Court Bars Collection of Import Duties on Non-commercial Goods, Others

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Peter Uzoho

The Federal High Court sitting in Abuja has ordered the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) to desist from collecting import duties or related charges from anyone in respect of goods or personal effects in a passenger’s bag not meant for sale, barter or exchange, describing such charges as unlawful.

The Chief Judge of the Abuja Federal Court, Justice JT Tsoho, gave the order while delivering judgment in a case between Mr. Kehinde Ogunwumiju (SAN) v. Nigerian Customs Service Board & Anor in Suit No: FHC/ABJ/CS/1113/2019.

The Plaintiff, Ogunwumiju, via his counsel, Tunde Ahmed Adejumo, had approached the court via an Originating Summons primarily seeking a declaration that in view of 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, it was unlawful for officers of the Nigeria Customs Service to have demanded and collected import duty and other related charges from the Plaintiff in respect of his personal effect (A Louis Vuitton Lap Top Bag) found in his baggage following a search by the officers of the Nigeria Customs Service upon his arrival at the Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport, Abuja on June 24, 2019.

However, the Court in its judgment having analysed 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, ruled that goods contained in a passenger’s baggage provided that the said goods were not intended for sale, barter or exchange; as well as personal household effects were exempted from import duty and other related charges:

The court found that based on the state of the evidence before it, the Plaintiff had established that the Louis Vuitton Lap Top Bag found in his baggage by the officers of the Nigeria Customs Service was his personal effect and meant for his personal use.

The Court also found that before the defendants could lawfully demand and collect import duty and other related charges in respect of the said Louis Vuitton Lap Top Bag found in the Plaintiff’s baggage, the defendants had to establish via cogent and credible evidence that the said bag was meant for sale, exchange or barter.

According to the court, the defendants having failed to establish via evidence that the said bag found in the plaintiff’s baggage was meant for sale, exchange or barter, there was no legal basis upon which the officers of the Nigeria Customs Service demanded and collected import duty and other related charges from the plaintiff in respect of the said bag.

The court upon finding out that the decision and action of the Nigeria Customs Service to demand and collect from the plaintiff import duty and other related charges in respect of his personal effect was unlawful, null and void consequently ordered the defendants to refund the sum of N156, 955. 20k import duty and other related charges to the plaintiff and also to pay to the plaintiff the sum of N5 million as exemplary damages.

According to the Abuja Federal High Court, “it is now unlawful for officers of the Nigeria Customs Service to demand and collect import duty and other related charges from anyone in respect of goods/personal effects found in their baggage provided that the said goods/personal effects are not meant for sale, barter or exchange.

“In other words, the only instance in which officers of the Nigeria Customs Service can lawfully demand and collect import duty from anyone in respect of goods/personal effects found in their baggage is where it can be established that the said goods/personal effects are meant for sale, barter or exchange”.