The Federal High Court in Abuja wednesday ordered the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) and its board chairman to pay about N5.5 billion to Maggpiy Trading TFZE for unlawfully seizing 90 containers of rice imported by the company.
Delivering judgment, Justice Nyang Ekwo held that the defendants acted unlawfully and without any justification in law.
He granted all the prayers contained in the company’s suit, including awarding specific and general damages in favour of the plaintiff, and against the 1st and 2nd defendants, in the amount estimated at N3,805,638,950 and $4,796,550.
The naira value of the two sums of money amounts to N5,532,396,950.
The plaintiff had stated in its suit, marked, FHC/CA/CS/40/2017 that, on March 18, 2017, officials of the NCS invaded and sealed its warehouse, containing over 90 containers of rice stored in an air-tight condition, in the Tinapa Free Trade Zone, Calabar.
The plaintiff said after breaking into the warehouse, officials of the NCS stole part of the seized rice.
It added that the officials also detained its 40 trucks, containing 317 transit containers of rice, which were headed for the Tinapa Free Trade Zone, without lawful justification for 120 days along the Onne, Port Harcourt Road.
Justice Ekwo said the NCS and its board chairman failed to supply evidence in support of their allegation that the plaintiff was involved in rice smuggling.
The judge faulted their claim that they acted under the Federal Ministry of Finance Import Guidelines, Procedures and Documentation Requirements under the Destination Inspection Scheme in Nigeria.
Justice Ekwo held that the document relied upon by the defendant was inadmissible and worthless, having not been signed.
He added that there was no provision in the document that made it applicable to Free Trade Zones.
“I have studied the document; I cannot find anywhere it is made applicable to Free Trade Zones, which both parties have agreed, is a country within a country,” the judge ruled.
The judge frowned on the discovery that part of the seized consignments was stolen by officials of the NCS
He said, “Another intriguing part of the defendants’ action, during the course of these proceedings, is the discovery that when stock was taken upon the unsealing of the warehouse by the 1st and 2nd defendants, 19,421 of 50 kg bags and 1,639 of 25 kg of the seized rice consignment had been pilfered by officers of the 1st and 2nd defendants.
“The 1st and 2nd defendants proffered no defence on this issue nor countered the evidence of the plaintiff.
“This, in my opinion, is a brazen act of treating the proceedings before the court with contempt apart from the reprehensible theft that the act of the 1st and 2nd defendants represents.”