By Emeka Oraetoka
THE news that the Commissioner of Police in Lagos State, Hakeem Odumosu, had given a seven-day ultimatum to owners of unregistered vehicles to comply with the law has brought hope of safety to millions of Lagosians in view of criminality perpetrated by men in unregistered or covered vehicle number plates. In particular, security watchers in Lagos State will be happy with the latest order on covering of vehicle number plates by motorists, a policy that was introduced by the former Inspector General of Police, Sir Mike Okiro, but abandoned by successive IGPs.
The reintroduction of policy on proper vehicle identification by the Lagos State Commissioner of Police has, once again, shown that the state police leadership is committed to policy continuation. Policy somersault has always been the bane of Nigeria. The three tiers of government in the country have their fair share of the problem. From local to state and federal governments, the sad story of policy somersault is common.
Currently, one vital policy successful police leaderships at Louis Edet House have jettisoned, since Okiro left office, is the policy of compulsory enforcement of affixing registered number plates on vehicles for purpose of proper identification and security, irrespective of personalities involved.
The law provides that every vehicle in Nigeria must have registered number plate affixed in proper places on the vehicle. Today in Nigeria, personalities and establishments have made mockery of the law as they go about with vehicles without number plate, covered number, fake number or no number at all.
Reports had it that when Okiro was the IGP, a bullion van knocked and killed a woman in Lagos and since the van had no registered number plate, tracing and tracking it became impossible. As a result of that incident, Okiro issued the order that all vehicles, especially those belonging to government establishments and officials, must have the number plates displayed in the appropriate places, and two weeks was given for everybody to comply.
Compliance to the order was total, although few highly placed individuals and establishments flouted the order and got reprimanded. For instance, report had it that an escort vehicle belonging to the Bayelsa State government was impounded for covering its number plate position on the vehicle. Even at the Abuja airport, Okiro impounded the escort vehicle belonging to Nigerian Immigration Service, for the same offence of plate number covering.
It took the intervention of the Comptroller General of Immigration then for the release of the vehicle, with a promise to affix the plate number.
A senior police officer who came for a meeting at force headquarters had his vehicle detained for the reason that the plate number of his official vehicle was covered with a pouch. In a nutshell, the era of IGP Okiro witnessed obedience to the law that every vehicle on Nigerian roads moving with registered plate number affixed in appropriate places on the vehicle.
However, revisionism set in upon the departure of Sir Mike Okiro. Nobody cared about plate number again, especially in government establishments. The worst form of manifestation of the consequence of revisionism occurred on June 16, 2011 when Louis Edet was bombed. On the day Force Headquarters was attacked, the bombers trailed the then Inspector-General of Police, Hafiz Ringim, to his Maitama residence with a Volkswagen car that has no plate number in appropriate places.
Report has it that Ringim asked the august visitor to follow him to his office. At the force headquarters, the same un–plate-numbered car made it to the IGP’s car park unstopped. What saved the force headquarters building from collapse was that the eagle-eyed traffic warden in charge of vehicular movement in the building asked the un-numbered car to park away from the IGs’s car. As soon as he moved the car few meters away from the official car of the IG, the bomb exploded. Information has it that when Okiro was the IG of Police, he created the existing car park for the IG and stationed a traffic warden there to enforce order. The traffic warden on duty on that fateful day died in the course of leading the bomber away from the IG’s car park. It would have been catastrophic for the Police as an institution if Okiro had not created that car park and taken steps to ensure compliance; that only the IG’s car must be seen in the park.
It is rather disheartening that in the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, most of the vehicles belonging to the Special Anti- robbery Squad, SARS, are even the worst culprits in offence of non-compliance with plate number display. Some high ranking Police officers are also in the habit of plate numbers covering on their vehicles. Even in the FCT now, the number of vehicles without plate number has increased. The dangerous implication of this trend of plate numbers covering with pouch or outright removal by officials of government establishments is that it could be exploited by criminal elements to perpetrate evil in the country.
Now that the Lagos State Police Command has boldly but courageously taken the lead in bringing back this life- saving policy, other state commands should follow suit. Hear the police commissioner’s unassailable reason for the order: “This enforcement becomes necessary considering the fact that criminal elements in recent past have devised means of operating with such vehicles to attack unsuspecting members of the public without any trace.
A recent example was a case that occurred at Allen Avenue, Ikeja, where an operator of bureau de change was attacked, robbed and murdered by a criminal gang that used an unregistered vehicle, making it difficult for detectives to track the vehicle”.
Consequently, this writer will like to appeal to the Inspector-General of Police, Abubakar Adamu Mohammed, to consider the re-introduction of plate number display on every vehicle in Nigeria as was the case in Okiro’s era. This will surely go a long way in improving the general security situation in Nigeria. It will also add value to what many Nigerians have identified as Adamu’s Progressive Policing Phenomenon, PPP, that has defined his leadership model of the Police.
Oraetoka, an Information Management Consultant & Researcher, wrote from Abuja