Once regarded as the emblem of organisational and professional rectitude in Nigeria’s disreputable comity of unscrupulous government agencies, the Federal Road Safety Corps has lately attracted public umbrage for deliberately distorting a clear court judgement against it. Last month, a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos had ruled that it was unlawful for the FRSC to impose its new number plates on Nigerian motorists.
The ruling, following a suit filed in 2013 by Emmanuel Ofoegbu, a lawyer, which challenged the powers of the FRSC on the number plates, brought relief to the public. This followed the threat by the organisation’s Corps-Marshal and Chief Executive, Osita Chidoka, to impound vehicles and prosecute motorists who did not obtain the new number plates by June this year.
In saving Nigerians from the unwarranted harassment of the FRSC, the court held that “the issue of redesigning new number plates by the respondent (FRSC) is not covered under the provisions of any law in Nigeria. The respondent cannot force Nigerians to acquire new number plates by impounding cars… I hold that the act of the respondent amounts to an arbitrary use of power, and is, therefore, illegal and unconstitutional.”
But the FRSC became a killjoy, arguing loudly that the judgement did not stop it from penalising motorists without the new accessory. Hiding under the puerile argument that it was state governments that had the power to impose deadlines on motorists to obtain new number plates, the organisation contradicted itself by saying that “the court did not vacate its (FRSC) statutory powers to design and produce new number plates.” Such insufferable impunity and disregard for the rule of law must not be allowed to stand.
For a while, the FRSC has been bitten by the bug of corruption, which has seen it relegating its road safety duties to secondary importance. It has derailed from its primary purpose of safety management. It is vying to be the government’s “good boy” in terms of revenue generation, though, by law, it is not listed as a revenue-generation agency of the state. For instance, Chidoka boasted that the FRSC remitted N1.4 billion into the Federation Account in 2013. This ancillary activity has since preoccupied it and is not part of the goals the government enunciated for it at its inception in 1988.
As the organisation pursues revenue, accident rates remain high. Rescue efforts are shambolic and the FRSC appears powerless to stop the rot. On a major artery like the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, the FRSC hardly deploys towing vehicles for vehicles that break down.
As in other low – and middle-income countries, which account for 48 per cent of the annual global road fatalities (of 1.3 million), Nigerians die cheaply on the road. The deaths are mostly due to bad roads, poor vehicle maintenance and reckless driving, but also partly due to the inefficiency of the FRSC. According to the World Health Organisation, 32,000 Nigerians die annually in road accidents, a figure that seems to be a case of under-reporting. Yet, the FRSC chooses to neglect the second major problem on Nigerian roads: rickety and badly-maintained articulated vehicles. It prefers to go after saloon cars and commercial buses.
FRSC officials appear not to remember their primary duties whenever there is an accident-induced logjam. Unless the organisation, which had its origins in the old Oyo State, but was adopted by the central government to instil sanity into Nigeria’s deadly roads, is reformed wholesale, its mission “to reduce road crash deaths and injuries by 50 per cent by 2020” will be a mirage.
At the beginning of the new number plate scheme in 2011, the FRSC had coaxed Nigerians and ingratiated itself with the government with the blatantly false promise that the measure would help against terrorism and car theft. But we are now all wiser. Neither terrorism nor car theft has abated. The FRSC should look for other excuses for its peccadilloes.
European countries have standardised motor licensing, making it affordable and accessible. In the United Kingdom, which started licensing vehicles in 1904, a car owner pays £55 (about N14,000) to register a new vehicle, unlike the prohibitive amount the FRSC is charging Nigerians. Although the format may change, old vehicle owners are not compelled to get new numbers. The simplified process begins by downloading, filling the form and returning it to the licensing agency.
The FRSC is also under fire for subjecting Nigerians to the indignity of acquiring a new driving licence, all in the name of security. Consequently, many Nigerians are going through a harrowing experience at its offices, particularly in Lagos and other large cities. Although it has imposed a June deadline for motorists to acquire the licence or face prosecution, many motorists have been trying to secure the licence for more than two years without success. This is sadistic.
The FRSC should be reformed. The present leadership has failed woefully. President Goodluck Jonathan should muster the courage to tackle the challenge or problem posed by Chidoka’s leadership. The FRSC should obey the court judgement stopping it from impounding vehicles without new number plates. All those who were forced to cough up the exorbitant fees for the new number plates should have their money refunded.
In this digital age, the FRSC and the states should simplify the acquisition of the driving licence by decentralising the process and providing the digital technology required. The tortuous and disgusting system we are witnessing should stop.