Lagos and the vehicle inspection officers
When Lagos State Governor Akinwunmi Ambode ordered Vehicle Inspection Officers off the state’s roads, many were the interpretations. The state government initially gave the reason as temporary withdrawal to enable them undergo training in the use of modern technology and retraining on courtesy in relating to the public. This placed the role of the VIO under a searchlight. On May 16, however, the governor announced a “permanent” ban of the VIOs from roads in the state. The governor also banned Federal Road Safety Commission officials from inner city roads, thus restricting the agency to highways. While the entire saga placed the role of the VIO under a searchlight, the development fits into the state’s vision of a truly developed city for this age and compels the whole country to embrace good standards of governance.
The Vehicle Inspectorate Office was a specialised unit within the old Public Works Department. At the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, the unit was absorbed by the Colonial Regiment. On January 1, 1949, the Road Traffic Act was promulgated, for Motor Vehicle Administration. The Inspector General of Police was given the responsibility of enforcing traffic regulations, control vehicular traffic on highways and license persons and vehicles. Although the 1958 Constitution conferred powers on Regional Governments to promulgate their own laws, the three regions maintained the status quo. With the republican constitution of 1963, however, inspection units were created in the Ministry of Works and Transport in the three regions. In each region, the duties of vehicle inspection officers were clearly defined: to issue authentic MV road-worthiness Certificate after vehicles are properly inspected before registration or renewal of vehicle particulars, routine patrol of highways, roads, streets, enforcement of traffic regulations, impoundment after placing “Off The Road” stickers on derelict vehicles. For the efficient performance of their roles, they were to build plazas for carrying out comprehensive checks of vehicles; collaborate with fleet owners, for on-site inspections service, undertake public enlightenment and organise periodic training for personnel. Traffic offenders were fined and they paid road tax to the treasury.
The 1971 Federal Highways Act concerned the federal road network of 11.000 kilometres at the time; thus defining the tier structure for roads: federal, state and local governments. Section 5(a) empowered the minister to delegate to states and local councils, the control of traffic and supervision of users, restriction of type of vehicle and vehicle inspection. Section 10 concerned holding a valid driving licence by class and description. When the FRSC was established by Decree 45 of 1988, there was lack of standards for issuing drivers’ licences and a uniform traffic code in the country. The states cried out that FRSC was for federal roads. Amendments in 1990 to the decree allowed patrol on all roads. Based on the experience of battling the status quo, FRSC Establishment Act 2007 empowered the national agency to “design and produce driver’s licence to be used by various categories of vehicle operators, determine requirements for standardisation of highway traffic codes.”
The FRSC succeeded in the advent of a NDL, acceptable in many countries. The first step to obtaining the NDL is a certificate from the VIO which also issues the Learner’s Permit. The driver’s licence is produced by the FRSC just as it produces the vehicles plates on behalf of the states. The VIO in each state continues to issue road-worthiness papers, without any inspection before a vehicle is registered and prior to annual re-registration.
It is gratifying to note that he FRSC has welcomed the decision of Lagos that its officers should leave inner city roads. This would allow the road safety marshals to focus on their primary role of promoting safety on roads, through their many programmes nationwide; especially public enlightenment. Now that the vehicle inspection officers will no longer check vehicle documents and operational efficiency, on the roads, Nigerians await how these functions will be carried out in the period when the inspectors are being trained before deployment of technology.
The decision by the governor is in tandem with the state vision to meet the requirements of a new-age global metropolis. Beyond this, however, it throws up questions on the relationship of the Federal Government with the 36 states and the FCT. As Lagos deploys latest available technology for traffic management and vehicle administration, interstate vehicles (from other states still operating the status quo) will not meet the safety standards in Lagos and would be slammed “Off The Road” stickers.
The Centre of Excellence, of course, is not likely to be deterred by such mundane challenges in the exciting times ahead which, hopefully, would serve to reiterate that, as with every aspect of Nigeria’s national experience, procrastination on restructuring and making Nigeria a truly federal state can only generate more problems by the day.