Nigerians have condemned the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) for reintroducing the suspended enforcement of the new vehicle number plates on motorists without adequate information.
Since last September, some motorists, particularly in Abuja and other major cities across the country, have complained about being accosted by FRSC officials and being issued fines for vehicle number plate violation.
Some of those who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES described FRSC’s action as an “ambush and an attempt to extort from innocent Nigerians.”
The motorists claimed although Nigerians were aware of the initial directive in 2011 for old number plates to be replaced with new ones, after the implementation and enforcement of the directive was suspended in 2014 following the intervention of the National Assembly, they were not informed when a new order was issued.
A senior official in Akwa Ibom Liaison Office, Abuja, Uduakabasi Udo, said she was accosted by FRSC officials on September 14 and asked to pay N3,000 fine for not using the new plate number.
“When FRSC officials stopped me around the Corps’ former headquarters in Zone 7, Abuja and requested for my vehicle papers, I was shocked when, after seeing my documents were complete, they still booked me for using an old vehicle number plate,” Mrs Udo told PREMIUM TIMES.
“When I insisted on seeing the document that authorised the Corps to restart the enforcement of the earlier suspended directive, I was the more surprised when the official took me to his office to show me a memo on the subject issued the previous day from the Corps headquarters,” she said.
Despite her strong protests, Mrs Udo said she was issued papers for the fine of N3,000.
She said she was asked to approach any FRSC office to get a new number plate, which will attract additional cost of between N12,500 and N15,000.
For Philemon Adjekuko, he said he was accosted close to the National Hospital in Abuja by some FRSC officials at about 10 a.m. on Tuesday.
“After going through my license and vehicle particulars, despite finding them up-to-date they still booked me and issued me a fine for using an old plate number,” Mr Adjekuko told PREMIUM TIMES.
“The fine struck me like a bolt, because I had no idea what that was all about. The official who booked me said the FRSC had just gotten a court judgment in their favour and were only resuming the enforcement earlier suspended,” he said.
Mr Adjekuko said “assuming FRSC actually got such a judgment, does it not owe Nigerians a duty to make a public announcement in all the media before the commencement of the enforcement?
“What FRSC is doing is morally wrong, even if legal. Nigerians have a right to know an issue before a court of law has been resolved one way or the other.
“Besides, equity demands Nigerians should be given adequate time to obtain the new plate number in the light of the so-called judgment. Equity demands the best way to go about it will be to phase out the old number plates by attrition,” he said.
For instance, Mr Adjekuko said FRSC would have asked all those going to renew their vehicle particulars to obtain the new number plates alongside. That way, he said, people can prepare their minds towards undertaking such financial burden.
“What FRSC is doing on the roads amounts to an ambush, with the aim of extorting the people. Nigerians are already suffering from a high level of distress. To add to that distress by impounding their vehicles or confiscating their licenses and imposing a fine using old number plates is against the principles of natural justice,” he noted.
When PREMIUM TIMES visited the FRSC official website, no information on the judgment was published to notify the public of the latest development.
A lawyer weighs in
A Lagos-based public interest lawyer, Jiti Ogunye, who was one of the few Nigerians who challenged the introduction of the new number plate by FRSC in 2012, agrees with Mr Adjekuko that the Corps owes Nigerians a duty to publicise its latest court order on all media platforms before embarking on enforcement.
Besides, Mr Ogunye faulted the FRSC for abdicating its mandate and responsibility to Nigerians in pursuit of the revenue generating agencies’ role.
“If the FRSC informed Nigerians of the suspension of enforcement of the directive, now that it claims it has a fresh court order for them to recommence the enforcement of the earlier directive, I believe they have a duty to inform Nigerians through publications of the judgment in all media platforms,” Mr Ogunye said.
He said FRSC was not established as a revenue generating agency, but to ensure safety on federal highways.
He said what the FRSC is doing is not only enforcing indiscriminately its rules even on state roads in violation of the federal principle, but also elevating revenue generation above its core mandate.
Origin of the problem
The new vehicle number plate and driver’s licence were introduced by the FRSC in 2011.
Consequently, the Corps announced the old number plates would be phased out by August 2012.
By November 2012, the FRSC was compelled to extend the deadline by a year, with a warning using old number plates would not only become illegal by September 30, 2013, but also an offence effective October 1, 2013.
Regardless, on September 30, 2013, Ogedi Ogu, filed a suit at the Federal High Court, Lagos through Emmanuel Ofoegbu, a rights activist, to challenge the FRSC’ powers to enforce its directive on the old number plates.
The suit had rejected a July 15, 2013 ruling by an Anambra State High Court in Awka authorising the FRSC to go-ahead with the enforcement of the directive, as it was ‘legal and constitutional.’
In his ruling, Justice James Tsoho of the Federal High Court, Lagos, held that it was unlawful for FRSC to impose the new number plates on Nigerians, where there was no existing law permitting.
Following the court’s ruling, FRSC’s plan to commence enforcement of the new number plates by October 1, 2013 was halted.
Although the Corps resolved to file an appeal, it however announced it was determined to go ahead with the enforcement of the new drivers’ licence and number plates come August 1, 2014 on the basis of the Anambra court ruling.
But, following the insistence by concerned lawyers that the federal high court’s order restraining the FRSC was still valid and subsisting, the FRSC officially announced the suspension of the enforcement notice on new number plates in 2014.
When contacted, FRSC spokesperson, Bisi Kazeem, told PREMIUM TIMES enforcing the new number plate directive by the Corps was official.
Mr Kazeem did not address why the Corps did not publicise the latest court order permitting it to commence enforcement of the suspended directive.
“We gave room for people to purchase new number plates when renewing their vehicle licence, but people ignored and continued to use the old plates,” he said.