There is no doubt that the Plaintiff (CBN) has the power the seek ex-parte order, but, when there is evidence, like in the instant case that the order was wrongly obtained, the court is bound to set it aside”, Justice Mohammed held.
He said their was no evidence from the CBN to prove that the Defendant did not utilize the $4000 he received in October 2021, for his travel expenses.
More so, the court, faulted the apex bank for also freezing the account of his company, though there was no evidence that it got forex from any bank.
It held that the action of the Plaintiff was “pre-emptive, reckless, harmful and highly injurious to the Defendants”.
Consequently, it vacated the ex-parte order and directed all the affected commercial banks that acted on the strength of the order that was obtained by the CBN, to unfreeze all the 18 accounts forthwith.
However, the court declined Ojukwu’s request for the CBN to pay him N500million as compensation for what he termed as an “ill-motivated” action against him and his firm.
He had insisted that he could neither pay his staff nor conduct any legal activity in his law chamber, owing to the unavailability of funds occasioned by the post-no-debit restriction that was placed on his bank accounts.
The court held that it could not grant damages to the Defendants since their application was based on an interim order.
Besides, though Justice Mohammed vacated the freezing order, he however declined to strike out the name of Ojukwu’s company from the substantive suit that is pending before another judge of the same court.
He said that such order could only be made in the substantive matter and not I an application against an interim order.
Ojukwu had in an affidavit he brought before the court, averred that; “Contrary to the reason adduced by the CBN, he travelled over 20 times in 2021, but only utilized PTA once on October 12, 2021.
“That the 1st 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 October 13, 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”, he averred.