The Court of Appeal, Lagos division has ordered the Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, to pay an account officer in the Akwa Ibom State Accountant-General’s office, Mrs Margaret Ukpe the sum of N1million for unlawfully putting her name on a wanted persons’ list.

The NCS in a circular dated September 18, 2018, had placed Mrs Ukpe and four other persons on a watchlist in connection with a case of alleged conspiracy, money laundering and misappropriation of public fund.

The NCS had also instructed all its Area Controllers to arrest them wherever they were sighted.

Vexed by the action of NCS, Mrs Ukpe through her lawyer, Dr Charles Mekwunye, approached a Federal High Court in Lagos seeking amongst other reliefs, a declaration that the NCS circular which was widely publicised constituted a gross violation of her fundamental rights guaranted under the 1999 Constitution and the African Charter on Human and Peoples Right and therefore illegal and unconstitutional.

In a judgment delivered on July 28, 2019 by Justice Mohammed Hassan, the lower court granted eight out of the 10 reliefs sought by the plaintiff including an order restraining NCS from arresting her.

The lower court, however, declined to award any form of damages against NCS or accede to her demand for public apology.

Dissatisfied, Ukpe filed an appeal in 2019 against the Federal High Court judgment insisting that the lower court was wrong by not granting her monetary damages having held that her fundamental human right was breached.

In a lead judgment delivered by Justice Abdullahi Bayero on July 14, 2021, the Appeal Court restated that the order for Mrs Ukpe’s arrest and detention by the NCS in 2018 amounted to a g ross infringement of her fundamental human right.

Justice Bayero also faulted the decision of the Federal High Court declining to grant the appellant monetary damages.

The appellate court held that damages in compensation legally and naturally follow every act of violation of a citizen’s fundamental rights.

The court held: “The law is trite and the case law on the issue is replete, that once the court has found that the fundamental rights of an applicant has been violated by the act/acts or conduct of the respondent, the applicant is entitled to compensation.

“From the available evidence as shown in the record of appeal and the findings of the lower court, the appellant’s right has been breached by the respondent.

“The lower court has the sacred duty to prevent the violation of citizen’s rights. This appeal is therefore meritorious and is hereby allowed.”

He ordered NCS to pay Ukpe N1million as compensation for the unlawful and unconstitutional order for her arrest and detention and to also publish a full apology to her on the front page of two widely read national newspapers.

Earlier while dismissing the preliminary objection raised by NCS, challenging the jurisdiction of the court , Justice Bayero held that the matter was properly brought before the appellate court and that NCS can be sued contrary to the argument of NCS counsel.

Two other judges on the panel, Justice Obande Ogbuinya and Justice Frederick Oho also consented with the led judgment.

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