CLAMPDOWN: AUTO DEALERS TO SUE CUSTOMS

A group of automobile dealers in Lagos State has threatened to drag the Nigerian Customs Service to court over the sealing of their business premises.

In a letter to the Comptroller General of Nigeria Customs Service through the law firm of Ubani & Co, the group condemned the September 30, 2019 raid and sealing of their offices by customs operatives, saying that the action of the agency was “a demonstration of gross irresponsibility, unprecedented impunity and abuse of power.” They also noted that all the cars in their business premises were duly cleared and appropriate duties paid to the Federal Government.

The group in the letter which was also forward to the Senate President, Speaker of House of Representatives and Attorney General of the Federation, warned that if their business premises were not opened in the next 14 days with a compensation of N10 billion for businesses losses during the period of closure, they would have no other option than to approach the court for redress.

Part of the letter which also serves as a pre-action notice reads:

“We must state here with all sense of responsibility and patriotism that the action of Nigeria custom officers in this regard is a demonstration of gross irresponsibility, unprecedented impunity and abuse of power.

“Though the Nigerian Customs & Excise Management Act gives you the power to examine, mark, seal and take account of any goods …, in this case, you did not examine, mark, seal and take account of the particular vehicles identified as not being properly cleared, but rather sealed up the entire premises without any form of examination or inspection of papers.

” This very act of yours has no protection under the Act, but smacks of impunity, illegality and flagrant abuse of executive power.

“No law under our law books, including the Customs & Excise Management Act, empowers you to take the steps you have taken in the manner you have taken it.

“The action of the Nigerian Customs is not only lawless but very oppressive. The moment when Nigerian Government agencies elevate the pursuit of revenue above the right and welfare of the citizens, Nigeria is doomed, but God forbid that things degenerate to that level.

“Take notice therefore that you have 14 days from the day you receive this letter to unseal all our Client’s members’ business premises to enable them carry out their lawful businesses as Nigerian citizens.

“Take further notice that you have a period of 30 days from the date you receive this letter to pay a compensation of N10Billion to our Clients for the severe hardship, suffering, embarrassment, loss of business, physical, mental and psychological torture and trauma your arbitrary, lawless and inconsiderate action has caused our clients and their families failing which our Client shall be left with no other option than to seek redress through a competent court of law.”

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GADZAMA’S SUIT: WILL COURT SACK USORO TODAY?

Chief Joe-Kyari Gadzama SAN will today know the outcome of his lawsuit challenging the election of former Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) President, Mr. Abubakar Mahmoud SAN.

Justice Olukayode Adeniyi of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) had at the last adjourned date set down today to deliver judgement in the long-drawn matter following the adoption of final written addresses by the parties.

Today’s judgement is being watched keenly by many in the legal circles, as it may affect the tenure of current NBA President, Mr. Paul Usoro SAN should the court rule in Gadzama’s favour. It is recalled that Mahmoud has concluded his tenure, thus the argument by the defendants that the suit has become academic. But the plaintiff argues otherwise.

Also, depending on the judgement, there may be implications for the controversial NBA Constitution going forward.

The case had suffered a setback when Gadzama appealed a ruling by then trial judge, Justice Y. Halilu. The Notice of Appeal stated that the appellant was seeking “an order setting aside the decision of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory contained in the ruling delivered by Hon. Justice Y. Halilu dated 8th November, 2016.”

Gadzama also sought “An order directing the consolidation of all pending preliminary objections/applications filed by the Defendants/Respondents with the substantive suit in this matter” as well as “An order directing accelerated hearing of the matter at the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory.”

“Having regard to the insinuation made by the trial judge that the Appellant’s case was unworthy or fruitless deserving of being nipped in the bud,” the appellant also seeks “an order of this Honourable Court directing the Chief Judge of the High Court of Federal Capital Territory, Abuja to transfer the suit to another judge of FCT High Court for the hearing of all pending preliminary objections along with the substantive suit.”

The appeal was however withdrawn while the matter was also remitted back to Justice Adeniyi who handled it originally before proceeding on vacation.

Though the NBA leadership had at the pre-National Executive Committee Meeting in Port Harcourt set up a 5-member committee to reach out to Gadzama towards amicable resolution of the electoral debacle, the move proved abortive. Members of the committee were Chief Onomigbo Okpoko, SAN (Chairman); former NBA presidents Chief O. C. J. Okocha, SAN and Dr. Olisa Agbakoba, SAN; former NBA General Secretary, Mr. Yinka Fayokun and Lagos-based lawyer, Mr. Mbanugo Udenze who doubled as Secretary of the committee.

It is recalled that Mr. Darlington Onyekwere had at the last adjourned date adopted the Claimant’s final written address and urged the Court to grant the reliefs sought. He appeared with a team of lawyers for the claimant.

