Alex Enumah in Abuja
A Federal High Court in Asaba on Wednesday declared as unlawful, illegal, null and void the deduction of the sum of N50 as Stamp Duty charges from the accounts of commercial bank customers in the country.
The court in addition made an order restraining the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and banks from making further deductions unless authorised by law.
Justice Nnamdi Dimgba made the declaration in a judgment he delivered in a suit filed by a bank customer, Mr. Rupert Irikefe, challenging the continued deduction of Stamp Duty charges from his current bank account domiciled with Zenith Bank in Asaba, Delta State.
Irikefe had in 2019 instituted a legal action against the CBN, Zenith Bank PLC and the Attorney General of the Federation as 1st, 2nd and 3rd defendants respectively over the continued deduction of Stamp Duty charges from his current account in Zenith, despite a subsisting court order preventing banks in the country from making such charges.
In the suit he filed and argued by himself, Irikefe prayed the court to hold the CBN and Zenith Bank liable for acting in flagrant disobedience of a valid could order.
According to the plaintiff upon noticing several deductions of N50 and N100 from his bank account with the 2nd defendant being Stamp Duty charges, he had paid two visits to the bank branch in Asaba on September 14, 2018 and October 11, 2018 and told them their action contravened the judgment of the competent courts in the country including the Court of Appeal.
He lamented that rather than refund the monies so far collected the 2nd defendant continued to make further deductions on claims that they were following lawful directives of the first defendant.
Among the reliefs plaintiff sought before the court are whether by the decision of the Court of Appeal in appeal number : CA/L/437A/2014 between Standard Chartered Bank Nigeria limited versus Kasmil International Services Limited and 22 others delivered on April 21, 2016 and suit number: FHC/L/CS/126/2016 between Retail Supermarket Nigeria Limited versus Citibank Nigeria Limited and the CBN delivered on March 13, 2017 which found that “there was no express provision in the Stamp Duty Act or any law authorising the deduction or imposing any obligation to deduct or remit N50 as Stamp Duty on tellers, deposits or electronic transfers of monies from N1000 upwards and accordingly nullified same, the conduct of the 1st defendant and 2nd defendant by continuing to impose, direct the imposition, receive and or charge, deduct or remit the said sum of N50 as Stamp Duty…. from the account of the plaintiff is not wrong in law, dismissive and contemptuous of the law, orders of superior courts of competent jurisdiction, condemnable, null and void and of no effect.
He further asked the court to hold that the conduct of the first and second defendants to continue to make deduction in the name of Stamp Duty despite the subsistence and or awareness or the court of Appeal judgment is arbitrary, unlawful, illegal etc.
He accordingly prayed the court to make “ an order setting aside the imposition, deduction and or remittance or Stamp Duty charges.
“An order directing or mandating the first and second defendants to refund to the plaintiff the total cumulative sum illegally deducted from the commencement of deductions on January 31, 2016 to the date of filing the suit”.
Plaintiff also prayed for the sum of N50 million as general damages and another N50 million as exemplary damages.
“An order of injunction restraining the defendants from further deducting the sum of N50 Stamp Duty on teller’s deposits and or electronic transfers on Money transaction… unless authorised by law”.
Delivering judgment, Justice Dimgba who noted that the first defendant “acted in bad faith”, said, “I have never ceased to wonder, the practice that is very much exacerbated in current climes, where agencies of the government treat decisions of Court of law with disdain and to carry on as if those decisions were not in existence”.
The judge also noted that the second defendant willingly disobey the judgment of court when it acted recklessly and at its own peril to continue to deduct Stamp Duty charges from the plaintiff’s account in the face of clear and binding judicial decisions arising from judicial proceedings which the second defendant itself participated.
“All things considered, it is trite that a judgment not appealed against or set aside by a higher court is valid, subsisting and binding on all parties”.
While upholding the argument of the plaintiff, Justice Dimgba further held that the defendants did not place before the court any judgment or order of superior courts overriding the ones plaintiff anchored his case on.
He further held that the defendants failed to present to the court any amendment to the Stamp Duty Act empowering them to continue to make the deductions.
“In the absence of the above, it is irresistible to say that the suit has merit and should succeed.
“I hereby resolve the questions posed in the Originating Summons in favour of plaintiff.
“I enter judgment in favour of plaintiff on the following terms. Reliefs 1,2,3,4,5 and 8 are hereby granted.
“Relief 6 is refused. 7 is granted but limited to the sum of N2 million.
“Cost of N500,000 in favour of plaintiff jointly and severally”.
The judge added that, “This relief is granted to set an example that it is reprehensible conduct to willfully disobey decisions of competent court of law”.