…it’s illegal for VIO to stop drivers on the road -Court

**Akwa Ibom NBA keeps mum

Akwa Ibom State Ministry of Transport has issued an explanation on the return of Vehicle Inspection Officers (VIO) to the streets of Akwa Ibom State as stated in their recent press release. 

Commissioner in charge of the Ministry, Hon. Orman Esin during a chat with reporters on Monday, 18 March 2024 said the purpose of VIO enforcement is to educate the public about the importance of having valid car documents and ensuring that vehicles are roadworthy. 

Esin further reminded that according to law, if a car is not roadworthy, its documents cannot be renewed. The police will thereafter enforce the rules regarding unregistered or expired vehicles papers. He emphasized that the goal of VIO enforcement is not to harass drivers, but to keep everyone safe on the roads.

“The pattern of enforcement by VIO is mainly to sensitize the public on when and where one is expected to renew car particulars, if a car is not road worthy, the papers will not be renewed. When you don’t have you car papers, the police will enforce it. That is the pattern of enforcement, not the VIO coming to harass motorists on the road”, he said.

On the issues of Biometric capturing for transport operators, Esin said the Ministry of Transport is employing international best practices in a digital age, to use biometrics to keep track of operators, verify their identities, and document them. This will help us ensure accountability and take action if there is any crime.

“Biometrics we all know is a digital way of gathering data of people within an operation to be able to identify them and be able to document who they are. In the ministry of transport, Biometrics will help us to know our operators, we need to have them in our database, we should be able to checkmate our operators, there should be check and balances, where there is crime we should be able to move in because we have information of everybody on our database so” Orman stated. 

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In conclusion, he submitted that the initiatives and measures of his ministry are in line with the vision of the governor of Akwa Ibom state, Pastor Umo Eno, understanding how important the transport sector is to the actualization of the Arise Agenda for Akwa Ibom people. 

In spite of existence of multiple court judgments against VIOs’ operations on the Nigerian streets, Akwa Ibom State branch of the Nigerian Bar Association has not reacted to the development.

It’s illegal for VIO to stop drivers on the road -Court

It would be recalled the National Welfare Secretary, Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Olukunle Edun, had said that it is an infringement  on the constitutional rights to liberty of movement for Vehicle Inspection Officers, VIOs, to stop drivers of both commercial and private vehicles  because of vehicle particulars, according to Vanguard Newspaper report.

Edun, who instituted and won the landmark cases against VIOs at the High Court and Appeal Court, told Vanguard that it was also hazardous for members of the Federal Road Safety Commission, FRSC, to be competing with the Nigerian Police Force on the road in the alleged extortion of members of the public.

He said: “Both the High Court of Delta State and the Court of Appeal were also emphatic that VIOs have no right to stop any vehicle (including commercial vehicles) on the roads, as doing so amounts to infraction of the driver’s constitutional right to freedom of movement.

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“There is no law that authorises VIOs to be on the roads to do their business. They are not security men. Do we now say that every enforcing department of government must be on the roads to do their jobs?

“Their works are to be done at their offices or workshops when vehicles are brought to them for inspection.  

“The VIOs now spend most of their work time on the roads setting up road blocks and constituting nuisance.

“The regularity of VIOs on public roads is illegal and any person who is stopped by them just for the purpose of asking for any documentation has the right to seek redress in court.

“I recall that when the Court of Appeal and the High Court passed the concurring judgments, the NBA branches in Delta State obtained copies of the judgments and gave copies to the lawyers in their branches. The Midwest Bar Forum did same thing.

“The reason why there is law is to enable us conduct our affairs within known and accepted boundaries, and to also curtail the excesses of government and its officials so that they don’t trample on the rights of Nigerians.

“The issue of private vehicles not legally bound to possess roadworthiness certificate has been settled in the concurring decisions of the High Court of Delta State and the Court of Appeal.

“The Court of Appeal’s decision in the case of Governor of Delta State & Ors. V. Olukunle Edun is novel and landmark.

“The decision has been widely reported. The Court of Appeal clearly stated that private vehicles are not expressly listed amongst the vehicles that must possess road worthiness certificates.

“The court interpreted the provisions of the Road Traffic Law of Delta State, which is im pari materia with that of most of the states in Nigeria.

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“The office of the  Attorney General of Delta State also advised the VIO units to comply with the judgment. Radio stations in Warri and Ughelli publicized it. The judgment is on the internet.

“This is why currently, the government or any of its departments in Delta State cannot prosecute any person purportedly on the ground of non-possession of road-worthiness certificates for their vehicles.

“Motorists that are being harassed by the VIOs may be ignorant of the decisions of the courts and should seek legal advice from their lawyers. It is sad that some of the VIOs are on the roads only to extort money from motorists.

“I have had cause to meet with the officer in charge of the Warri zone and he confirmed that the VIOs stopping private vehicles and extorting them are on illegal mission. I make bold to say that they have no legal authority or business being on the road except where it is an accident scene.

“Impunity amongst government officials is rampant. Most of the VIO personnel are not even competent and know nothing about traffic rules. Just like I advised the FRSC, whose personnel are now competing with the Police in the extortion of members of the public, it is an unsafe act for both the FRSC and VIO personnel to be on a public road and convert the roads to business centres.

 “If truly they have been doing their jobs effectively, we would not be seeing rickety vehicles on our roads but they extort them and let them go. To check the excesses of the VIOs will require a collective effort of all. VIO personnel are a menace on our roads,” he stated.