Court stops Customs from charging import duty on baggage items

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Hameed Ali

Hameed Ali, Comptroller-General, Nigeria Customs Service.

 

A Federal High Court in Abuja has stopped the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) from collecting import duty on goods/personal effects in passengers’ baggages at the airports.

Justice John Tsoho, in a judgment delivered on Wednesday, held that goods in a passenger’s baggage (provided that the said goods are not intended for sale, barter or exchange) and personal and household effects are exempted from import duty under Section 8 of the Customs, Excise Tariff, etc (Consolidation) Act and the 2nd Schedule to the Customs, Excise Tariff, etc (Consolidation) Act.

The judgment was on a suit, marked FHC/ABJ/CS/1113/2019 filed by Kehinde Ogunwumiju (SAN) against the Nigeria Customs Service Board (NCSB) and the NCS.

Ogunwumiju had, in the suit, queried the propriety of the officials of the NCS to collect import duty and other related charges from her on her personal effect (a Louis Vuitton laptop gag) found in her baggage following a search by some NCS officials upon arrival at the Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport, Abuja on June 24, last year on a British Airways flight from London.

In the judgment, Justice Tsoho upheld arguments by plaintiff’s lawyer, Tunde Ahmed Adejumo, to the effect that before the NCS could collect import duty and other related charges on goods/personal effects in passengers’ baggages, it must first establish, via cogent and credible evidence, that the said items are meant for sale, exchange or barter.

Justice Tsoho held that Ogunwumiju was able to establish by evidence before the court that the brand new laptop bag found in his baggage by men of the NCS was her personal effect meant for her use.

The judge said, “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.”

Justice Tsoho, upon finding that the decision and action of the defendants to collect import duty and other related charges from the plaintiff on her personal effect is unlawful, null and void, ordered them to refund the N156,955.20 the plaintiff had paid.

The judge also awarded N5million as exemplary damages against the defendants in favour of the plaintiff.

By the judgment, it is now unlawful for the NCS to collect import duty and other related charges on goods/personal effects provided that the said goods/personal effects are not meant for sale, barter or exchange.

The only instance where officers of the NCS can lawfully demand and collect import duty from anyone in respect of goods/personal effects found in travellers’ baggage is where it can be established that the said goods/personal effects are meant for sale, barter or exchange.