Top Nigerian bank sued for blocking protest-linked accounts

Access Bank Plc, Nigeria’s biggest lender, is accused of illegally blocking an account used to promote media coverage of protests against police brutality that recently swept Africa’s most populous country.

Gatefield Nigeria Ltd., a public affairs company, filed a case against Access Bank in a federal court in Abuja, the capital, on October 28, accusing the lender of “unilaterally restricting” its account and demanding of N100 million ($262,000), according to court documents.

The account was used to raise funds to support independent Nigerian journalists that covered nationwide demonstrations that lasted almost three weeks, according to the firm.

“As more people contributed to our efforts, we noticed that we could no longer conduct transactions on the dedicated account we used for this particular activity,” Adewunmi Emoruwa, the lead strategist for Abuja-based Gatefield, said Tuesday by phone.

The lawsuit will test whether blocking Gatefield’s account without a court order was unlawful.

There were other allegations by individuals and organizations on social media that their accounts were restricted during the protests for apparently similar reasons.

“A successful challenge at the court could make the difference for others who were likewise targeted,” Emoruwa said.

Gatefield was told by Access Bank that it was directed by the Central Bank of Nigeria to put restrictions on the account, implemented on October 15, Emoruwa said. A spokesman for Access Bank said the lender doesn’t comment on its customers to third parties.

A spokesman for the central bank didn’t respond to emails and calls seeking comment.

More than 70 people, including at least 22 policeman and soldiers, died as the initially peaceful protests against the excesses of the police’s Special Anti-Robbery Squad, or SARS, degenerated into days of rioting and looting across most of the country of more than 200 million people.

Security forces killed at least 10 people when they opened fire on peaceful protesters gathered in Lagos on Oct. 20, according to human rights group, Amnesty International.

The Nigerian army has denied the allegation.

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