Tue. Jan 26th, 2021

Court orders Access Bank to pay N5m to customer; declares PND order illegal

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A Lagos high court has ordered Access Bank to pay the sum of N5
million to its customers, Blaid Construction Limited and Blaid
Properties, for breach of bank-customer relationship.

The court also declared that a post-no-debit alert action by the bank
and continued denial of the customers’ rights to access and operate
their accounts since 2015 were unlawful, illegal and void except
within the periods between July and September, 2016.

In a judgement dated August 13, Justice I.O Harrison of the Lagos high
court noted that the judgement was delivered outside of the 90-day
period prescribed by the 1999 constitution due to the COVID-19
pandemic.

She added, however, that the court is well aware of the facts of the
case and submission of the counsels.

Details of the judgement, obtained, showed that the suit was
instituted against the defendant, Access Bank, in May 2017.

The claimants’ statement of claim include a declaration that the post
no debit alert and continued denial of the claimants’ right to access
or operate their bank accounts is illegal and unlawful; an order
directing the defendant to immediately remove and take down the post
no debit alert placed on the account; N500 million damages for breach
of bank-customer relationship; and costs of the actions.

The court said the defendant filed its defence submission in June 2016
while the claimants filed a series of documents, including cheques,
solicitors’ letters, among others.

Details showed that the defendant opened its case on October 22, 2019,
by calling its sole witness, Olugbenga Kutemi, the zonal head business
banking division of the bank. He adopted his statement on oath dated
June 11th, 2019 and tendered two documents out of the six documents
mentioned.

The court said that the post-no-debit alert placed on the claimants’
accounts was removed by the bank in December 2017.

The case was closed on January 14, 2020.

The claimants (Blaid) claimed that the bank was obligated to allow
unrestrained access to its accounts, alleging that the bank’s action
made it suffer. Within the period, the claimants said their accounts
terribly diminished in value and lost “over forty percent of its
purchasing power.”

In its judgement, the court said the bank “unilaterally restrained”
about seven accounts belonging to the claimants and placed
post-no-debit alert on the accounts in September 2015 even though a
letter by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences
Commission (ICPC) letter only referred to two accounts.

The court noted also that the ICPC did not obtain any order from a
competent court authorizing the PND order, contrary to a prevailing
law. Similarly, while the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission
obtained a valid order from a court, the order was to lapse three
months.

“Thus, from 30/9/2016 till the PND was lifted,” the court said, the
claimants accounts were frozen without any court order.

The court noted further that when ICPC instructed the bank to lift the
PND order, it failed to comply and a warrant of arrest was issued
against the bank and its managing director.

In its defense submissions, the bank noted that in obedience to the
letter from ICPC, it was in the process of lifting the PND when
another letter dated 9/11/17 from the special presidential
investigation panel for the recovery of public property instructed
them to place PND on the accounts and they were confused and had to
seek the directive of the federal attorney general over the
conflicting directives.

But, the court, in its judgement, found that the bank is in breach of
its banker-customer relationship.

The customer has equally suffered loss that does not require specific
evidence, the judge added.

The court, thereafter, ordered the bank to pay N5 million to Blaid
Construction Limited and Blaid Properties, adding that the PND order
was illegal and unconstitutional.

It remains unclear whether the bank will appeal the judgement as of
press time Monday afternoon.

Efforts to reach the bank between Sunday night and Monday morning were
unsuccessful.

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