Court berates CBN for introducing discriminatory bank charges in six states
A Federal High Court, Awka, Anambra State has faulted the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) for imposing discriminatory bank charges on some categories of cash depositors from N500, 000 and above in six states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
This followed the suit marked FHC/AWK/CS/91/2020 filed by a lawyer, Chijioke Ifediora, challenging the action in which he stated that the charge was ultra vires, illegal and unconstitutional.
The CBN had, through two circulars tagged BPS/DIR/GEN/CIR/04/004 and PSM/DIR/CON/CWO/02/014 published on April 20, 2017 and September 17, 2019 respectively, imposed the charges.
The plaintiff urged the trial judge, Nnamdi Dimgba, to, considering the provisions of sections 1(3), 2(1) and section 42 of the 1999 Constitution, determine whether the said circulars are not discriminatory, ultra vires, unconstitutional and illegal.
According to him, he took the decision to sue the CBN when on January 7, 2020, he went to the Bank at Amawbia, Awka, to make cash lodgment of N600, 000 into his account and was told that he would not be allowed to deposit the money without paying the charge in accordance with the circular PSM/DIR/CON/CWO/02/014.
He consequently urged the court to grant three reliefs and make five declaratory orders on the matter.
The reliefs were that the said circulars are ultra vires, unconstitutional and illegal, and in conflict with section 1(3), section 2(1) and section 42 of the 1999 Constitution.
He also wants the court to declare that the charges emanating from the implementation of the circulars are illegal and unlawful.
The plaintiff prayed the court to order CBN to refund all citizens and corporate bodies operating in Anambra illegally deducted charges by the implementation of the said circulars.
“Refund all citizens and corporate bodies operating in Anambra, Abia, Lagos, Ogun, Kano, Rivers and FCT, who were also unlawfully charged by the implementation of the circulars.
“An order of perpetual injunction restraining the defendant (CBN) from publishing or issuing circulars or implementing similar policies that are discriminatory or in conflict with section 42 of the Constitution.
“Restraining all Financial Institutions and Deposit Money Banks from implementing similar discriminatory policies and lastly, directing the CBN to make a reversal publication of the implementation of the said circulars in five national newspapers, indicating compliance with the decision of court and refund of the unlawful charges,” he prayed.
Counsel for the CBN, Chief Musa Tolani, in his submission, argued that the plaintiff lacked the locus standi to institute the action.
He said that the plaintiff is a meddlesome interloper, since he did not have the authority of all the citizens and corporate institutions residing in Anambra, Abia, Lagos, Ogun, Kano, Rivers and FCT and failed to show how the policy affected him injuriously more than the rest of the residents of the states being sought to be protected.
He added that the policy was introduced to facilitate the implementation of the CBN’s well intentioned and worthy cashless policy for the overall well being of the federation economy.
In his judgment delivered on September 22, 2021, Justice Dimgba agreed with the plaintiff that the policy was discriminatory before its general application across the federation, hence the suit is one challenging the lawfulness of the action of the CBN, which is a Federal Government agency.
The judge stressed that section 252(1)(p) of the Constitution has vested the court with the jurisdiction to the exclusion of any other court to dispose of matters like that.
While Justice Dimgba held that the CBN policy was discriminatory and offended section 42 of the 1999 Constitution, he refused to grant the five consequential orders sought by the plaintiff.
He explained that his refusal to grant the five consequential orders was because it was admitted during oral hearings that the policy is now of nationwide application.