FRSC “cannot force upon Nigerians, a hastily conceived policy without any enabling legal framework.”
The lawyer who filed the suit challenging the power of the Federal Road Safety Commission, FRSC, to impound vehicles of motorists wearing old number plates has threatened another legal action against the agency.
Two weeks ago, Justice James Tsoho of the Federal High Court, Lagos, delivered a landmark judgment stating that it was unlawful for the FRSC to impose new number plates on Nigerians, where no existing law permitted it.
Emmanuel Ofoegbu, a lawyer, had dragged the commission to court challenging its power to impound vehicles of motorists who failed to acquire its new number plates.
“The vital question to ask at this juncture however is: Under which penal law would the Respondent’s (FRSC) threat be executed?” Asked Justice Tsoho, in a 20-page judgment delivered on March 26th.
“While it is conceded that the Respondent is vested with statutory powers and responsibilities by the Federal Road Safety Commission (Establishment) Act, 2007, it is obviously overreaching itself by its proposed action, which runs contrary to the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999.”
In the judgement, the judge stated specifically that the FRSC cannot impose the new number plates on Nigerian motorists.
“The Respondent cannot force upon Nigerians, a hastily conceived policy without any enabling legal framework,” Mr. Tsoho ruled.
“It is dictatorial and a violation of democratic norms to want to adopt that kind of approach concerning an issue with fundamental effect on the right to personal liberty and freedom of movement of citizens. Such attitude is unacceptable in a democratic dispensation,” the judge continued.
“Finally, I hold that the threats by the Respondent to impound vehicles of defaulters, inclusive of the Applicant over the redesigned vehicle number plates, when the plates in use so far have not been outlawed, amounts to an attempt at arbitrary use of power, which must be deprecated,” the judge added.
The judgment received huge commendation from civil society activists as well as a lot of Nigerians.
But in their bid to ‘educate’ Nigerians on the meaning and implication of the judgment, the FRSC explained that the judgment specified that the commission had the powers to design and produce the number plates as a national policy.
“The ruling on a suit instituted by one Emmanuel Ofoegbu that the FRSC has been threatening in the media to arrest the plaintiff or impound his vehicle from October 1, 2013, or any other date for using vehicle number plates that are in accordance with the National Road Traffic Regulations 2004, the presiding judge, Justice Tsoho ruled that the FRSC has powers to design and produce the number plate as a national policy but cautioned that the statutory powers of the FRSC does not cover setting deadlines for conversion to the newly designed plates,” said Jonas Agwu, Corps Public Education Officer, FRSC.
Mr. Agwu had said that the same judge had, in another verdict in a case instituted by Brent Williams Limited against the FRSC, held that the commission had statutory powers to determine the categories of number plates to be used by vehicles and enforce same.
“The court also ruled that by discharging their duties, officials of the FRSC were not performing the duties of the police but acting in line with the provisions of the FRSC Act 2007. The case was therefore dismissed in favour of the FRSC with a cost of N150,000.00 against the plaintiff,” Mr. Agwu had added.
‘Distorting’ Court Judgment
In a statement on Wednesday, Mr. Ofoegbu accused the FRSC of attempting to misinterpret the judgment and mislead Nigerians.
Mr. Ofoegbu demanded that the FRSC retract their statement within three days from April 10, 2014.
“But if the FRSC fails, neglects and/or refuses to retract the statement within three days, I will employ all legal means to ensure that the FRSC and its officials are brought to book for distorting the decision of a court of competent jurisdiction with the intent of misleading and deceiving Nigerians as to the meaning of the decision,” Mr. Ofoegbu added.
Mr. Ofoegbu, had filed the suit on September 30, 2013, through a Human Rights Activist, Ogedi Ogu.
Last week, in the wake of the FRSC’s explanation of the judgment in major national newspapers and online media, Mr. Ofoegbu had appealed to Nigerians to await a certified true copy of the court’s judgment.
“My attention has been drawn to some publications, in some National Newspapers, by the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) in which the FRSC purportedly offered some explanations and/or gave the account and/or meaning of the judgment delivered by His Lordship, Honourable James Tsoho on Wednesday, the 26th of March, 2014, in the case of Emmanuel Ofoegbu V FRSC Suit No. FHC/LS/CS/1332/2013 at the Federal High Court, Lagos,” Mr. Ofoegbu had said in a statement, last week.
“As a legal practitioner, I know that the Certified True Copy (CTC) of the judgment is the only reliable and authentic record and/or account of the judgment, and not what a party in the suit says and/or thinks and/or wants to believe.
“Consequently, I hereby appeal to all Nigerians including the officials of the FRSC and all supporters of constitutionalism and rule of law all over the world to exercise some patience for the CTC of the judgment to be ready.
“And once the CTC of the judgment is ready, I will make it available to all Nigerians and to all supporters of constitutionalism and rule of law all over the world for their information and necessary actions,” Mr. Ofoegbu had added.
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