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SERAP, BudgIT, 136 Nigerians drag CBN to court over cybersecurity levy

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In a significant legal challenge, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), BudgIT, and 136 concerned Nigerians, have filed a lawsuit against the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) over the introduction of 0.5% cybersecurity levy on some bank transactions.

The lawsuit contests a recent CBN directive that mandates all banks and financial institutions to implement a ‘cybersecurity levy’ of 0.5% on all electronic transactions.

The directive, which was issued on May 6, 2024, has been labelled as”patently unlawful” by the plaintiffs.

According to Kolawole Oluwadare, Deputy Director of SERAP, the circular demands that banks deduct the levy from customers’ accounts and remit it to the National Cybersecurity Fund, a move they argued exceeds the CBN’s legal powers.

Filed at the Federal High Court, Lagos, and marked Suit No. FHC/L/CS/822/2024), the legal action seeks judicial clarification on whether the CBN’s order conflicts with the Nigerian Constitution and the Cybercrimes Act, 2015 [as amended]. Specifically, the plaintiffs challenge the compatibility of the levy with sections 14(2), 44(1), and 162(1) of the Nigerian Constitution, asserting that the directive should be deemed unconstitutional, null, and void.

“The CBN Circular is unlawful and an outright violation of the provisions of the Nigerian Constitution and the country’s international obligations,” stated Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, SAN, who represents the plaintiffs.

The group has also requested an interim injunction to prevent the CBN from enforcing the directive until the court makes a final decision.

“Unless the reliefs sought are granted, the CBN will enforce its Circular directing banks to deduct from customers’ accounts a cybersecurity levy. Millions of Nigerians with active bank accounts would suffer irreparable damage from the unlawful deduction of cybersecurity levies from their accounts,” the lawsuit reads.

Furthermore, the plaintiffs argued that the provisions of the Cybercrimes Act concerning the payment of cybersecurity levies apply exclusively to businesses listed in the Second Schedule to the Act, and do not extend to bank customers as the CBN circular suggests.

“The CBN Circular is also a blatant violation of Nigerians’ human rights including the right to property guaranteed under section 44 of the Nigerian Constitution and article 14 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights to which Nigeria is a state party,” the legal document added.

The court is yet to fix a date for the hearing of the suit, but the outcome could have significant implications for financial transactions and cybersecurity policy in Nigeria.

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