-October 1 deadline in jeopardy
CONFUSION and misinformation are key words that have characterized the Wednesday, March 26, 2014 court ruling that faulted Federal Road Safety Commission’s (FRSC) powers to implement the new vehicle number plate.
Whereas the FRSC has affirmed that the court judgement didn’t vacate its statutory powers to design and produce the new number plates, the general public had interpreted it otherwise.
In a release obtained by ENCOMIUM Weekly on Friday, March 28, 2014 from FRSC’s Corps Public Education Officer, Jonas Agwu, the commission said the court only ruled that they lack statutory authority to fix deadline for the enforcement of the number plate.
“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 number plate as a national policy but cautioned that statutory powers of the FRSC does not cover setting deadlines for conversion to the newly designed plates,” the statement said.
However, in another verdict, Justice Tsoho had in a case instituted by Brent Williams Limited against the FRSC, ruled that the Corps has 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, members 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 against the plaintiff.
The release also quoted the Corps Legal Adviser, Assistant Corps Marshal George Olaniran to have commended the Federal High Court, Lagos for conceding that the FRSC has statutory powers to design and produce number plates. He said that the commission will, however, appeal the court’s verdict on FRSC’s powers to set deadline for a change over to the new number plate.
Olaniran further clarified that the FRSC does not set deadline for new number plate, rather it is under the purview of the states through the Joint Tax Board to fix deadline for enforcement of the vehicle number plates.
When ENCOMIUM Weekly called at the FRSC Lagos Command on Friday, March 28, 2014, the Sector Commander, Chidi Nkwonta also followed the submission of his superiors in Abuja. We were further educated that the Joint Tax Board fixes the cost of vehicle registration, which explains why it varies from state to state. He also affirmed that the board determines the date or deadline of implementation of new vehicle number plates.
A Federal High Court in Lagos on Wednesday, March 26, 2014 held that it was unconstitutional for the FRSC to impose new number plates on motorists in the country.
Justice James Tsoho delivered the landmark judgement following a suit by a lawyer, Emmanuel Ofoegbu who challenged the powers of FRSC to issue the new number plates.
Ofoegbu had challenged the power of the commission to impound vehicles of motorists who failed to acquire the new number plates.
Tsoho held that it was unlawful for the respondent to impose the new number plates on motorists where there was no existing law permitting same.
“The issue of redesigning new number plates by the respondent is not covered under the provisions of any law in Nigeria. The respondent cannot force Nigerians to acquire new number plates by impounding cars, without the backing of any legislation to that effect.
“I hold that the act of the respondent amounts to an arbitrary use of power and is therefore, illegal and unconstitutional. Judgement is, therefore, entered in favour of the plaintiff and all reliefs sought are hereby granted. I so hold.”
The plaintiff had sought a declaration that the threat by FRSC to impound vehicles of motorists who failed to acquire the new number plates was invalid and unconstitutional.
In Ofoegbu’s statement of facts, he averred that the old number plates were issued under the provisions of the National Road Traffic Regulations (NRTR), 2004.
He observed that the NRTR is a subsidiary legislation made under the FRSC Act, Laws of the Federation as revised in 2004.
He averred that there was no law made in accordance with the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as (amended) which prohibits the use of old number plates or declares its use as an offence.
He also averred that the threat by the respondent to impound vehicles and arrest motorists who failed to comply with the October 1 deadline was a gross violation of the provisions of Section 36(12) of the constitution which guarantees the rights of individuals. He had, therefore, used the court to declare as unlawful, the threat by the respondent to arrest motorists using the old number plates because there is no law validly made in accordance with the constitution prohibiting its user.
The applicant had also sought an order of injunction restraining the FRSC from impounding vehicles or otherwise arresting or harassing motorists who failed to acquire the new number plate.
Barrister Ofoegbu filed the suit on September 30, 2013 through a human rights activist, Mr. Ogedi Agu.
Meanwhile, the FRSC, Lagos State Command has confirmed that the cost of standard number plate still remains N12,500, excluding other Federal and State Government vehicle registration components.
ENCOMIUM Weekly’s investigations revealed that though it shouldn’t cost a vehicle owner more than N22,000, some spend as much as N35,000 to complete their documents. Even as many are also at the mercy of touts who issue them fake papers.
A notice board displayed at the FRSC premises shows that standard number plate is N12,500 while renewal is pegged at N10,000. Vehicle registration (for new vehicles) is N5,000 while, depending on the vehicle’s capacity and size, licences range from N1,250, N1,850 to N3,125. Change of ownership is still N2,500 while Police CMR and Inspection fee are N1,000 and N500 respectively.
We also gathered that the new Drivers Licence is N6,350 and renewal N6,000.
Mass criticism has been trailing the FRSC handling of Drivers Licence, number plate registration and general vehicle documentation and administration. With many calling for disbandment of the commission and merging it with the Police, others have asked the commission to concentrate on road safety issues which is not even in the Exclusive list. In fact, some states like Lagos have challenged the FRSC powers, especially in the areas of drivers licence and the number plate design, production and distribution.
Now, that a court of competent jurisdiction has made a landmark pronouncement on the commission’s ‘excesses’, they are now running from pillar to post to interpret the court judgement in their favour.
– UCHE OLEHI