While Miss Christabel Ndeokwelu appeared for the 1st Defendant, the 2nd to 6th Defendants were represented by Mr. Abdulrasheed Usman. Mr. Ede Uko represented the 7th Defendant (Grace Infotech Limited) while Mr. A. A. Malik appeared for the 8th Defendant. Mrs. R. U. Edibo appeared for the 9th defendant.

The defendants however argued that the case had become academic, while the claimant’s counsel posited that a matter does not become academic merely because the act or conduct which gave rise to the action had been concluded. He cited the case of Plateau State v. AG Federation (2006) 3 NWLR (Pt 967) and Peter Obi v INEC (2007) 11 NWLR Part 1046 and urged the court to discount the defendants’ argument that the matter had become academic.

Malik, counsel for the 8th defendant, aligned himself with the submission of the other counsel for the defendants that the case had become academic, moreso as Mahmoud had completed his tenure. He said there was no live issue for the court to determine and that the claimant had failed to prove his case. He however urged the court to nonetheless proceed to judgement.

Gadzama had sued NBA trustees including Alhaji Abdullahi Ibrahim (SAN) CON, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN) OFR, Chief Thompson Joseph Onomigbo Okpoko (SAN) OON, Chief (Mrs.) Priscilla Kuye, Alhaji Murtala Aminu OFR and Chief Anthony O. Mogboh (SAN). They are listed as 1st to 6th Defendants while The Incorporated Trustees of Nigerian Bar Association is the 7th Defendant. Mr. Kenneth Mozia (SAN), Chairman of the ECNBA is the 8th Defendant while Mr. Oluwaseun Ajoba who doubles as the Secretary of the committee is the 9th Defendant.

Others are Hajia Safiya Balarabe, Mrs. Amaka Ezeno, and Mrs. Eucharia Pepple – all members of the Electoral Committee – as 10th, 11th and 12th Defendants while NBA’s ICT Partner, Grace Infotech Limited is the 13th Defendant. Mr. Augustine O. Alegeh (SAN), the NBA President , is sued as the 14th defendant while Gadzama’s opponent who was declared winner of the election, Mr. Abubakar B. Mahmoud (SAN) is listed as the 15th Defendant.

It is recalled that Mahmoud was declared winner of the election with total 3055 votes while Gadzama allegedly polled 2384 votes. But Gadzama had rejected the result, saying in his statement of claim that “contrary to the result declared by the 8th Defendant, at the close of voting, at 12:00 midnight on Sunday, 31st July, 2016, the result of the 2016 Nigerian Bar Association Election as it relates to the office/position of the President, as collated from and contained on the official voting domain/platform was as follows: Joe-Kyari Gadzama – 2,963; Abubakar B. Mahmoud -2,465.” This was as deduced by his ICT experts who conducted forensic audit of the poll.
Gadzama also wants the court to declare “that the 2016 Nigerian Bar Association Election as it relates to the office/position of the President held on 30th and 31st July 2016 under the supervision of the 8th to 14th Defendants, which purportedly produced the 15th Defendant as President, was in total violation and disregard of the mandatory provisions of the NBA Constitution 2015, Election Guidelines set down for the said Election fell short of established standards and international best practices, thereby making the said Election null, void and of no effect whatsoever.”

Aside from stating that the Internet voting mechanism, method and system adopted for the conduct of the 2016 Nigerian Bar Association Election “was not in conformity with the mandatory provisions of the NBA Constitution 2015,” the Life Bencher also impugns the Dispute Resolution Committee (DRC) as illegal and unconstitutional.

He is also seeking a “declaration that the integrity of the 2016 Nigerian Bar Association Election as it relates to the office/position of the President organised by the 8th to 14th, Defendants on 30th and 31st July 2016 which purportedly returned the 15th Defendant as President was fundamentally and incurably compromised by undue influence, overbearing, biased conduct and utterances of the 14th Defendant (Mr Augustine Alegeh SAN, President, Nigerian Bar Association) through the media and at Bar meetings before and during the Election and thereby robbed the conduct of the election of every element of impartiality, independence and transparency as required by established standards and international best practices.”

Flowing from this, the NBA presidential candidate seeks an order of court “nullifying and setting aside the 2016 Nigerian Bar Association Election as it relates to the office/position of the President held on the 30th and 31st July, 2016 which purportedly returned the 15th Defendant as the President.”

He also seeks the following orders:
“An order directing the 1st to 7th Defendants to set up a newly constituted Electoral Committee of the Nigerian Bar Association (ECNBA) which will issue Guidelines and conduct a fresh 2016 Nigerian Bar Association Election as it relates to the office/position of the President.

