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How unmarked vehicles rule Nigerian roads

Unregistered vehicles are a common sight on Nigerian roads. While it is illegal for a motorist to drive an unmarked vehicle, except when newly acquired…

Unregistered vehicles are a common sight on Nigerian roads. While it is illegal for a motorist to drive an unmarked vehicle, except when newly acquired during which time such vehicles can be driven for three months until a number plate is issued, checks by Daily Trust on Sunday showed that motorists now drive unmarked vehicles with many using them as commercial vehicles. In this report, some of the offenders, other road users and security experts look at the implication of driving an unmarked vehicle in Nigeria. 

Despite the ban on unmarked taxis in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), drivers still operate freely with unmarked vehicles.

A lot of unmarked taxis were sighted when Daily Trust on Sunday moved round the nation’s capital.

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A cross section of residents who spoke to our correspondent said the continuous proliferation of unmarked and unidentified taxis in Abuja has led to a surge in criminal activities perpetrated by some drivers.

It was gathered that a lot of unmarked vehicles ply Abuja roads and are used to perpetrate evil, especially at night.

The major routes they ply include; Kubwa-Zuba Road, Zuba-Gwagwalada, Area 1- Nyanya, Berger-Mararaba, Berger-Lugbe and Zuba-Kaduna Road, among others.

It was learnt that some drivers of the unmarked private vehicles, whose cars were not painted in the state colour and without commercial number plates, operate at night, posing as taxis while they pick up unsuspecting passengers.

Majority of those who had fallen victims were those stranded at night, waiting for cabs to convey them to their various destinations.

A commuter at Kubwa NNPC Junction, Hassan Ibrahim, told our correspondent that it was difficult for anyone to identify which vehicle is safe or not, except those painted in the state colour.

“It is only God that can save us. Many of the taxis here are like private cars.”

He appealed to the relevant authorities to ensure commercial vehicles are painted in the state colour and bear number plates for easy identification.

Narrating his ordeal, a resident, Taiwo Adetunji, explained how he once fell victim of a robbery incident in one of the unmarked vehicles, along Kubwa road.

“On that very day, it was raining and I boarded a taxi from Dutse Junction to Zuba around 11pm. Before I entered, I knew it was an unmarked taxi, but because it was raining and dark, I had no option. 

“I met two other passengers inside, including a lady. I was robbed and thrown out of the vehicle before we got to Kagini,” he said.

An unmarked vehicle spotted on Makurdi road in Benue State

 

Some other residents, including Madam Joy Chukwu, Adeolu Grace, Badejo Ayo and Miss Kate Uche, in separate interviews with our correspondent confirmed the operations of hoodlums in unmarked taxis.

A commuter, Ngozi Ibe, said she had noticed many unmarked vehicles in Abuja, but was alarmed that most times, these cars even stop to chat with VIO officials before moving on with their business. 

She also noted that most of the unmarked vehicles carry more than the specified amount of passengers. 

Unmarked exotic cars in Kano

In Kano, most vehicles observed to be plying the roads without plate numbers are exotic cars affordable only to the affluent.

Speaking on the issue, Kabiru Hassan, a resident of Hotoro, said due to the number of vehicles in their house, they no longer buy new plate numbers.

“Honestly, out of the seven cars in our house, two do not have registered plate numbers. What we do is just to remove and swap or even drive it out like that.

“Even the securities sometimes, if they see a very expensive car, they don’t stop it because they believe the person driving it can afford thousands of plate numbers,” he said.

A car dealer in Kano, who asked not to be named, told Daily Trust on Sunday that most of the cars seen without plate numbers on the road are mostly those yet to be sold but being driven from one location to the other.

“Sometimes, those cars you see are yet to be sold to anyone. The owners are driving around, marketing it to prospective buyers while some of them have no personal cars.

“Such people cannot register a car and they have to be driving it around. That’s why you see, especially new ones, plying the roads without plate numbers,” he said.

Speaking on the trend, the Kano Sector commandant of the Federal Road Safety Corp (FRSC), Mato Zubairu, said the command is working day and night and is arresting defaulters everyday in the state.

“What we are doing is: we arrest them, book them and issue them tickets. They must go and register their vehicle and fix it. Then bring their number plate before we allow them to pay their fines and allow them to go.

“Likewise, for those that are using substandard illegal plate numbers, which are produced by one organization or association; number plates like NANS, UN Peace Ambassadors and so on, we arrest them and impound those vehicles, and then ask them to register their vehicles,” he said.

