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Thursday, 28 May 2020

Know your Rights..Nigerian Customs Cannot Charge Import Duties On A Personal Luggage

Know your Rights..Nigerian Customs Cannot Charge Import Duties On A Personal Luggage

Daily Law Tips (Tip 577) by Onyekachi Umah, Esq., LLM. ACIArb(UK)

NIGERIAN CUSTOMS CANNOT CHARGE IMPORT DUTIES ON A PERSONAL LUGGAGE.


It was cold and dark at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, on 21 November 2017, while I waited in the dirty car park with no functional street light. I went to welcome a friend but he was not allowed exit by officers of Nigerian Custom Service, two hours after being searched.

The Custom Officers were demanding for import duties from him, for having a packed brand new Patek Philippe wristwatch in his personal luggage (hand-carry).

Without any proof, the officers concluded that the wristwatch was for sale and they demanded to be paid an outrageous sum in foreign currency. They ceased my friend’s international passport and wallet until he borrowed a phone with Nigerian mobile network and called for my assistance.

Nigerian Custom Service is established for and charged with the duty of controlling and managing the administration of the customs and excise laws and collection of the revenues of customs and excise and accounting for them.

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Officers of Nigerian Customs Service have all the powers, authorities and privileges given by law to Police Officers in Nigeria. So, just like Police Officers, Customs Officers can arrest with or without warrant of arrest as well as detain suspects.

Among other things, Customs Officers regulate boarding and disembarking from ships, aircrafts or vehicles in customs-controlled areas as well as leaving of airports, customs posts and any other customs controlled area by any person.

Any person that enters or is about to enter into Nigeria is expected to declare and present to Customs officers, all goods to be imported or exported for a proper examination and such person must answer all questions put to him. Every person bringing goods into Nigeria, must present necessary forms and documents to Customs Officers for such imported goods.

However, this does not apply to passengers’ accompanied baggage (including “hand-carry/cabin-carry), unless a Custom Officer in a given case requests for such. Specifically, passengers’ accompanied baggage include passengers’ personal and household accompanying luggage.

The Federal High Court siting in Abuja, in May 2020, in the case of Mr. Kehinde Ogunwumiju (SAN) v. Nigerian Customs Service Board & Anor in Suit No: FHC/ABJ/CS/1113/2019, held that; “… the only instance in which officers of the Nigeria 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.”

Hence, it is clear that Customs Officers have no powers to demand for any payment (import duties or bribe) for passengers’ personal and household accompanying luggage, unless there is proof that the items in the passenger’s luggage are for sale. The proof must be established ahead of a demand for payment of import duties and not just based on mere speculation.

There is no law that expects expensive and exotic personal/household items in personal baggage to be charged import duties. People don’t need to remove price tags and packets of their personal items just to prove items are not for sale and thereby avoid being charged import duties.

The high number of a personal item in a baggage may not mean that such item is for sale, it could be gift for a large family.

In the above case, the court awarded damages of Five Million Naira (N5, 000.00) against Nigerian Customs for charging import duty on a personal luggage (laptop bag) and also ordered the refund of the illegally obtained import duty of N156, 955. 20k (One Hundred and Fifty-Six Thousand, Nine Hundred and Fifty-Five Naira, Twenty Kobo). This is the law and until it is changed by the National Assembly, it remains the law.

My authorities are:

1. Sections 4(1), 8, 27, 71, 72, 73 and 75 of the Customs and Excise Management Act (Amendment Act), 2003.

2. Section 8 and Item 10, Second Schedule to the Customs, Excise Tariff, etc. (Consolidation) Act, 1995

3. Sections 24, 25 and 29 of the Police Act.

4. The Federal High Court’s judgment (on goods exempted from import duties) in the case of Mr. Kehinde Ogunwumiju (SAN) v. Nigerian Customs Service Board & Anor (Suit No: FHC/ABJ/CS/1113/2019)

5. Peter Uzoho, ‘Court Bars Collection of Import Duties on Non-commercial Goods, Others’ (ThisDay, 14 May 2020) accessed 16 May 2020

6. Chioma Unini, ‘Court Bars Nigeria Customs Service From Collecting Duty On Goods/Personal Effect On Passenger’s Baggage’ (TheNigerianLawyer, 13 May 2020) accessed 16 May 2020

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