“An order of this Honourable Court that the 2016 Nigerian Bar Association Election as it relates to the office/position of the President should be held through Electronic voting in all branches of the NBA or at least at the three (3) zonal levels established by the NBA Constitution, 2015 and that results should be collated at branch or zonal levels and transmitted to the ECNBA Secretariat for final announcement.

“An order of perpetual injunction restraining the 8th to 12th and 14th Defendants from swearing in and/or recognising the 15th Defendant or in any way whatsoever taking steps or giving effect to the 2016 Nigerian Bar Association election as it relates to the office/position of the President held on the 30th and 31st July, 2016, whether by themselves, agents, employees, privies or anybody acting for or on their behalf based on the said Election,” and

“An order of perpetual injunction restraining the 15th Defendant, whether by himself, agents, employees, privies or anybody acting for or on his behalf, from parading himself, claiming and/or holding himself out as the President-Elect/President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) based on the 2016 Nigerian Bar Association election as it relates to the office/position of the President held on 30th and 31st July, 2016.”
According to Gadzama, the elections “held in total violation and disregard of the mandatory provisions of the Constitution of the Nigerian Bar Association, 2015,” adding that while the accreditation process was repeatedly extended, “the list containing the names of the said accredited voters was never released on the election platform (website), neither was it displayed on the screen used to monitor the Election.”

He alleged that “Around 12:01 a.m. of Monday, 1st August 2016, the 8th Defendant announced the end of the election exercise. The 8th Defendant further, for the first time, introduced some persons who were said to be staff of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and he further announced that the so called INEC staff were there to audit the election result, which was ready. The 8th Defendant also announced that it will take 1 (one) hour to audit the said results.

“Contrary to the expectations of the Plaintiff’s agents, established standards and international best practices, the said agents did not see the dashboard/monitor displaying the result of the Election, even upon voting being declared closed by the 8th Defendant.

“The Plaintiff avers that the 8th Defendant, the Managing Director of the 13th Defendant and the 14th Defendant and the so called INEC staff left the Plaintiff’s poll agents and others in the Situation Room at the NBA Secretariat in Abuja, went to a separate room to ‘audit’ the results.
“The 8th Defendant subsequently came into the monitoring room while the so called auditing was still going on to announce that the auditing was almost done and that the results were to be announced in due course. He remained in the situation room until after 1a.m. when the events in the next-following paragraphs took place.

“Around after 1a.m. on 1/8/2016, Mr. Olugasa, the Managing Director of the 13th Defendant, the 14th Defendant and the so called staff of INEC came back into the monitoring room and got seated.

“After re-introduction of the so called INEC staff; and the 8th Defendant and 14th Defendant had made some speeches, Mr. Ope Olugasa (Managing Director of the 13th Defendant) was asked to display the results on the dashboard.

“But instead of using the laptop that had long been connected online to the big LG Television/Monitor in the situation room, both of which had from the beginning been used to display the limited information about the election exercise described earlier on in this statement of claim, Mr. Ope Olugasa swapped the said laptop with another laptop which contained the so called election result. The 8th Defendant then pronounced the declared results as they were displayed on the big LG Television Monitor.

“The Plaintiff’s agent recorded the scene where the Managing Director of the 13th Defendant swapped the computer that was used throughout to display the votes that were being cast on the display screen/monitor, using Samsung Smartphone GT-I9500, Galaxy S4, with serial number R21D50BP33D.”

He stated that “On Friday, 29th of July, 2016 a day to the election, the names of eligible/verified voters continued to be padded and were never published 28 days ahead of the election, contrary to the provisions of the Nigerian Bar Association constitution and electoral guidelines,” adding that instead of utilising the advertised official portal/domain, the 8th to 14th Defendants “utilised another portal/domain (http://www.nigerianbar.org.ng) for the same Election process, just to enable them manipulate the said Election.

“As a result of this deliberate manipulative step taken by the 8th to 14th Defendants, two sets of results bearing different features but having the same figures were produced from the respective portals/domains. Accordingly, printout of the so called result of the Election from http://www.nigerianbar.org.ng is also hereby pleaded; and the Plaintiff shall, at the trial, show out the said different features, beginning with the different sources (domains) of both results, as can clearly be seen on them.”
Gadzama’s legal team was led by Chief Emeka Ngige, SAN alongside Chief Bolaji Ayorinde SAN, Chief Pius Akubo SAN and Chief Sebastine Hon SAN among others.

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Copyright 2018 CITY LAWYER. All materials available on this Website are protected by copyright, trade mark and other proprietary and intellectual property laws. You may not use any of our intellectual property rights without our express written consent or attribution to www.citylawyermag.com. However, you are permitted to print or save to your individual PC, tablet or storage extracts from this Website for your own personal non-commercial use.