FRSC has powers to issue new number plates, drivers’ licenses – Anambra Court

Nigerian Plate Number used to illustrate the story
Nigerian Plate Number used to illustrate the story

“Section 5 of the Act of 2007 allows the commission, the Respondent, to make regulations for carrying out the objectives of the Act.”

Contrary to the rulings of two Federal High Courts in Lagos and Abuja, an Anambra State High Court sitting in Awka has ruled that the issuance of new vehicle number plates and drivers licenses by the Federal Road Safety Commission, FRSC, is “legal” and “constitutional.”

Delivering judgment in a suit filed by Emmanuel Ofoegbu, a lawyer, against the FRSC, at a Federal High Court in Lagos in March, the judge, James Tsoho, declared that no existing law permitted the commission to impose the new number plates.

“The respondent (FRSC) cannot force Nigerians to acquire new plate numbers by impounding cars, without the backing of any legislation to that effect,” Mr. Tsoho ruled‎. “I hold that the act of the respondent amounts to an arbitrary use of power, and is therefore illegal and unconstitutional.”

Similarly, in May, Adeniyi Ademola, the judge of a Federal High Court in Abuja, ruled that the FRSC lacked the constitutional power to compel vehicle owners to renew their vehicle particulars which had yet to expire and declared the threat of the commission to arrest and prosecute motorists who did not obtain the new licence and number plates illegal and unconstitutional.

“The commission’s planned action is tantamount to executive recklessness, as the FRSC cannot amend any act of the National Assembly or promulgate another one,” he ruled. “The court is also mindful of the recent judgment of a Lagos Federal High Court on the same subject matter, which I completely aligned with.”

But in a judgement delivered on June 30, in a suit instituted by one Ajefo Ekwo, against the commission on the legality of the issuance of the new number plates and drivers licences, the trial judge, Peter Umeadi, who is also the Chief Judge of Anambra State, ruled that by the provision of the National Road Traffic Regulation 2012 and the Federal Road Safety Commission Act 2007, the FRSC is empowered to issue new vehicle number plates and drivers licenses.

“I hold that the directive of the respondent to all motorist previously registered to re-register their vehicles for the purpose of changing their old number plates with new vehicle number plates is legal and constitutional and stand firmly on both Act 2007 and Regulations of 2012,” the judge declared.

“Section 5 of the Act of 2007 allows the commission, the Respondent, to make regulations for carrying out the objectives of the Act. The Act of 2007 specifically allow the respondent to make regulation with regard to the designing and producing of drivers licences, and vehicle number plates to be used by various categories of vehicles.”

The judge also ruled that it is wrong to hold the FRSC responsible for the discontinuance of the old number plates explaining that by the passing of the National Road Traffic Regulation 2012, it is only natural for the old plates to be changed.

“I began by separating the respondent per se from the legislation which the respondent has the authority to and did sponsor for the proper use of highways and related matters to safety on the highways… As soon as the Regulations of 2012 were made, they took a life of their own. It does not matter if it was done by the respondent or that the respondent is vested with the powers. But it is not only the respondent that was vested with the powers therein. It just happened that the Regulation of 2012 and the Act of 2007 allow the respondent to place a pivotal role in the sequence event to realise the goal of the legislations. It is on this note that it should be understood that old vehicle registration licence were not discontinued by the respondent qua respondent but by the force of the Regulation of 2012.

“I agree with the learned counsel of the respondent that to achieve the use of legal, legitimate and now only authorised new vehicle registration licences and driver licences the old ones have to be discontinued and the law has vested the respondent with the power to do that.”

Not Ideal

A Lagos-based Lawyer, Jiti Ogunye, said though such conflicting judgments by courts of coordinate jurisdiction are not ideal, they are not uncommon in Nigeria especially during the military era, he stated.

He blamed the FRSC for not informing the Awka court of the two earlier judgements in Lagos and Abuja.

“The point is that if a party instituted an action at the Federal High Court in Lagos and another party instituted an action at the Federal high court in Abuja against the FRSC in Abuja and you then have those two favourable judgements coming ahead of this one, what the Federal Road Safety Commission that have been appearing in these courts ought to have told the court in Awka is to bring the two earlier pronouncement to the attention of the court.

“Although this is another matter presumably filed by another party against the Federal Road Safety Commission, they should have told the court not to make any pronouncement on it. The court would have referred this matter to the Court of Appeal because the matter is now before the Court of Appeal because they are appealing the two earlier decisions.

“That is the duty obligatory to the Federal road Safety commission, apparently the Federal road Safety Commission did not discharge that duty from what we can presume and encourage the court to give this judgement.”

My Ogunye, said the judgment of the Anambra court is redundant.

“The FRSC cannot pick and choose. We are not talking about a policy limited to Anambra State because it is one and the same policy and if the courts earlier had voided that policy and restrained the FRSC from going ahead with that policy, the procurement of another judgement by the FRSC to the effect that it can go ahead with that policy is not availing and therefore would not entitle the FRSC to go on with that policy. So to that extent, the judgement is now empty judgement in the circumstances in which I have given this explanation it is a pyric victory, hollow and it is not capable of being enforced.

“The FRSC ought not to have set up that court to make it a laughing stock. It ought not to have urged the court on because it is the same FRSC that have received the two earlier judgement against it. It ought to have told the court that this is the situation and the parties would have set that aside. Indeed the two previous judgements ought to have been made available to that court so that the court would not have been made an ostrich and pretend that it is only concerned with material facts pleaded within the four corners of the court and pretend not to know that this two judgements have been given in the same subject.”

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