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Courts says payment of duty on goods/personal effects in passenger’s baggage unlawful, fines Customs N5m

A Federal High Court, Abuja Judicial Division has declared unlawful payment of import duty on goods/personal effects contained in a passenger’s baggage and fined Nigerian Customs Service N5million.

John Tsoho, the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court delivered the judgment in Kehinde Ogunwumiju, SAN v. Nigerian Customs Service Board & Anor: Suit No: FHC/ABJ/CS/1113/2019. Kehinde Ogunwumiju, SAN through his counsel Tunde Adejumo, Esq had approached the Court through 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 Nigerian 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 Nigerian Customs Service upon his arrival at the Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport, Abuja on June 24, 2019.

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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 was of the view that the following goods are exempted from import duty and other related charges:

1. Goods contained in a passenger’s baggage provided that the said goods are not intended for sale, barter or exchange; and

2. Personal and household effects.

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

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The Court also found that before the Nigerian Customs to collect import duty and other related charges in respect of those stated items, they had to establish via cogent and credible evidence that the said bag was meant for sale, exchange or barter.

“Accordingly, the Nigerian Customs, 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 Nigerian Customs Service demanded and collected import duty and other related charges from the Plaintiff in respect of the said bag’’.

“Finally, the Court, having found that the decision and action of the Defendants to demand and collect from the Plaintiff import duty and other related charges in respect of his personal effect is unlawful, null and void orders the Defendants to refund the sum of N156, 955. 20k in import duty and other related charges to the Plaintiff and also to pay to the Plaintiff the sum of N5, 000, 000.00 as exemplary damages.

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Following this judgment, it is now unlawful for officers of the Nigerian 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 Nigerian 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.

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