Unfreezing a bank account in Nigeria arises where the bank account of a customer has been frozen or put on hold by the bank. When a bank account is frozen, the customer is unable to access their bank account balance or make any payment from the account.
The bank can freeze a bank account for various reasons ranging from customers’ requests for the account to be frozen to prevent fraud or by order of the Court served on a bank through a law enforcement agency. This brief write-up will focus on freezing of an account based on the order of the Court, and how such an account may be unfrozen where the order ought not to have been granted.
Freezing a Bank Account with the Court Order
This reason is one of the critical and popular reasons for a bank account to be frozen. Banks are obligated to act as instructed when issued an instruction to freeze an account under a Court Order through the Police, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) or other law enforcement agencies on the basis that the account is under investigation. In some circumstances, such orders may restrict the bank from informing the customer involved when such an account is frozen.
According to the section 34(1) of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (Establishment) Act LFN 2004, the Chairman of the EFCC or any officer authorized by him may through an ex-parte application made to the Court apply for the power to instruct a bank to freeze any bank account if he is satisfied that the money in anyone account is made through the commission of an offense.
In some cases where any law enforcement agency has frozen someone’s bank account and filed charges against the account holder in any court, such a customer may not be able to unfreeze such an account until the trial has been concluded.
Under the provisions of Advance Fee Frauds and Other Fraud Related Offences Act and other enactments, the EFCC may ask the Court to permanently forfeit any frozen money to the government where no person claims the money 14 days after the publication of the ex-parte order in a national newspaper, or where any person whose money is in his account cannot justify or explain how he acquired the money legitimately.
However, there are circumstances where the Court granted such an order based on inaccurate information from a security agency. In such an event, the affected account holder may seek the order of the Court vacating the initial order freezing the account.
Setting aside the judgment of the Court
A frozen bank account can be unfrozen by approaching the particular Court granting the order or any court of jurisdiction to set the same order aside and unfreeze the bank account. Therefore, the first step to unfreeze a bank account that has been frozen by order of the Court as a result of suspicion activities is to hire a lawyer to investigate the specific order freezing the account. The law enforcement agencies or banks lack the power to unilaterally freeze a customer’s account based on a pending criminal investigation or commission of a crime without a court order; this was the decision of the Court in the case of Guaranty Trust Bank PLC v Adedamola & Ors 2019 LPELR-37310(CA)
Finally, a frozen account means that the bank customer will not have the right to access to his funds in the account for withdrawal, deposit, and other related transactions until the situation which warranted the freezing of the account is resolved. To unfreeze a bank account frozen on the order of a court, the affected account holder can approach the Court to vacate the order. The Court may unfreeze the Court only if the Judge is satisfied that the order was granted erroneously or as a result of misrepresentation of facts by the law enforcement agency that obtained the initial order freezing the Court.
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