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BVN victims relieved as Judge reverses forfeiture ruling, blocks withdrawal

Relief is underway for millions of bank account holders’ especially rural dwellers and Nigerians in Diaspora as the federal High Court judge who had earlier granted an order for account forfeiture based on no availability of Bank Verification Number (BVN), has reversed self.

Justice Nnamdi Dimgba, presiding at the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court, said he later learnt that his October 17 order created an “awkward and unfortunate result.”

“Having listened to all counsel on record, and with the consent of all parties represented, I hereby revise Relief 4 of the court’s order of October 17, 2017 such that the new Relief 4 shall be: ‘An interim order of the honourable court stopping all outward payments, operations or outward transactions (including any bill of exchange) in respect of the accounts pending the linking of the accounts to a Bank Verification Number”.

The BVN is a unique identification number that can be verified and used to transact business across all the banking platforms in Nigeria.

The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) imposed the policy to capture customers’ data for financial transactions and check fraud in the banking system.

Registration for BVNs commenced on February 14, 2014, across the country. The CBN said over 20.8 million customers’ enrolled 40 million bank accounts before the October 31, 2015, final deadline for customers residing in the country.

The CBN extended the deadline for Nigerians in the Diaspora to December 2016 to sign up for the BVN system. But hundreds of thousands home and abroad are still believed to be left behind.

At the resumed hearing on the matter last week, Justice Dimgba ruled that “In view of the above-agreed compromise revision of Relief 4, I also hereby revoke and set aside Relief 5 of the court’s order of October 17, 2017, which provides for: “An interim order of forfeiture of the monies in the said accounts without BVN to the Claimants/Applicants being accounts with insufficient Know Your Customer guidelines contrary to Section 3 of the Money Laundering Act, 2011 and CBN guidelines the determination of the originating motion on notice,” the judge added.

Legal authorities say the reversal means that those who have not linked their bank accounts will now be able to do so at their convenient time. But customers won’t be able to withdraw funds from unlinked accounts, but will be able to do so immediately they link their account.

This marks a departure from an earlier order that gave a 14-day period within which unlinked customers must link the account or forfeit all funds in their accounts.

Justice Dimgba granted the controversial orders while ruling on an ex-parte motion filed by Attorney-General, Abubakar Malami.

Malami had argued under the Money Laundering Act 2011 that bank accounts not linked to BVNs were suspicious and sought absolute forfeiture of all funds trapped therein.

The court authorised up to nine reliefs as sought by Mr. Malami through the ex-parte motion, drawing criticism from Nigerians who said the move was hasty and illegal.

The Justice averred that the most critical aspects of the orders were granted in error.

All the 19 deposit money banks in the country were defendants in the lawsuit, and the CBN was joined as the 20th respondent to compel it to oversee regulatory issues and enforce the orders.

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