Nigeria: Rising Against Extortion At Airport

30 October 2020

A Nigerian who recently arrived the country from the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja has petitioned Nigerian Customs Service over alleged imposition of tax and extortion by officials of the agency.

The passenger (name withheld) narrated how he arrived at the airport and going through the Customs checkpoint, he was requested to step aside by officers of the agency for his luggage to be searched.

The passenger who spoke to THISDAY, said in his possession were several personal effects purchased during his trip, including but not limited to shoes, perfumes and electronic gadgets.

According to him, the position of the Customs officers conducting the search was that passengers were not allowed to bring in items with value of more than N50, 000 on aggregate, even as they claimed that any items above the threshold were subject to import duty tax. They further noted that any disagreements with this levy should be communicated to the National Assembly, which is responsible for enacting the law, which they enforce.

The passenger also told THISDAY that the officials insisted that the he must pay the imposed tax in cash; when the passenger demanded for a Treasury Single Account (TSA) into which the tax could be paid if indeed it is legal tax, but all requests for a TSA account to be provided or for POS services to be utilized, were allegedly rebuffed by the Customs officials.

Rather, they provided a slip detailing the amounts to be paid and insisted that the passenger should walk into the First Bank Plc branch at the airport to make payment.

He also alleged that the Customs officials were so desperate to collect cash for the transaction that they offered the passenger the option of paying the levy in dollars at a rate of N430 as opposed to the prevalent rate of N460 to the dollar.

The passenger said he was held back at the airport for over five hours before finally being coerced into parting with funds for the illegal tax payment after he refused to part with cash.

"Ultimately, I was forced to pay close to N1 million as duty on the personal items in my baggage when it was apparent that I would be continually detained at the airport," he alleged.

The passenger in his petition demanded one; that the above events, as narrated, were ab-initio an illegality and transpired in contravention of the rightful procedures for the remission of taxes, duties and levies to the Federal Government Treasury Single Account and two, that the above incident was a contravention of the law as well as legal precedent as pronounced in the recent ruling of the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja which has ordered the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) to desist from collecting import duties or related charges from passengers in respect of goods or personal effects in a passenger's bag not meant for sale, barter or exchange, describing such charges as unlawful.

"The Chief Judge of the Abuja Federal High Court, Justice J.T Tsoho, gave the order while delivering judgment in a case between Mr. Kehinde Ogunwumiju (SAN) v. Nigerian Customs Service Board & Anor in Suit No: FHC/ABJ/CS/1113/2019.

"That there is immense suspicion (requiring further investigation and probe), that the account into which the imposed tax amount was paid, is a fraudulent and unauthorized one used by the Customs officers at the Abuja International Airport to perpetrate fraud and extort innocent members of the public into forcefully parting with their hard earned funds."

However, THISDAY spoke to an official of Customs who was a former spokesman at the international wing of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), who didn't wish his name mentioned because he was not on duty at the time he spoke.

He threw light on the issues concerning what passengers should pay for and what they should not pay for in terms of personal effects.

"On the issue of the personal effects, there are conditions. Personal effects means that you have paid for them abroad at least nine months before your return; so if you are coming back to Nigeria you are free to identify everything you have bought as personal effects.

"Even if you bought a car and your documents indicates that it is your car, you won't pay anything. But most passengers don't understand that. When they go there they just buy what they want to buy in the name of personal effect.

"Now if you buy something abroad and you are coming back with it, there is a condition attached. If you buy a pair of shoes it I s okay but some people will buy four pairs of same shoes because they want to give them out and they still call them personal effects. But Customs will allow you one and charge you for the other three.

"Then if you buy anything that is less than N50, 000 you won't pay duties but if it is N50, 000 or more you will be asked to pay duty. But Customs does not collect cash. You go to the bank and make your payment. You go and pay into Customs account and collect teller and come. Nobody collects cash. If anybody demands cash you raise an alarm on the person," the Customs official told THISDAY.

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