On Monday, Lagos State became the second state in the country to ban vehicle inspection officers (VIO) from roads, after Kaduna State first took the same decision in December 2015 which even went further to dissolve the office.
These decisions were met with appreciation in many quarters as these officers have become a thorn in the public’s side due to their high-handedness and incessant setting up of road blocks. For example, the outrage over the recent burning of an impounded vehicle by VIOs in Lagos was one of the reasons they were banned from the roads.
It is going to take a while before residents of Lagos get used to not expecting to see the monochrome-uniformed officers on roads, flagging down cars and asking for their particulars. But what exactly is their function?
The existence of vehicle inspectors predates Nigeria’s independence – prior to 1939, vehicle inspection was carried out by the Directorate of Works, while motor licensing was supervised by the Motor Licensing Officer under Finance.
But Vehicle Inspection Officers came to be after the establishment of the Road Traffic Act of 1949, and then the Directorate of Motor Vehicle Administration in all the states of the country and the FCT in order to conform with the 1980 International Treaty on the Harmonization of Highways legislations in the ECOWAS Sub-region signed by the Authority of Heads of State and Government.
They are usually under the ministry concerned with transportation within the state. In Lagos State, they are a directorate under the Ministry of Transportation, backed by Section 11 of the Lagos State Road Traffic Law 2012 (pdf). Their functions include: enforcing the road-worthiness of motor vehicles in the state, training and testing of applicants for driver’s license, carrying out inspection and issuing reports on accidents in the state, pre-registration inspection of vehicles and collaborating with other agencies to enforce traffic rules and regulations.
However, one agency that VIOs are supposed to collaborate with, the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) have often accused the service of performing their functions. In May 2015, the Corps Marshall of FRSC, Boboye Oyeyemi declared that VIOs were not empowered by law to inspect vehicles and drivers’ licenses. This, however, seems to be a misinterpretation of the Federal Road Safety Act 2007 (pdf) which mandates the Corps to be in charge of road safety administration; this should not be conflated with motor vehicle administration which is the mandate of VIOs.
In recent times, Nigerian highways have become chaotic with the FRSC, the police and VIOs all setting up individual road blocks, causing traffic hold-ups and in many cases, extorting motorists.
The decision by the Lagos State Government to ban them from roads within the states will go a long way in reducing these occurrences. The service should explore other ways to fulfill its responsibilities without constituting itself into a nuisance.