Nigerian Court Ends Freeze on Accounts Linked to Protests

A Nigerian court ordered an end to blocks placed on 20 bank accounts linked to protests against police brutality that rocked Africa’s most populous country in October.

The order, which was granted to the central bank and expired on Feb. 4, was vacated by the Federal High Court on Wednesday, Femi Falana, a lawyer representing most of the account holders, said by telephone from the nation’s capital, Abuja.

A federal judge in November allowed the Central Bank of Nigeria to direct six commercial banks to freeze the accounts for 90 days pending an investigation into potential terrorism financing offenses. The 19 individuals and one company impacted were prominently involved in the largely leaderless demonstrations that began in October and swept through Africa’s most populous nation for several weeks.

The central bank’s restrictions were baseless, according to Falana. “Three months ago, you said you needed the court to order an investigation, that these guys were involved in money laundering and terrorism, but no investigation was carried out,” he said.

A spokesman for the CBN declined a request for comment.

The protests popularized by the #EndSARS hashtag on Twitter gained global attention before they were put down violently by the security forces. The government claims the initially peaceful activities degenerated into rioting and looting.

The CBN should “pay restitution for the defamation, deprivation, humiliation and the trauma of responsible citizens,” Adewunmi Emoruwa, the lead strategist for Gatefield Nigeria Ltd., an Abuja-based public affairs company that issued financial grants to help independent journalists cover the protests. For that, the company’s bank account was also blocked, Emoruwa said.

Gatefield filed a lawsuit against Access Bank Plc, the lender that froze the company’s account, in late October and now intends to file another against the CBN, according to Emoruwa.

The financial institutions instructed to suspend transactions on clients’ accounts were Access Bank, Zenith Bank Plc, Guaranty Trust Bank Plc, United Bank for Africa Plc, Fidelity Bank Plc and First Bank of Nigeria Ltd. Some of the accounts were frozen before the central bank sought legal authorization for the restrictions on Oct. 20, the holders said.

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