The Federal High Court in Lagos has stopped the Federal Road Safety Commission from compelling motorists to do biometric vehicle registration declaring it as illegal and unconstitutional
| By Anayo Ezugwu | Apr. 7, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT
NIGERIANS are happy over the ruling of a Federal High Court in Lagos that declared the issuance of new vehicle number plates by the Federal Road Safety Commission, FRSC, as illegal and unconstitutional. They are also commending Emmanuel Ofoegbu, who instituted the suit challenging FRSC action on the biometric vehicle registration which compel people to pay up to N25,000.00 for the exercise and for securing victory in the court over the new vehicle number plates introduced by the FRSC.
“It is a good one. People are too poor for them to be made to pay for so much just for biometric capturing. Is it fair to charge people again to do the biometric after they had registered the vehicles before the new policy was introduced. There is also the predatory nature of law enforcement agencies, who will capitalise on the policy to rip off unsuspecting motorists. It is too costly at N25,000. Everything in the country is conditioned to make people suffer. That’s why we should encourage judicial activism in the country,” a Lagos-based communication consultant, told Realnews magazine on the telephone on Friday.
Bamidele Aturu, a human rights lawyer, said in Abuja, that the court ruling shows that Nigerians must rise to the task of challenging unfavourable policies by government and its agencies. Also, Adetokunbo Mumuni, executive director, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, also said that compelling Nigerians to buy the new number plates was exploitative. “It was not the Nigerian people that said there should be a change in the policy. Therefore, it was fundamentally wrong for FRSC to compel them to pay for the new number plates,” he said.
On his part, Jiti Ogunye, a lawyer and public affairs analyst, said the judgment was courageous and would promote the rule of law in the country. He said it was a vindication of his opinion that FRSC had no constitutional or statutory powers to issue vehicle number plates and drivers licence. “The FRSC was established to ensure safety on federal and state roads and they cannot veer off that mandate and start dabbling into these functions. Those functions under Nigerian federalism ought to be functions that should be exercised by state governments,” he said.
Sunday Ajao, a commercial bus operator, said the judgment was a relief to him as the process of acquiring the number plate had been tough. “I am in support of the judgment, we are saved from their harassment; it is too much for the road safety officers,” he said. According to Ajao, the court should be on the watch for some FRSC officers who might want to unleash anger on motorists because of the judgment. He commended Ofoegbu for challenging the FRSC on behalf of innocent Nigerian motorists.
The court in its ruling declared that the FRSC lacks the constitutional and statutory powers to introduce the new number plates and as such cannot impose it on vehicle owners in the country. In a judgment delivered by Justice James Tsoho on Wednesday, March 26, the court held that the redesigning of the old number plates was not backed by any law.
Tsoho, who was delivering the judgment in a suit by Ofoegbu, a lawyer, against the FRSC, held that the FRSC had no power to impose the redesigned number plates on vehicle owners who had not acquired them. “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 plate numbers 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. Judgment is therefore entered in favour of the plaintiff, and all the reliefs sought is hereby granted, I so hold,” he said.
Ofoegbu had instituted the suit on September 30, 2013, to challenge the power of the FRSC to impound vehicles of motorists who failed to acquire the new number plates. The plaintiff contended that the threat by the FRSC, which gave October 1 deadline for all vehicle owners to acquire the new number plate, was a gross violation of the provisions of Section 36 (12) of the 1999 Constitution, which guaranteed the rights of individuals.
He maintained that the threat by FRSC was illegal, since the amended National Road Traffic Regulations, NRTR, (2012) should not affect everything that was done, based on the revoked NRTR (2004), under which the old number plates were issued. According to the plaintiff, regulation 230(2) of the NRTR (2012) states that the revocation of NRTR (2004) “shall” not affect anything done, or purported to be done pursuant to that regulation.
He submitted that the NRTR 2004 was a subsidiary legislation, made under the Federal Road Safety Commission Act, laws of the federation, as revised in 2004. He, therefore, asked the court to declare as unlawful, the threat by the respondent to arrest motorists, using the old number plates, as according to him, “there is no law validly made in accordance with the constitution, prohibiting its use.” Ofoegbu also sought a court injunction restraining the FRSC from impounding vehicles, arresting or harassing vehicles owners, who refused to comply with the directive.
But the FRSC has insisted that it has statutory powers on the number plates. Jonas Agwu, FRSC public education officer, in a statement made available to the press on Wednesday, March 26, said the court ruling did not vacate the agency statutory powers to design the new number plates. He said that the agency held that the court’s ruling merely stated that the FRSC’s statutory powers do not cover setting deadlines for conversion to the newly designed plates.
“Contrary to media reports emanating from an earlier Federal High Court verdict sitting in Lagos, the Federal Road Safety Corps wishes to affirm that the court judgement did not vacate its statutory powers to design and produce the new number plate but stated that the Corps lacks statutory authority to fix deadline for the enforcement of the number plate,” he said.
Agwu said that the same judge had given another verdict in a case instituted by Brent Williams Limited against the FRSC, 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 N150,000.00 against the plaintiff.”
However, George Olaniran, FRSC legal adviser, said the Corps will appeal the court’s verdict on the FRSC’s powers to set deadline for a changeover to the new number plate. According to him, 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.