Motorists using the old number plate format are facing a clampdown by the Federal Road Safety Corps across the country. The agency is now enforcing the National Road Traffic Regulations 2012 on the use of the new vehicle number plate, which has been a subject of judicial intervention. The court had ruled that it was unconstitutional for the FRSC to compel motorists to register their vehicles twice. But the Court of Appeal sitting in Lagos set aside the judgement based on the agency’s appeal. On October 31, 2014, the appellate court ruled that the agency was empowered to regulate the use of number plate and to set deadline for transition from the old to the new number format when the time was due.
However, after a period of respite, the agency in Lagos has intensified its crackdown in the last four weeks. Motorists are ambushed at street corners and their vehicles impounded; vehicle owners are then taken to FRSC command offices where they are subjected to several hours of interrogation and made to go to the bank to pay a fine of N3,000 and face a series of documentation. The victim is warned that the grace period lasts for only seven days, after which the vehicle could be impounded again. The dilemma is worse for motorists whose vehicles were originally registered elsewhere. The revalidation has to be done there following Lagos State Government’s legal victory for the right of issuance of its own number plate. With the payment of N35,000 for the new number plate, as claimed by one motorist, and other handling charges, this becomes an unnecessary burden on the people.
No doubt, the corps’ power to regulate and design new vehicle registration format cannot be contested. But vehicles should be registered only when they are bought, built, rebuilt, altered or imported. In civilised societies, vehicle registration numbers are said to be a way of identifying vehicles. And its life cycle is not subjected to any arbitrariness. The registration stays with the vehicle until it is broken up, destroyed, exported permanently out of the country, or where the owner prefers the new plate.
In the United Kingdom, new regulations introduced a standard font (style of lettering) for number plates, making them easier to be read. For the new format, the age identifier changes every six months. According to the UK’s Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, all vehicles manufactured before this date still retain the old format. In the United States, when a vehicle is sold, the disposition of the licence plates depends on state law and varies by state. In some states, licence plates are transferred with the vehicle to its new owner. In other states, the licence plates remain with the seller, who may, for a fee, transfer the licence plates and any unused portion of the current registration to a new vehicle. Some states issue a new plate whenever the car is sold. New number plate formats affect only vehicles bought after its introduction. These are standard practices to minimise the cost burden on vehicle owners.
But over the years, the FRSC has turned itself into an instrument of exploitation, dehumanisation and oppression of motorists by the way it goes about its traffic management duties. Its officials take pleasure in flagging down private cars, which they believe are more likely to meet their set target of generating higher revenues, while turning a blind eye to rickety, smoky vehicles that constitute a nuisance to other road users, especially the commercial vehicles whose drivers perpetually operate above the law. The FRSC has failed woefully to enforce the use of protective helmets by motorcyclists, the standard worldwide that saves lives. Even on inter-state highways, errant motorcyclists zoom past FRSC officers.
The FRSC and the state should stop heaping burdens on Nigerians in a gratuitous pursuit of revenue. Traffic management is purely a civic duty, not a revenue generating channel. It should be about how to manage traffic flow, reduce accidents and congestion. The FRSC should concentrate on its core mandate of safety on the highways. Even by its own figures, the carnage is high; National Bureau of Statistics reports that 2,598 persons died in road crashes in the six months to March 2018 and 2,482 accidents were recorded in the first quarter of this year. According to the World Health Organisation, in high-income countries, an established set of interventions has contributed to significant reductions in the incidence and impact of road traffic injuries. These include the enforcement of legislation to control speed and alcohol consumption, mandating the use of seat belts and crash helmets, and the safer design and use of roads and vehicles. Over the past 20 years, hand-held mobile telephones have emerged as a road safety problem. The FRSC says the major causes of crashes in Nigeria are speeding, error of judgement when overtaking; violations like facing oncoming traffic (“one-way”) and untrained drivers. These are the critical issues that should engage the attention of the FRSC.
The FRSC should stop this harassment. It should find new and better road safety measures to reduce the high rate of deaths on our roads. There is no justification under the sun for renewing what was always wrong. We reject the corps’ disingenuous attempt to raise the flag of security. Nigerians have long seen through this ruse: if robbers, kidnappers and other felons are using old number plates not on their data banks, then they should put all numbers on the banks at the point of the mandatory annual renewal of all number plates. The police, FRSC, VIOs and state traffic agencies all undertake random checks of vehicle documents, thus providing an ample opportunity to update vehicle-related data.
A vehicle number is an identity; you don’t change it at the whim of the FRSC or licensing authorities. When new number plates are introduced, the existing ones should be allowed to lapse: it has been done here in the past. Opeyemi Boboye, the Corps Marshal, should stop this abnormal policy. The changeover should be seamless and at no extra cost to motorists.