The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has rejected claims it is clamping down on the organisers of October’s anti-police brutality campaign that sparked off the most turbulent social upheaval in the country since its comeback to democracy in 1999.
Nigeria’s apex bank has frozen many bank accounts in the course of its “ongoing investigation” into the actions of 20 private individuals and institutions, who are “alleged to be involved in suspected terrorism financing,” according to its filing at an Abuja-based federal high court.
Human Rights Watch stated in a report that “authorities appear to have used coercive financial measures to suppress protests against police brutality and independent media reporting” while blocking accounts and imposing a fine on the media over its reportage of the #EndSARS protests.
An executive of the apex bank told the Financial Times the CBN was heeding a routine request from the State Security Service, which demanded that accounts be blocked until an investigation was executed.
“We were approached as an agency that has oversight over the financial system to aid in an investigation — it’s that simple,” the bank official said.
“Obviously they are presumed innocent until found guilty but . . . allow people to do their jobs and finish the investigation.”
Activists have alleged the Nigerian government launched a clampdown on organisers of mass protests in Lagos and in other places against the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, a unit of the police force.
The unit has been accused on several occasions of human rights abuse on a large scale, comprising rape, extra-judicial killings, extortion, and torture.
Rinu Oduala, one of the protests’ planners, said “I have been tagged a terrorist . . . a smear to my reputation simply because I spoke out against police brutality.”
Organisers have sued the CBN in the hope of getting their accounts unlocked even though a court decision is not in the offing.
The CBN official dismissed the suggestion that the regulator’s move was politically motivated or that it is acting outside the purview of its powers.
“The (US) federal reserve, the Bank of England and every central bank in the world has the right and the responsibility to freeze an account (at the request of security services doing an investigation) — after all everything about money laundering starts and ends with us,” the official said.