Firm sues Customs for N50m over MD’s ‘illegal detention’

Justice Abdulazeez Anka of the Federal High Court, Lagos will on September 19, begin hearing in a N50 million suit filed by a firm, Afriglobe Shipping Lines Ltd, against the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) for alleged illegal detention of its Managing Director, Christian Ukata.

In an originating summon filed by the firm through its counsel, Charles Ugwuanyi, Ukata said he was wrongfully detained by the NCS officials at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, last November.

He said he was accused of being in unlawful possession of foreign exchange, which he had voluntarily declared at the NCS desk.

The firm, in its statement of claim, averred that in November, last year, it was contracted by Aerodocs Inc. USA to clear its cargo at Republic of Chad and deliver same to Millicom, Chad at an agreed cost of $46,731.

The payment, according to the firm, was subsequently made through Access Bank Plc.

After confirming the arrival of the cargo at Ndjamena Airport, Chad, the firm averred that it withdrew $42,200 from the amount paid into its Access Bank Plc account and detailed Ukata to travel to Ndjamena via Duala Airport for the purpose of clearing and delivery of the cargo.

Ukata claimed that he made an arrangement to travel on November 15, 2015 with a view to clearing the cargo on November 16, so as to avoid incurring demurrage.

On getting to the Lagos Airport, the firm said Ukata went through all the departure formalities including declaring the $42,200 with him before two NCS officials, one Mrs Oshilaja and Mr K. S. Ugboaja.

The declared foreign exchange according to the firm was accompanied with relevant Waybills, Invoice and Inflow advise from Access Bank Plc to establish the legitimacy of the source and the use of the fund.

The firm stated that the matter however took a twist after Ukata turned down an overture by the NCS officials for a tip before he could be allowed to board his flight. The two officials, according to the firm’s court deposition, allegedly threatened to detain Ukata if he did not settle them.

The firm further averred that the two officials allegedly threatened Ukata that they had a ‘Presidential directive’ to seize and confiscate any foreign exchange brought before them whether voluntarily declared or not.

It averred that Ukata was subsequently prevented from travelling, detained at the NCS airport cell, near Hajj Camp from about 5pm on November 15, until the next day when he was transferred to the Ikoyi office of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for “failing to do their bidding”.

“After five days of investigation, the EFCC cleared Mr Ukata from any money laundering allegation and handed back to him, the seized money and travel documents.”

It added that Ukata and his firm lost the clearing contract as Aerodoc had secured the services of another firm to avoid incurring demurrage on the cargo.

The firm is consequently seeking N50m in damages against the NCS for false imprisonment and unlawful detention of Ukata, loss of business, loss of goodwill, exposure to breach of contract and unutilised air ticket.

The firm is also seeking a declaration by the court that the purported presidential directive ordering seizure of foreign exchange at the airport whether declared or not, is unconstitutional, Illegal, null and void.

But, in its statement of defence, NCS absolved itself of any wrong doing, stating that its two officials, who were on duty when the incident happened were members of a Presidential Committee on Trans-Border Cash Movement and were taking directives from the Presidency and not Nigeria Customs Service.

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