The introduction of the new number plates, being foisted on Nigerian vehicle owners by the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), was on Wednesday, March 26, 2014 declared unconstitutional by a Federal High Court in Lagos. Delivering judgement in a suit filed by a legal practitioner, Mr. Emmanuel Ofoegbu, against the FRSC, the presiding judge, Justice James Tsoho said the redesigning of the existing number plates was not backed by law. He therefore averred that the commission had no power to impose the redesigned number plates on vehicle owners. He held that it would be illegal and unconstitutional for the FRSC to impound vehicles without the redesigned number plates because such an action would amount to an arbitrary exercise of power. Mr. Ofoegbu had contended in his suit that there was no law validly made in accordance with the Constitution prohibiting the use of the number plates the FRSC wanted to replace.
One argument being touted as a selling point for redesigning the number plates is that it will make it possible to track down road traffic offenders.
Is it the inability to track down traffic offenders that has been responsible for the high rate of fatalities on the highway or the failure of road safety officials to enforce speed limits and other traffic regulations? Should the indiscipline on the highway be blamed on number plates or on compromised road safety officials? We have repeatedly made the point that the attachment of a number plate to the vehicle owner will serve a useful purpose in crime detection and not in accident prevention. Can it be a problem tracking down traffic offenders – particularly those involved in serious accidents – who either end up on the hospital bed or in the mortuary? Moreover, it falls within the purview of the police and not the FRSC to track down a driver or vehicle that is connected with a crime.
The road safety organisation has been fighting a running battle with the Nigerian public since it came up with the weird idea of forcing new number plates on vehicle owners in a country that is being governed by law. In spite of the fact that no convincing argument has been advanced to justify the self-serving project, the FRSC has been relentless in its bid to force the redesigned number plates on vehicle owners. The corps initially fixed September 30, 2013 as deadline for owners of different categories of vehicles to acquire the new number plates. Widespread criticism and indignation forced it to shift the date to June 30, 2014 after which vehicles without the new number plates are to be hounded off the road. The March 26, 2014 judgement by Justice Thoho has no doubt come as a great relief to vehicle owners who have been saved from the oppressive policy of a government agency that has turned the sacred task of reducing carnage on the roads to a money-making venture. Our hope is that the landmark and widely-applauded judgement has put an end to the rabid desire of the FRSC to pervert the purpose for which it was established.
From the moment it was first brought to the public domain, the money motive was manifest in the number plates and driver’s licence project. There has been no rhythm to all FRSC officials have been saying to explain away the fact that the primary objective is to fleece motorists. They have been talking about the advantage of a comprehensive database which they intend to establish. The fact, however, is that the National Road Traffic Regulations Act (2004) empowers the Motor Licensing Authority in each state to register vehicles while the Police Act (2004) empowers the police to maintain vehicle statistics. Under which law does the FRSC intend to establish a comprehensive database?
The unlawful imposition of new number plates on vehicle owners amply illustrates how government agencies have been cashing in on the docility of Nigerians and getting away with it. This is why a road safety organisation can whimsically reduce the validity period of drivers’ licences and decree that the number plates of vehicles be replaced at prohibitive costs. The corps marshal, Mr. Osita Chidoka, was some time ago, reported as saying that speeding accounted for 65 per cent of road accidents in Nigeria. He was at another occasion quoted as saying that 3,500 Nigerians lost their lives in road crashes from January to mid-November 2012. This shows that the commission has a good record of the rate of accidents and the deaths that result therefrom.
Instead of concentrating its efforts on how to reduce the slaughter on the roads, the FRSC has been preoccupied with revenue generation. The Lagos Federal High Court judgement should serve as a wake-up call to the Federal Government to call the organisation to order by making it to operate within the confines of the law. It should not be allowed to lose its bearing. It should be compelled to redirect its focus to its raison d’etre.