Justice Abimbola Awogboro of the Federal High Court in Lagos has awarded N500 million damages against the Nigerian Customs Service for illegally sealing up the business premises of members of the Registered Trustees of Auto Dealers in Lagos.
Justice Awogboro, in her judgement, held that the sealing of the car marts of the plaintiff’s members was unlawful and arbitrary, as there was no justification for the illegal act.
The auto dealers had dragged the Nigeria Customs Service Board, the Chairman of the Board and the Comptroller General Nigerian Customs before the court in 2019 after over 434 Car marts/Shops belonging to the Plaintiff and its members in Lagos were sealed up on the suspicion that the vehicles on the premises were smuggled or under-assessed during clearance at the ports.
But in their suit, the Registered Trustees of Auto Dealers in Lagos accused the Customs Service of harassment, illegality, extortion, irresponsibility, unprecedented impunity and abuse of power.
They claimed that all the cars in their business premises were duly cleared and with appropriate duties paid.
The plaintiff, therefore, urged the court for an order of mandatory injunction directing the defendants to, with immediate effect, unseal the business premises and the payment of the sum of N5 billion as general and aggravated damages for the arbitrary and unlawful invasion, substantial economic loss and depreciation in business fortunes its members.
But in a preliminary objection, the Customs Service urged the court to dismiss the suit because the Plaintiff is not a registered entity, has no power to institute the suit, and also that there was no cause of action against the defendants.
In her judgement, Justice Awogboro held that the only way of proving that an entity is registered is by providing a copy of the Certificate of Incorporation, which the plaintiff has provided.
She also held that the argument that some members of the plaintiff have complied by undertaking to make the additional payment due to which their car marts were unsealed is not tenable.
The judge further stated that the argument “does not in any way support or justify the arbitrary action of the Defendants because those members did not agree to do so willingly but out of coercion and duress so that they could be able to carry on with their business. The defendants did not deny the allegation of coercion and duress.”
The court, therefore, granted an order of perpetual injunction restraining the defendants from further invading and sealing the business premises of the members of the plaintiff on the ground that the vehicles in their car shops, which had earlier been inspected, assessed and cleared at the port by officers of the defendants were not properly inspected, evaluated and cleared.
She also granted an order directing the defendants to pay the Plaintiff the sum of N500 million as general and aggravated damages for the arbitrary and unlawful invasion and sealing off of the Plaintiff’s members business premises.