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ICPC Can’t Freeze Bank Accounts Without Valid Order, Court Says

federal high court sitting in Lagos has ruled that a ‘Post No Debit’ cannot be placed on a bank account by the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission without a valid court order.
The order was made by Justice Peter Lifu while delivering judgment in a suit filed by a firm, Efoba Construction and Engineering Services Limited, against the ICPC and Zenith Bank Plc.

The arguments of the plaintiff’s counsel, Victor Opara (SAN), was upheld that restricting the firm’s access to its bank account without a court order amounted to “a gross and brazen violation of the applicant’s fundamental right to own, acquire and possess property”.

According to The Nation, in the January 25 judgment, the court also awarded cN50, 000 against the ICPC and Zenith Bank.
In a suit numbered FHC L/CS/1796/2020, the plaintiff had through Okpara sued the defendants for placing a lien on its bank account without a valid court order.

It prayed the court for several reliefs against the defendants, including, “A declaration that the compulsory taking possession of/forfeiture, acquisition of its right over or interest in monies vested in its bank account maintained with the second respondent with account No: 1011301207 including but not limited to placing restrictions on the applicant’s bank account without any extant order of court violated its fundamental right.

“An order setting aside the purported compulsory acquisition of monies vested in the applicant and deposited with the second respondent.
“An order directing the first respondent to de-acquire the monies in the applicant’s bank account maintained with the second respondent.”

However, both defendants in their counter-affidavits prayed the court to dismiss the suit against them.
The ICPC in its 21-paragraph counter-affidavit deposed to by Douglas Oditan, prayed the court to dismiss the suit on the ground, among others of want of jurisdiction.

According to the report, Zenith Bank in its 18-paragraphs counter-affidavit deposed to by Eyituoyo Prosper Mogbeyi and filed and argued by it’s lawyer, Ademola Obayomi, informed the court that it only acted on ICPC’s directives.

Delivering judgment in the suit, Justice Lifu held that, “It is hereby declared that the Post No Debit restriction placed on the applicant’s account No:1011301207 by the second respondent on the instruction of the first respondent without a valid court order from a court of competent jurisdiction duly sought and obtained, is a violation of the fundamental right of the applicant guaranteed by Chapter IV of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) on the right to own and possess property. 

“The restriction placed on account No: 1011301207 belonging to the applicant by the second  respondent sequel to the ‘orders’ of the first respondent as contained in a letter dated 7th of October 2019 is hereby set aside forthwith. 
“The second respondent is hereby restrained from further placing any restrictions in whatever manner on the applicant’s accounts domiciled with it except by the direct and express order of a court of competent jurisdiction specifically made for that purpose.

“Considering all the disappointments, denials of access to account and monies legitimately owned by the applicant coupled with the psychological and physical trauma associated or occasioned by such brazen recklessness of the second respondent bank, a punitive damages of N5million, is hereby awarded against the respondents severally and jointly but in favour of the applicant. 

“A cost of N50, 000. is hereby awarded as cost of this action against the respondents.”

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