Court strips ICPC’s power to freeze bank account without valid court order

By Editor, Judiciary.

A Federal High Court sitting in Ikoyi, Lagos last week set a precedent when it said that the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) does not possess any legal authority under the Act establishing it, to place a Post No Debit (PND) on any bank account domiciled in a commercial bank without a valid court order.

This was the conclusion reached by Justice Peter Lifu while delivering the judgment in a suit filed by a firm, Efoba Construction and Engineering Services Limited against the ICPC and Zenith Bank Plc.

The judge held that restricting the firm’s access to Account No: 1011301207 without a court order amounted to gross and brazen violation of the Applicant’s Fundamental Right to own, acquire and possess property.

The court further awarded cost of N50, 000 against the ICPC and Zenith.

The court arrived at its verdict after the plaintiff’s counsel, Mr. Victor Opara, SAN in his argument swayed the court with a plethora of authorities to support the suit he filed against ICPC and Zenith Bank on behalf of his client in suit number FHC L/CS/1796/2020, for placing a lien on his client’s bank account without a valid court order.

The plaintiff had in the suit prayed the court for a declaration that the compulsory taking over possession/forfeiture of its right over its bank account maintained with the Zenith Bank without any extant order of court violated its Fundamental Right

It also prayed the court to set aside the purported compulsory acquisition of monies vested in the applicant and deposited with the 2nd respondent.

However, Zenith Bank in its 18-paragraphs counter-affidavit deposed to by Eyituoyo Prosper Mogbeyi, informed the court that it only acted on ICPC’s directives.

Delivering Judgment in the suit, Justice Lifu held: “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 1st 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 the 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, the Bank, a punitive damage of N5million was awarded against the respondents severally and jointly in favour of the applicant.