The position of the Law on Number Plates in Nigeria



Many Nigerians pay less attention to number plates. While some see them as means of vehicle identification, others see them as a vehicular declaration of one’s state of origin. However, these claims, although fairly true, do not totally portray the position of number plates. By law, one is at liberty to select any number plate irrespective of one’s state of origin. In this writer’s opinion, this liberty to make any choice is in cognizance of section 2 (1) of the 1999 constitution, which states that Nigeria is one indivisible and indissoluble sovereign state.” Research has shown that Lagos and Abuja number plates are the most sought after. The reason for this is not far from the fact that they were and are the capital cities of Nigeria, respectively. [1]
A number plate, otherwise known as a license plate, was first introduced by French authorities on August 14th 1893. [2] This novel idea was soon sold to other parts of the world. In Great Britain, the need for vehicle identification became apparent following a surge in accidents and in mechanically propelled vehicles. The solution to this trending problem was the enactment of the Motor Car Act of 1904. [3] According to Wikipedia, the use of license plates was adopted in Nigeria in 1992 and revised in 2011. [4] This means that it was introduced in Nigeria 99 years after its initial introduction in France. 
The Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) is the Agency charged with the production, designing and issuing of number plates. [5] Upon production, the number plates are then distributed to the Joint Task Board, which is made up of the Board of Internal Revenue of the 36 states of the Federation and the FCT. The Board in turn, sell them through the Vehicle Inspection Office (VIO) of each state. Therefore, any number plate purchased serves as a revenue to the state government selling it. 
Vehicle inspection is a procedure, mandated by national or subnational governments in many countries, in which a vehicle is inspected to ensure that it conforms to regulations governing safety,emissions,or both.[sic.] [6] The VIO or Vehicle Inspection Office is a Federal Government Agency under the Ministry of Transportation in charge of this responsibility. [7]
Conferring the power on the FRSC to produce, design and issue number plates has been a continuous source of great controversies. This includes contrary judgments made by trial courts in 2014 when the FRSC declared it would roll out new types of number plates. An Anambra State High Court, sitting in Awka, ruled that the FRSC’s power to do so was legal and constitutional. [8]
In the case of Ajefo Ekwo v. FRSC (Unnreported) Suit No: A/136/2014, the trial Judge, Peter Umeadi ruled that:
 “Section 5 of the Act of 2007 allows the commission, the Respondent, to make regulations for carrying out the objectives of the Act. The Act of 2007 specifically allow the respondent to make regulation with regard to the designing and producing of drivers’ licences, and vehicle number plates to be used by various categories of vehicles.” [9]
However, in the case of Emmanuel Ofoegbu v. FRSC (Unreported) Suit No: FHC/LS/CS/1332/2013, the plaintiff, a legal practitioner, sought the court to declare illegal and unconstitutional the power of the defendant to make, issue and compel drivers to obtain the then newly revised number plates. It was held by J. Tsoho, the Judge of the Federal High Court, sitting in Lagos, that no existing law permitted the body to impose the new law. In his words, he mentioned inter alia:
 “The respondent (FRSC) cannot force Nigerians to acquire new plate numbers[sic.] 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.” [10]
 Despite the arguments that have been canvassed against the FRSC, challenging its power to produce, design and issue number plates, its function is still upheld till date by more recent judicial pronouncements. 
All number plates you see are unique and represent the purpose of the vehicle bearing it. Under Part III of the second schedule to the Federal Road Safety Commission Act, section 22 (9), sub-paragraphs (a) – (e) classifies them thus:
I.  Private vehicles
II.  Commercial vehicles
III. Federal and state Government vehicles
IV. Local Government and Area Council
V.  Military and para-military vehicles
I. Private vehicles’ number plates have the name of the State in black, the licensing office code number, the vehicle registration number and the local government code number in blue.  [11]
II. Commercial vehicles have the name of the State in black, the licensing office code number, the vehicle registration number and local government code number in red. [12]
III. Federal and State Government vehicles, have the name of the Ministry or Parastatal code number in green. [13]
IV. Local governments and area councilhave the name of the State in black, the local government area council identification code, the vehicle registration number and the name of the local government code in green. [14]
V. Military and para-military vehicles, have the name and the code of the armed forces, the vehicle group code, issuing office code. [15]
Consequently, it is an offence by the law not to have a number plate on a vehicle. The essence of number plates, therefore, include, but not limited to the following:
1. They serve as a means of identification: Like humans need a name, so do vehicles need a name to have a legal identity.
2. They are used by the relevant stakeholders to track a stolen or missing vehicle. This is one among the reasons why not having one on a vehicle is a punishable offence. Anyone guilty of this will be made to pay N500 each time they are caught. [16]
 3. Number plates serve as a source of revenue to the states of the Federation and the FCT. Each state’s number plate is issued by that state. For example, an Abia state number plate is issued through the Abia state Board of Internal Revenue. The amount goes directly to the Abia state Government. 
5. Op. Cit., Wikipedia
6. See section 5 (g) and section 11 (2) (f) of the FRSC Act
11. Ibid.
12. See section 22 paragraph (9) sub-paragraphs (a) under part IV of the second schedule to the FRSC Act
13. See paragraph (b)
14. See paragraph (c)
15. See paragraph (d)
16. See paragraph (e) 
17. See section 21 (16) under schedule 14 to the FRSC Act
Adamu Abubakar Isa is a Civil Law student of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. A seasoned legal scholar and researcher. He can be reached on phone or WhatsApp via +2347030992543.
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