Rights violation: Court awards multi-million naira against Customs

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An Abuja Division of the Federal High Court has awarded the sum have N11, 050, 000 as damages against the Nigerian Customs Services (NCS) over the violation of the fundamental rights of Miss Helen Olorunda.

Justice Nkeonye Maha, in a judgment delivered on 5th February 2021 in Suit N0: FHC/ABJ/CS/491/2020 awarded the sum of N5 million as exemplary damage, N5 million as compensation for violation of the applicant’s fundamental right, N1 million as general compensation and N50,000 as the cost of filling the action against the Nigerian Customs and Augustine Chidi, a Deputy Comptroller General.

Olorunda, a businesswoman, had filed the action on May 13, 2020, after she was unlawfully detained and subjected to inhumane and degrading treatment by officials of the NCS at their headquarters in Abuja from 30th to 31st March 2020 over a petition written by one Musa Gokaru against D.C. Lawal Argungu. The petition was not addressed to the Customs or the Comptroller General.

She argued through her lawyer, O.D. Ogunniyi, Esq. that the action of the staff of the state institution in detaining her over a petition not written against her and referring to her as “a shameless prostitute and a criminal” violated her right to life and dignity of her person under sections 33, 34, and 46 of the Nigerian Constitution, 1999.

The court held that the acts of the respondents are a gross abuse of power. ‘From Exhibit NCSB1 it is clear that this complaint shows allegation on hierarchy squabbles at the 1st respondent’s office, and nothing discloses an element of fraud against the applicant”.

“Nothing proves the fact that the act complained is not on reasonable suspicion that the applicant here has committed a crime within the purview of the respondent’s (Customs) mandate,” the judge said.

“The respondent must act within the confines of the law. The era of impunity is gone. I find and hold that there was no element of fraud disclosed to the 1st respondent by NCSB1 (Petition) requiring an invitation and detention of the applicant.”

The court also restrained the respondents from continuing to threaten the applicant. ”The respondents are hereby restrained from continuing or attempting to threaten, arrest, detain or humiliate the applicant for any reason connected to the fact which has given rise to this application SAVE AND UNLESS upon the order of a superior court of record”, Justice Maha held.

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