A Federal High Court in Asaba has declared the unpopular N50 stamp duty charges incurred on all customers’ bank accounts nationwide as illegal, null, and void. The comes on the back of a series of bitter complaints of one Mr. Rupert Irikefe in Asaba after Zenith Bank continually deducted stamp duty charges from his account.
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On Wednesday, Justice Nnamdi Dimgba of the Federal High Court Asaba, made this pronouncement but he did not stop there. He has also ordered the Central Bank of Nigeria and commercial banks to immediately stop deductions of the N50 stamp duty charges unless thus authorised by law.
Irikefe, in 2019, had initiated legal action against the CBN, Zenith Bank, and the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGN) as a result of incessant N50 and N100 charges into his Zenith Bank account. It is worthy of note that Irikefe filed, complied, and argued this case all by himself.
According to the plaintiff, Irikefe, he had paid two visits to the bank branch in Asaba on September 14, 2018, and October 11, 2018, and had sternly warned them not to further contravene the judgment of the competent courts in the country. This fell on deaf ears. He noted that the second defendant (Zenith Bank) continued to make further deductions, claiming that they were following the constitutional directives of the first defendant (CBN). The third defendant (AGN), however, displayed wilful silence to the plight of the plaintiff.
Besides, Irikefe also referred to the vivid decisions of the Court of Appeal in the following cases:
- CA/L/437A/2014 (Standard Chartered Bank Nigeria limited versus Kasmil International Services Limited, 22 others – April 21, 2016)
- FHC/L/CS/126/2016 (Retail Supermarket Nigeria Limited versus Citibank Nigeria Limited, CBN – March 13, 2017)
The decisions extracted from these two cases found that:
“there was no express provision in the Stamp Duty Act or any law authorising the deduction or imposing any obligation to deduct or remit N50 as Stamp Duty on tellers, deposits, or electronic transfers of monies from N1000 upwards.”
One would wonder why a charge that has been disowned by a lawful Court of Appeal of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is still alive and kicking. What seemed to infuriate the plaintiff was the reported continuous dismissive and contemptuous attitude of Zenith Bank towards the provisions of the law and order.
He further went on to make four prayers to the Asaba Federal High Court:
- Hold that the conducts of the CBN and Zenith Bank to continue to make deductions in the name of N50 stamp duty be declared as arbitrary and illegal
- An order to disarm the first and second defendants from making further stamp duty deductions on bank accounts, unless (of course) authorised by law.
- An order directing a full and final refund of the cumulative sum that has been illegally deducted from January 31, 2016, when the deductions first started.
- N50 million fine for the first and second defendants for general damage, plus another N50m as exemplary damages.
After hearing the submissions, Justice Dimgba duly and vividly noted that the first defendant acted in “bad faith”. He further expressed his disappointment when he said:
“I have never ceased to wonder, the practice that is very much exacerbated in current climes, where agencies of the government treat decisions of Court of law with disdain and to carry on as if those decisions were not in existence”.Dimgba, 2020.
He further held that the defendants failed to present to the court any amendment to the Stamp Duty Act empowering them to continue to make the deductions.
In his words, his judgments were:
“In the absence of the (above), it is irresistible to say that the suit has merit and should succeed.”
“I hereby resolve the questions posed in the Originating Summons in favour of the plaintiff.”
“I enter judgment in favour of the plaintiff on the following terms. Reliefs 1,2,3,4,5 and 8 are hereby granted.”
“Relief 6 is refused. 7 is granted but limited to the sum of N2 million.
“Cost of N500,000 in favour of plaintiff jointly and severally”.
Justice Dimgba, however, noted that the relief is granted “to set an example that it is reprehensible conduct to willfully disobey decisions of competent court of law”