Many people are pushing a narrative that Nigerians should boycott Access Bank. The question is this: What can Access Bank Plc do? The government asked it to freeze bank accounts of leaders of ENDSARS protests, and as a law-abiding institution, it went ahead to execute the notice.
I had noted that Access Bank did not read the signals very well: it ought to have known that doing what the government wanted would create a public relations nightmare since the notice could be construed as being defective. Yes, if peaceful protest is enshrined in the constitution as a right, freezing accounts of participants may not be legal, even if the protest degenerated into acts of vandalism, outside the controls of the original planners.
The bank had put a statement: “It is common knowledge that we and the entire banking industry are regulated entities and therefore operates under the authority of our regulators and law enforcement agencies. As such we are compelled to with regulatory directives.”.
Nigerians are calling for a boycott of Access Bank as a punishment against it for freezing the accounts of people linked to the recent #EndSARS protests across the country.
The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) recently obtained an order from a Federal High Court in Abuja to freeze 20 of such accounts in Access Bank, Fidelity Bank, First Bank Nigeria, Guaranty Trust Bank, United Bank of Africa, and Zenith Bank.
Some people are accusing Access Bank of freezing the accounts before the order which is being challenged in court. PREMIUM TIMES has obtained no such evidence.
Some Nigerians on Twitter said Stanbic IBTC rejected a similar order from CBN. PREMIUM TIMES could not verify this claim, as of the time of filing this report.
I call on people not to harm the bank – that is not necessary. What needs to happen is that Access Bank has to deepen its PR strategy. What the bank could have done was simple: immediately it received the list from the Central Bank of Nigeria, it ought to have challenged it in a Nigerian court knowing that a judge would deny its prayers. Magically, by doing that, it could then argue that it was obeying a legal court order, different from a unit of the government. I am nearly confident that some banks went through that path, immunizing themselves from the public high voltage searchlights. The whole process can happen within 3 hours!
The problem here is the notion that the government can ask a bank to freeze an account of a customer, and the bank does it outside of any legal basis. It is time our banks learn to challenge even the central bank, just as Apple takes America’s CIA and FBI to courts, on cases where the tech giant knows it is on solid grounds.
Those calling for boycott should STOP. The bank’s N50 billion BOOST is a sign that it cares.
So, the news that Access Bank has earmarked N50 billion to support Nigerians through interest-free loans and grants to communities, young people, and SMEs (micro, small and medium-sized businesses) is commendable. Herbert Wigwe continues to lead; he won my person of the year a few years go.