From Godwin Tsa, Abuja
A Federal High Court sitting in Abuja has ordered the Nigerian Customs Service Board and the Nigerian Customs Service to pay Constitutional Lawyer, Chikaosolu Ojukwu, the sum of N5 million as damages, over the unlawful detention and seizure of his personal effects.
In a fundamental rights enforcement suit, Ojukwu told the court that his rights were violated by the men of the Customs Service, under the guise of collecting import duties and other levies for his four iPhone 13 Pro phones.
The court, in a landmark judgement, also held that Nigerians who have not been outside the country for, at least, nine months are not required, by law, to pay import duties on their personal effects not meant for sale, exchange or barter.
In his judgment, Justice Ahmad Mohammed held that the plaintiff’s case was unchallenged and ought to be deemed admitted, as the affidavit evidence of the first and second defendants amounted to hearsay evidence, having not been given by a person who witnessed the transaction. The court acknowledged that the plaintiff proved his case against the first and second defendants through the documentary evidence placed before the court, such as the debit alert receipt and bank statements.
Consequently, the court held that the Plaintiff had proved his case against the Nigerian Customs Service and, therefore, granted reliefs 1, 2, 3 ,4, 5 and 6 in the plaintiff’s originating summons.
Importantly, the court also held that it was satisfied that Ojukwu’s four IPhone 13 pro phones were personal effects which are exempted from the payment of import duties, being items not meant for sale, exchange or barter.
Justice Mohammed opined that the plaintiff and, indeed, every Nigerian is not liable to pay import duty, value added tax and other levies to the defendants in respect of such personal effects, in view of the provisions of Section 8 of the Customs, Excise Tariff, etc (Consolidation) Act and paragraph 7 of the Second Schedule to the Act and awarded damages against the first and second defendants for their actions.
Justice Mohammed said: “I am of the firm view that the seized items are the personal effects of the plaintiff and not for sale and barter, and ought not to be paid duty on. I award the sum of N5 million against the first and second defendants.”
The court further ordered the Nigerian Customs Service to release the four IPhone 13 pro that were seized from Ojukwu and to refund the total sum of N404,417 being the import duty, value added tax (VAT) and other levies which were unlawfully collected from the plaintiff.
The court, however, exonerated the third defendant (a commercial bank) in the suit as not culpable, having been a mere tool through which the VAT was paid.
Reacting to the judgment, Ojukwu commended the judge for his sound and courageous judgment, noting that “during the pendency of this suit, I have been harassed and intimidated all in the bid to make me drop the suit, but I remained undaunted and committed in my quest for justice.
The suit is not aimed at anybody, but geared towards the respect for the fundamental human rights of all Nigerians.”