The Court of Appeal in Lagos, Friday, set aside a lower court’s ruling that the Federal Road Safety Commission, FRSC, lacked the power to enforce new number plates in the country.
In the ruling delivered by Joseph Ikyegh, the appellate court resolved three of the four issues the FRSC brought before it for determination in favour of Emmanuel Ofoegbu, the respondent.
“I would allow this appeal in part; for the avoidance of doubt, this appeal only succeeds in part to the effect that regulations 2012 has legal force, and is enforceable from Oct. 1, 2013, the administrative date set by FRSC,” the judge said.
“The part of the decision of the lower court declaring the regulation 2012 unconstitutional is hereby set aside.”
A Federal High Court, Lagos, had declared that no existing law permitted the FRSC to impose new number plates on Nigerians.
The court was delivering a ruling in a suit filed by Mr. Ofoegbu challenging the October 1, 2013, deadline set by the FRSC for motorists to convert to the new number plate, including the threat to impound vehicles of defaulters.
“The FRSC cannot force Nigerians to acquire new plate numbers by impounding cars without the backing of any legislation to that effect,” James Tsoho had ruled last March.
“I hold that the acts of the FRSC amount to an arbitrary use of power, and is therefore illegal and unconstitutional.”
Dissatisfied, the FRSC approached the Court of Appeal challenging the lower court’s decision and seeking to upturn its verdict.
The Commission raised four issues for determination – whether the lower court was right when it took notice of a newspaper publication on the alleged threat to impound vehicles of defaulters and whether the court was right to hold that the National Road Traffic Regulation, NRTR, (2012) was a hastily conceived policy without legal framework.
The other issues for determination include the locus standi of the respondent (Mr. Ofoegbu) who initiated the suit and whether the court was right to have granted an injunction in his favour.
While the appellate court resolved three issues in favour of Mr. Ofoegbu, it upheld the validity of the NRTR (2012), adding that by the provisions of Section 5 of the FRSC Act, 2007, the National Assembly had delegated the authority to the Commission to so act.
“In respect of the issue of fear of impounding the vehicle of the respondent by the appellant, Section 35(1) of the Constitution makes personal liberty of a person, an issue of fundamental human right,” Justice Ikyegh said.
“The application of the respondent was brought to protect his personal right to liberty and protection of his movable property, therefore, the appellant has no legal framework to enforce regulation 2012 as it relates to impounding the respondent’s vehicle.
“The respondent would have the standing to sue to enforce his rights.”
On the issue of locus standi, the judge held that the respondent disclosed a sufficient personal interest on the face of the application.
“I find no substance in the argument that the respondent lacked the locus to have brought the action at the lower court; he has the locus standing to bring the action as rightly held by the said court.”
On the whether the lower court had erred by relying on newspaper publications, the judge held that although the court was in error to have relied on same without the reaction of the appellant, there was however, evidence in the form of affidavit in support.
The court therefore, discountenanced the newspaper report adding that the decision of the lower court that the respondent proved his case, can still stand, as it would have been the same based on the affidavit.
On the issue of injunction granted by the lower court, the appellate court held that the Federal High Court granted exactly what was requested by the respondent for his benefit adding that it confined itself to the reliefs sought.
On the issue of validity of regulations (2012), the court held that the effect of regulations 230 (2) of the regulation 2012 preserves the NRTR 2004.
“Its effect is that all acts done under the 2004 regulation, would remain valid until the time frame expires.
“The respondent having a valid plate number before the commencement of the litigation, and with the coming into force of the regulations 2012 delayed by the appellant from Aug. 13, 2012 to Oct. 1, 2013, the said number plate was valid up to its expiry date on March 17, 2014.
“Consequently, the repeal of the 2004 regulations did not affect the validity of the number plate of the respondent vehicle vide regulations 230 (2) of regulations 2012, read with section 4(2) and 6 of the interpretation Act.
“The lower court was therefore right, in issuing an injunction to protect the respondent’s right to enjoyment of the number plate issued on March 18, 2013, to expire on March 17, 2014.”