FRSC plans to enforce the new number plates starting from August 1.
A plan by the Federal Road Safety Corps, FRSC, to defy court orders and clampdown on motorists without its new number plates by August 1, has stirred a fresh controversy as the commission came under a new leadership this week.
The corps announced Tuesday that despite restraining orders from two federal courts in Abuja and Lagos, it was determined to press on with the controversial policy of ensuring all motorists buy its new car number plates and licence from August 1.
The FRSC, now under a new Corps Marshal appointed by President Goodluck Jonathan Wednesday, said it is decision is based on a new ruling by a state court in Anambra.
The Anambra Court gave the corps the go-ahead in a decision July 15, despite an appeal against the previous decisions by the two federal court.
Lawyers have rejected the authority of the Anambra Court, and also criticize its timing since the appeal launched by the FRSC is currently before the Court of Appeal.
Ogedi Ogu, the lawyer who obtained the Lagos court ruling in March against the FRSC, described the Corp’s vow to proceed with the enforcement as a “concoction of lies”.
Mr. Ogu, who filed a suit on September 30, 2013, through Emmanuel Ofoegbu, a rights activist, had challenged the power of the FRSC to impound vehicles of motorists who failed to acquire the new number plates.
In a ruling delivered by James Tsoho, the Federal High Court, Lagos, held that it was unlawful for the Commission to impose the new number plates on Nigerians, where no existing law permitted it.
“The issue of redesigning new number plates by the respondent is not covered under the provisions of any law in Nigeria,” Mr. Tsoho had said.
The court’s pronouncement put paid to the FRSC’s intention to begin enforcement of the new number plates by October 1, and the Commission headed to the appeal court to challenge the ruling.
However, on Tuesday, the FRSC announced that it would go ahead with the enforcement of the new drivers’ licence and number plates on August 1.
Chidi Nkwonta, Lagos State Sector Commander, FRSC, said the decision followed the Anambra ruling.
“This new judgment made it very clear that as from August 1, FRSC should impound,” Mr. Nkwonta said. “So, Nigerians must discountenance that first misleading judgment and take this one because we are going to continue enforcement as from August 1, 2014.”
In May, the Anambra State High Court sitting in Awka had ruled that the issuance of new vehicle number plates and drivers licenses by the FRSC was “legal” and “constitutional.”
“I hold that the directive of the respondent to all motorists 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,” he added.
Federal vs. State High Court
Several lawyers have faulted the FRSC’s intention to adopt a judgment by a state high court over that of a federal court, more so, when the subject of litigation was still before an appellate court.
A Lagos-based Lawyer, Jiti Ogunye, blamed the FRSC in the first place 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,” he said.
Mr. 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.”
The parties in appeal suit No. CA/L/412/2014, instituted by the FRSC in respect of the new number plates, had filed their respective briefs of argument before the Court of Appeal, Lagos, and await a hearing date.
In a joint statement, Thursday, Messrs Ofoegbu and Ogu said that since the federal high court’s order of injunction in the suit between Mr. Ofoegbu and the FRSC was still valid and subsisting, any action by the Commission or its agents to undermine the injunction would be matched with “appropriate actions.”
“And the FRSC, pursuant to the appeal, officially published in the newspapers and social media to all Nigerians, the suspension of the vehicles’ new number plates pending the hearing and the determination of the appeal it filed against the judgment of Honourable Justice J.T Tsoho,” the joint statement read.
“So, since the vehicles’ new number plates have been suspended, to the knowledge of Nigerians, pending the hearing and determination of the appeal, what was the alleged grievance and/or cause of action that made the State High Court of Anambra State to entertain the case when the same subject matter and issues are involved in the appeal pending at the Court of Appeal, Lagos, which is higher in judicial hierarchy than a State High Court of Anambra State?
“Again, did the State High Court of Anambra State advert its mind to Section 251(i)(r) of the 1999 Constitution which provides that only the Federal High Court has the jurisdiction to entertain cases involving Federal Agencies? And the FRSC is a Federal Agency,” the statement continued.
“Furthermore, did the State High Court of Anambra State advert its mind to Section 230(2) of the National Road Traffic Regulations 2012, which expressly provides that the revocation of the National Road Traffic Regulations 2004, shall not affect anything done or purported to be done under or pursuant to that Regulations? And the vehicle number plates in use before the 2012 Regulations were obtained pursuant to 2004 Regulations,” the statement added.
Also, in his response to the FRSC’s pronouncement of intention to begin enforcement of new number plates, Mr. Ogu said that the judgement from Anambra State “appears to me as a gimmick to pave way for Mr Chidoka’s screening at the Senate.”
Osita Chidoka was the immediate past head of the FRSC who has just been appointed the Aviation Minister.
“The question is does a state high court have jurisdiction over FRSC – a federal agency, please check your constitution. It must be noted that the FHC (federal high court) is the only court of first instance in so far as the subject matter is in issue and not a state high court or howsoever called,” said Mr. Ogu.
“Again Mr Nkwonta of FRSC must be well advised, he must humble himself and seek legal advice before going public, he must always work with the FRSC legal department and seek sound advice but should he persist in his now infamous ways of reaping Nigerians, I will have no option than to ensure that he is committed for contempt of Court once the Judiciary staff strike is called off,” he added.