—As Ojukwu Files Committal Proceedings Against Customs Boss
In a shocking move, the Nigerian Customs Service Board and the the Nigerian Customs Service is allegedly spending over N20million to appeal a judgment debt of N5Million awarded to constitutional Lawyer Chikaosolu Ojukwu as damages for his unlawful detention and seizure of his personal effects by men of the service.
The Nigerians Customs Service Board and the Nigerian Customs have so far spent over N20Million on legal fees on the matter having paid N7million at the lower Federal High Court and would be spending over N15million to pursue the appeal.
This is as Ojukwu said”I have filed committal proceedings against the Comptroller General of Customs Col. Hammed Ali for disobedience to court order.I call on Nigerians who are returning to the country to resist any attempt by the customs to extort them under the guise of duty on luxury goods or whatsoever insofar it’s for personal use otherwise personal effect. The judgment and order is clear print them and hold it like a boarding pass.
He pointed out that he has filed form 48 and 49 which is consequences of disobedience to court order and committal proceedings against the Customs Comptroller General for his failure to comply with the subsisting orders of the court that had ordered for the release of his seized IPhone 13 pros and refund of the N404417.00 collected from him as duty on the four phones.
He said that a notice of appeal does not amount to an appeal as the records are yet to be compiled noting that it’s all a ploy by the customs to frustrate the compliance with the declaratory judgment.
Ojukwu maintained that the Customs Comptroller General ought to have retired from service having attained the mandatory 60years retirement age noting” With or without Col. Hameed Ali the Nigerian customs must function, the Comptroller General is occupying the office illegally as he is 67 years and by the Customs service rule the CGC shall exit at the mandatory age of 60 or 35 yrs of service. He must be challenged and a declaration made for posterity. The purported approval of the president if any to renew yearly is unconstitutional. However from all available record there is no such renewal on year to year basis.
“With or without col Hameed ali the Nigerian customs must function , the Comptroller General is occupying the office illegally as he is 67years and by the Customs service rule CGC shall exit at the mandatory age of 60 or 35 yrs of service . He must be challenged and a declaration made for posterity. OhThe purported approval of the president if any to renew yearly is unconstitutional . However from all available record there is no such renewal on year to year basis” he declared.
It would be recalled that a Federal High Court in Abuja on July 20th, 2022 ordered the Nigerian Customs Service Board and the Nigerian Customs Service to pay Ojukwu the sum of Five Million Naira as damages over the unlawful detention, seizure of his personal effects and the violation of his fundamental rights 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 had in the landmark judgement also held that Nigerians who have not been outside Nigeria 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 1st and 2nd 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 1st and 2nd 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 is satisfied that Ojukwu’s four IPhone 13 pro phones are 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 Nigeria 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 1st and 2nd Defendants for their actions.
According to Justice Mohammed, “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 N5million against the 1st and 2nd defendants.”
The court further ordered the Nigerian Customs Service to release the four IPhone 13pro that were seized from Ojukwu and to refund the total sum of N404,417 (Four Hundred and Four Thousand, Four Hundred and Seventeen Naira) being the import duty, value added tax (VAT) and other levies which were unlawfully collected from the plaintiff.
The Court however, exonerated the 3rd defendant in the suit (First Bank PLC) as not being culpable having been a mere tool through which the VAT was paid.
But not satisfied with the decision the the Nigerian Customs Board and the Nigerian Customs Service have through the Counsel Ikechukwu Emeto gone to the Court of Appeal Abuja Division in a notice of appeal dated August 8th, 2022 to challenge the judgment on the grounds that the court would have reached a different decision if it had ordered for pleading.
They are also challenging the judgment on the grounds that the court erred in law and his conclusion when he held that”unfortunately for the 1st and 2nd defendants there is no counter affidavit to counter the above and weighty depositions. The defendants, particularly the 1st and 2nd defendants are deemed to have admitted those depositions. The plaintiff’s affidavit in support of the originating summons remains unchallenged and incontrovertible and deemed admitted. The court is therefore bound to act on the depositions contained therein see in this wise, the case of Dike V State (2008) 13 NWLR part 1635,35 at 40-41 Paragraphs H-C.
Ojukwu had while reacting to the judgment 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.”
It will be recalled that Ojukwu had in April 2022 dragged the Nigerian Customs Service Board, the Nigerian Customs Service and First Bank PLC before the Federal High Court Abuja.
In the suit filed on his behalf by Segun Fiki, Ojukwu prayed the Court for a declaration that he is not liable to pay import duty, value added tax and other levies in respect of his 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, as well as a declaration that the Nigerian Customs Service is not entitled to impose and collect duty on his baggage and personal effects or that of any other Nigerian who has not been outside the jurisdiction of the Federal Republic of Nigeria for not less than 9 months.
Ojukwu also prayed for an order directing the defendants to refund the total sum of N 404, 417. 00 (Four Hundred and Four Thousand, Four Hundred and Seventeen Naira) being the import duty, value added tax (VAT) and other levies which were unlawfully demanded and collected from him by the Nigerian Customs Service through a First Bank Point-of-Sale (POS) Terminal upon his arrival at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja on the 20th February, 2022.
He also asked the Court to declare that his detention by the Nigerian Customs Service who restrained him from leaving the airport premises to take his medications until he pays the import duty, value added tax and other levies on the 4 pieces of iPhone 13 Pro, amounts to unlawful arrest and detention and sought damages in the total sum of N 160 million.
The defendants had in their defense asked the court to dismiss the suit in its entirety.