Justice Yellim Bogoro of the Federal High Court has awarded N3 Million as damages against the United Bank for Africa (UBA) in a privacy rights case brought by popular columnist, Mr. Azuka Onwuka.

The court also granted another N3 Million against the bank as cost of litigation.

It held that the opening of an account in the name of the columnist and without his consent was a breach of the banker-customer relationship and his right to privacy.

According to court processes obtained by CITY LAWYER, the Lead Counsel to the plaintiff, Mr. Chijioke Okoli SAN had prayed the court for “A DECLARATION that the Respondent’s unilateral opening of a current account number 1003293912 for and in the name of the Applicant and purportedly operating same for him notwithstanding the absence of any consent constitute violations of his data privacy which is an aspect of the fundamental right to privacy enshrined and protected under section 37 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”

He also urged as follows: “A DECLARATION that the Respondent’s abuse of its position as a financial institution patronized by the Applicant through the imposition upon him of a second current account by which account it unlawfully assumed the position of a tribunal and forcibly debited and extorted payment from him of his money constitutes gross violations of fundamental right to fair hearing and property inherent in the expropriated money and contrary to sections 36 and 44(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and article 14 African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights;

“AN ORDER for immediate the payment of the sum of N100,000,000:00 (One Hundred Million Naira) as general/exemplary damages by the Respondent to the Applicant;

“AN ORDER for the immediate payment of the sum of N5,000,000:00 (Five Million Naira) by the Respondent to the Applicant as cost of the action;

“AN ORDER for the tender of written unreserved apology by the Respondent to the Applicant for the humiliation, grief and annoyance it caused him in the circumstances of this case.”

Onwuka, who had an account with the UBA Plc for over 20 years, had approached the bank to know the status of the account, given that he was discussing a consultancy contract with a foreign bank and sought to forestall to any negative report.

UBA however informed him that the account had become dormant, adding that he had a debit of N50,000 on another account opened in his name but without his approval. He was also informed that his name had been submitted to the Credit Bureau of the CBN as a debtor.

CITY LAWYER gathered that the bank refused to give Onwuka any certificate of non-indebtedness unless he settled the debit entries on the second account. Also, while the bank received a demand letter from Onwuka’s lawyers in September 2022 and responded by its letter of October 2022 to plead for time to look into the matter, it did not provide the plaintiff with any other feedback. His complaints to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) also met a brick wall.

Though the bank vigorously fought the lawsuit through multiple applications filed by its lawyer, the court held that the action of the bank was a breach of the provisions of the fundamental right to privacy as secured by section 37 of the 1999 Constitution.

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