A civil society organisation, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), has filed a suit against the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) over the bank’s failure to delete “the patently unlawful provisions” in its Customer Due Diligence Regulations “directing banks to obtain information on customers’ social media handles for the purpose of identification”.
This follows a circular the CBN issued last month to banks and other financial institutions mandating them to implement and comply with the mandatory provisions on customers’ social media handles in the CBN Regulations.
Section 6(a)(iv) of the CBN Regulations stipulates that banks and other financial institutions “shall identify their customer and obtain information on the social media handle of the customer”.
But SERAP, in the suit marked FHC/L/CS/1410/2023, which was filed at the Federal High Court in Lagos on Friday on its behalf by its lawyers, Kolawole Oluwadare and Blessing Ogwuche, is seeking, among other things, “an order of mandamus to direct and compel the Central Bank of Nigeria to withdraw its directive dated 20th June, 2023 to banks and other financial institutions to obtain information from customers’ social media handles”.
The organisation is also seeking “an order of mandamus to compel the CBN to delete the unlawful provisions of Section 6 of its Customer Due Diligence Regulations, 2023 for being inconsistent with Section 39 of the Nigerian Constitution 1999 [as amended] and Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights”.
The said Section 39 of the Nigerian Constitution guarantees every citizen the right to freedom of expression, while Section 37 guarantees the right to privacy, SERAP argued.
It is further seeking “an order restraining the CBN from carrying out or giving effect to the unlawful provisions of Section 6 of its Customer Due Diligence Regulations, 2023 directing banks and other financial institutions to obtain information from customers’ social media handles”.
According to SERAP, “The mandatory requirement of social media handles or addresses of customers does not serve any legitimate aim. Such information may be used to unjustifiably or arbitrarily restrict the rights to freedom of expression and privacy.”
It said “obtaining information on customers’ social media handles or addresses as means of identification is more intrusive than necessary”.
The organisation noted that there are other means of identification which banks and other financial institutions already require their customers to provide, including passport, driver’s licence, Bank Verification Number (BVN), and Tax Identification Number (TIN).
“The additional requirement of obtaining details of a customer’s social media handle or address fails to meet the requirements of legality, necessity, and proportionality.
“The facts that there are sufficient means of identification for CBN, banks and other financial institutions to rely on to meet the requirement of Know Your Customer also heighten concerns of overreach, and confer far-reaching discretion on banks and financial institutions,” it argued.
SERAP urged the court to grant the reliefs sought, saying unless they are granted, “the CBN will implement and enforce the unlawful directive in contravention of citizens’ rights to freedom of expression and privacy”.
The court has yet to fix a date for the hearing of the suit.