BTA/PTA Saga: Activist, constitutional lawyer Ojukwu Chikaosolu threatens to sue CBN, Zenith bank for alleged freezing of his 18 accounts falsely
Human right activist and constitutional lawyer, Ojukwu Chikaosolu has threatened to sue the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and Zenith Bank PLC for the unlawful freezing of his 18 bank accounts on allegations of defaulting the apex banks’ policy on Personal Travel Allowance/Business Travel Allowance (PTA/BTA).
Mr Chikaosolu issued the threat in separate letters to both banks in reaction to the March 14th ruling of the Federal High Court Abuja division which directed the freezing of the bank accounts linked to his Bank Verification Number (BVN).
The lawyer’s bank accounts and that of 212 others were frozen after the CBN got an interim order from the Abuja court to freeze the purported bank accounts to enable it to conduct investigations into suspicious activities.
The order follows an ex parte motion, dated, and filed on March 2nd, seeking the mandatory order of the court to direct a commercial bank, to freeze all transactions on the listed accounts and all other bank accounts of the defendants for 180 days pending the outcome of investigation and inquiry currently being conducted by the CBN.
According to court documents sighted by Our Reporter, the suspended bank accounts are of people involved in shady purchase of PTA/BTA.
Zenith Bank false allegation
However, in his letter to the Group Managing Director of Zenith Bank PLC Lagos Branch dated 6th April 2022, Mr Chikaosolu, an anti-corruption campaigner condemned the freezing of his accounts accusing Zenith bank of falsely reporting to the CBN that he allegedly obtained PTA without travelling.
“As I initially suspected, I have now been able to confirm that the freezing of my accounts was predicated on a report forwarded by Zenith Bank to CBN, wherein the bank falsely alleged that I obtained PTA without travelling.
This false report amounts to a gross dereliction of duty, irresponsibility, recklessness, and cruel attempt to destroy me and my business”, the letter wrote.
The activist said he travelled out of the country more than 20 times last year but only utilized the PTA once, on October 12, 2021, at Zenith bank Maitama branch, Abuja.
“The bank requested me to fill forms, verified my passport, visa, travel documents and took my fingerprint to verify my BVN. The bank also documented my savings account and thereafter issued me with the $4, 000 PTA and stamped my passport”, he said.
Mr Chikaosolu said he travelled the next day to the U.S from Lagos aboard Delta line. He stated that a check with the Nigeria Immigration Service and or with the airlines would reveal his travel details.
“In the light of Zenith bank’s false report to CBN, all my 18 accounts from which I cater to my business, transactions, legal cases, and other needs have been frozen. My practice as a legal practitioner has been asphyxiated and all other businesses rendered comatose.
“This act of extreme dereliction of duty has impacted my ability to pay staff salaries and to effectively prosecute several matters in court”, the lawyer wrote.
The constitutional law expert demanded Zenith bank to within 48 hours of receiving his letter avail him a copy of the report it sent to the CBN upon which his accounts were frozen.
He also demanded immediate resignation or stiff disciplinary action meted against Zenith bank staff involved in falsely reporting him to the CBN.
Mr Chikaosolu threatened to take legal action against the bank and shall seek damages of N300 million for “the embarrassment, loss of business, trauma and damage suffered as a result of your ill-advised actions”.
Threat of legal action against CBN
In another letter to the CBN governor dated 30th March, Mr Chikaosolu described the freezing of his accounts as a complete abuse of powers conferred on the apex bank pursuant to section 97(1) of BOFIA 2020.
“As the external counsel to the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU), I simply understand that the CBN without due investigation or any basis whatsoever searched all my accounts using my BVN to freeze every account I have in Nigeria for the purpose of investigating a purported non-refund or utilization of PTA”, the letter read.
The lawyer demanded that within three days from service of this letter that the bank unconditionally vacate the orders freezing his account and “tender unreserved apology to me.”
“In the event, the bank fails to yield to my demand, I shall proceed against them for this tortious, malicious and politically motivated action”, he wrote.
In July 2021, the Central Bank of Nigeria stopped selling forex to Bureau De Change operators and asked legitimate travellers to approach the banks to access cheap forex.
Nigerians travelling abroad can access a maximum amount of $4,000 foreign exchange from the banks following the CBN announcement for their Personal Travel Allowance and or Business Travel Allowance.
The idea is to sell the $4, 000 at the forex rate of N420 instead of the commercial rate of N570 to travelers who genuinely need the foreign exchange.
The apex bank said it had increased the amount of foreign exchange allocated to banks to meet legitimate needs.
But since the announcement, money deposit banks across the country have been inundated with fake demands for PTA and BTA, findings have revealed.
More customers have been deceiving the banks with fake documents to obtain the forex at cheaper rates and prevented genuine travellers from gaining access to forex.
They carry out this fraudulent act in connivance with bank staff, investigations revealed.
Last September, the CBN launched a campaign against those fraudulently obtaining the Foreign Exchange by first, directing all banks in the country to publish the names and BVNs of customers who engage in the unscrupulous practices on their websites.
After securing an order from the Abuja high court, the apex bank began mandating commercial banks to freeze accounts of violators.
But because the CBN and many commercial banks carry out very little investigation in ensuring that accounts being frozen were complicit in the fraudulent act, some genuine travelers such as Mr Chikaosolu have become victims of the court order secured by the apex bank.
An extensive and independent review of the lawyer’s travel documents including stamps on his international passport, airline tickets and official immigration stamps shows that he travelled on the 13th of October 2021 as written in his letters to both the CBN and Zenith bank.
Repeated calls and text messages seeking clarification and response to the demands of Mr Chikaosulu in his letters were not returned or responded to by Osita Nwanisobi, CBN’s spokesperson as at press time.
Also, calls to the public lines of Zenith bank were not picked.
Meanwhile, speaking to journalists, Mr Chikaosolu described as a violation of the constitution, the actions of the CBN to freeze accounts of genuine travelers while going against fraudsters.
“This is an indication that the CBN has failed”, he said. “Instead of delivering on economic and monetary policies, they are busy blocking accounts of innocent Nigerians for traveling with BTA.”
“The freezing of my account is an offshoot of the corrupt act of the National Assembly known as BOFCA, which allows CBN to give away banks’ monies to their friends and cronies”, he said.
The lawyer vowed to challenge the CBN and Zenith bank in court over what he described as an unlawful action against him.