The Nigerian Customs Service has been fined N5 million exemplary damages and barred from demanding or receiving import duties on personal effects and baggage.
For duties collected on items to be considered legal, the officers of the Nigerian Customs Service must have established that the items are meant for sale, barter or exchange.
A Federal High Court sitting in Abuja Judicial Division, made the ruling while delivering judgment in Kehinde Ogunwumiju, SAN v. Nigerian Customs Service Board & Anor: Suit No: FHC/ABJ/CS/1113/2019.
The case summary as reported by The Nigerian Lawyer recounted that the plaintiff, Kehinde Ogunwumiju, SAN had instituted the case through his counsel, Tunde Ahmed Adejumo, Esq after an unsavoury experience in June 2019.
Officers of the Nigerian Customs Service had found a Louis Vuitton Laptop Bag in his baggage following a search upon his arrival at the Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport, Abuja on the 24th of June, 2019.
They had gone ahead to impose and collect a sum of N156, 955.20k (One Hundred and Fifty-Six Thousand, Nine Hundred and Fifty-Five Naira, Twenty Kobo only) in import duty and other related charges, despite his protests that the item was for personal use.
In his prayers to the court through his counsel, he asked that their actions be declared illegal according to the provisions of Section 8 of the Customs, Excise Tariff, etc. (Consolidation) Act and the 2nd Schedule to the Customs, Excise Tariff, etc.(Consolidation) Act.
The court after examining the details of the case and presentation from both counsels granted his prayers and declared the act illegal. The report of the court judgment reads in part;
“The following goods are exempted from import duty and other related charges; goods contained in a passenger’s baggage provided that the said goods are not intended for sale, barter or exchange; and personal and household effects”.
The court ruled that there was no legal basis upon which the officers of the Nigerian Customs Service demanded and collected import duty and other related charges from the Plaintiff, since they had failed to establish via evidence that the said bag found was meant for sale, exchange or barter.
In addition, the Court found the decision and action of the Defendants null and void and ordered them to pay to the Plaintiff the sum of N5,000,000 (N5 million) as exemplary damages, and also make a refund of the charges collected to the Plaintiff.