The Court of Appeal sitting in Lagos has upheld the power of the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) to issue and enforce the use of new number plates for motorists in Nigeria.
The appellate court in a judgment delivered by Justice Shagbaor Ikegh, upheld the validity of the National Road Traffic Regulation (NRTR) 2012 which states 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”.
The court also declared that NRTR 2012 has legal force, and is enforceable from October 1, 2013, the administrative date set by FRSC.
The Appeal Court also set aside the decision of the Federal High Court in Lagos which had declared the Regulation 2012 unconstitutional.
A Lagos lawyer, Emmanuel Ofoegbu, had dragged the FRSC, before the Federal High Court to challenge the October 1, 2013 deadline set for motorists to convert to the new number plate, and also the threat to impound vehicles of defaulters.
Justice John Tsoho of the Federal High Court in a judgment on March 26, described as unconstitutional, the threats by FRSC, to impound vehicles of defaulters, including that of the applicant, over the redesigned plates.
The judge had held that although the Commission had statutory powers and responsibilities, it was overreaching itself by its proposed action, since there was no penal law under which same could be executed.
Justice Tsoho had also maintained that the FRSC could not force upon Nigerians, a hastily conceived policy, without an enabling legal framework, adding that nothing had invalidated the old number plates.
He had described the plans by the Commission as dictatorial and an arbitrary use of power contrary to the constitution, insisting that same must be deprecated.
Dissatisfied with the decision of the lower court, the FRSC had approached the appellate court, seeking an order, upturning the verdict of the lower court.
The FRSC in its appeal had raised four issues for determination: whether the trial court was right when It took notice of newspaper publication, on the alleged threat to impound vehicles of defaulters.
It also urged the appellate court to decide whether the trial court was right to hold that the NRTR 2012 was a nastily conceived policy without legal framework.
The Commission had also queried the locus standi of the respondent to have initiated the suit at the lower court, and whether the court was right to have granted an injunction in his favour.
The appellate court however, resolved three of the issues raised by the FRSC, in favour of the respondent (Ofoegbu).
The court held: “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.
“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 standing the appellate court held that the respondent disclosed a sufficient personal interest on the face of the application.
Ikegh: “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 standi to bring the action as rightly held by the said court.”
On the issue of reliance on newspaper publications, the appellate court held that although the trial 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 the 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 onMarch 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.