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Magistrates, IG Have No Powers To Freeze Bank Accounts, Court Rules

A Federal High Court in Abuja has ruled that magistrate courts do not have the powers to issue orders freezing bank accounts.

Delivering judgment in a suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/1635/2019, Justice Inyang Ekwo also declared that banks should not act on “bankers order” served on them by the police to freeze or place a post-no-debit on personal accounts.

Five children of one late Edward Akponovwe Esiso had taken their brother, Yoma Esiso, four banks, the Inspector-General of Police (IG) and the Commissioner of Police in charge of the IG Monitoring Unit to court for freezing their bank accounts in 2019.

The plaintiffs — Eunice Oddiri, Beauty Ogbodu, Sunny Esiso, Edirin Esiso, and Emuobosa Consin — said in September 2019, one of the landed properties of their late father situated in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, was sold and the proceeds shared among them, including Yoma.

According to them, they were later arrested and detained after Yoma petitioned the police.

Upon their release, the plaintiffs said they realised that their accounts were frozen following authorisation by the office of the IG and the Commissioner of the Police in charge of the IG monitoring unit.

The banks in their defence said the letters from the IG office were accompanied with a document called a “bankers order” from a magistrate court, ordering the freezing of the accounts.

The banks are Zenith Bank Plc, Stanbic IBTC Bank, GuarantyTrust Bank and First Bank Plc.

Only GTBank filed processes in response to the suit.

In the judgment, Ekwo held that there was no existing Nigerian law or relevant foreign law empowering magistrates to make such an order for the freezing of personal accounts.

“The bankers’ order/order freezing and/or enabling the post-no-debit cannot be validly issued pursuant to a non-existent/repealed Bankers Order Act 1847 and any other irrelevant foreign law,” he ruled.

“A magistrate lacks the powers to make bankers orders and/or order freezing or enabling a post no debit on bank accounts pursuant to non-existent/repealed section 7 of the Banker’s Order Act 1847.”

Consequently, the judge ordered the four banks “to unfreeze the accounts of the plaintiffs and desist from further giving effect to the non-existent bankers order served on the prompting of the 5th and 6th defendants (IG and the IG monitoring unit)”.

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