“Almost everyday, we arrest plate number violators. We arrest at least 20 or even 40 and ensure they do the right thing.

“Then, apart from the normal patrol that we organise, everyday we have mobile courts and the essence of the mobile court is to ensure that stubborn offenders are treated in accordance with the law,” he added.

Motorists who have continued to ply roads across the country with unmarked vehicles might no longer be doing so with ease as the relevant enforcement agencies are now clamping down on them.

The Police and Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) are determined to ensure that those plying the roads without number plates would not go unpunished. 

In Borno State, the trend of unmarked vehicles plying roads in Maiduguri, the state capital, is more pronounced among privately owned vehicles.

Our correspondent who went round the metropolis observed that despite several media campaign by the State Police Command against the unlawful practice, residents have defied the pleas and warnings, and have continued to ply the roads without vehicle plates numbers. 

Investigation indicates that many of the unmarked vehicles plying the roads in Maiduguri are used by their owners to perpetrates crimes within the metropolis, especially at night.

Findings also revealed that some of the unmarked vehicles are privately owned by security personnel, with majority covered with tinted glasses.

When contacted, the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) said that they working with other sister’s security operatives to tackle the menace of unmarked vehicles in Borno, especially with the peculiar security nature of the state.

The Deputy Corps Commander FRSC in Borno, Ibukulebu Arnold, explained that the command has taken drastic measures to address the issue. “We have arrested many vehicles without plates numbers and we are also arresting vehicles and owners replacing their plate numbers with either a logo or trademark of their vehicles. Based on the security peculiarity of Borno, we are using what we call number-6 in dealing with the issue. We are also collaborating with other security operatives to tackle the issue of unmarked vehicles in Borno.”

Efforts made to get the reaction of the Borno State Police Command was not successful at the time of filling this report.

Our correspondents across the states reports how the authorities are tackling the issue.

In Kogi State, the issue had become a cause for concern as miscreants and people of questionable character have used it to unleash terror on innocent citizens.

Daily Trust on Sunday noted that few months ago, hoodlums used such vehicles to cause mayhem in Lokoja where many people, including journalists, were shot to the chagrin of bemused residents.

 

The outcry had made the state government and the police authorities to clampdown on persons using vehicles without plate numbers in the state.

The FRSC, in the state, said users of unmarked vehicles perpetrate their act by either covering their plate number with black pasted material, or with the inscription ‘SPY or AMBASSADOR of PEACE’.

State FRSC commandant, Stephen Dawulung, disclosed that the commission has ordered users of such vehicles to desist from doing so, adding that their efforts were already yielding results in the state.

“Number plate violation is one of the major offences against the National Road Traffic Regulations and therefore part of the offences being booked by our operatives.

“Driving a vehicle without a number plate, driving a vehicle with fake number plates like those produced individually or by artisans, including plastic number plates and such numbers that appears like ‘NYCN, NUP, NAUS, CYMS, LEADS, UN-UNITY 01, UN-V1571 and UN-AMB’ in most cars or vehicles, implies that the vehicles are either not registered or the numbers are fake and so, are against traffic regulations.”

Dawulung said the commission has been empowered by the law to arrest the offenders and have been working with other sister security agencies to that effect. 

The Plateau State Police command said they are monitoring vehicles without plate numbers as well as vehicles with covered plate numbers. 

The command’s Public Relations Officer, ASP Alfred Alabo, said “We noticed while enforcing the usage of the SPY plate number that some top civil servants who have the privilege to use covered plate number while in office continued to use the government plate number after retirement. 

“We don’t allow such categories of vehicles to ply our roads in the state. Our men on patrol are looking out for such vehicles and as soon as such vehicle is noticed, the motorist is stopped and interrogated to find if he/she is permitted to use unmarked vehicle. We are not ignorant of this.”

Similarly, the Spokesman of the Plateau State command of the FRSC, Peter Longsan, said “We work in collaboration with other security agencies to monitor vehicles without plate number. As soon as we find one, we book the motorist for the plate number offence. Your car will not be released until you get the plate number.”

Checks by Daily Trust on Sunday, however, showed that the cases of motorists with unmarked vehicles are minimal and not common in Plateau State.

But, in Kwara State, the Sector Commander of the Federal Road Safety Corps, Fredrick Ade Ogidan, said they have started enforcement on motorists using unmarked vehicles.

“We are doing enforcement already and we are starting another round with the state government through the mobile courts next month to not only clampdown but prosecute offenders. 

“Crimes committed with such vehicles are difficult to trace but having the registration number of a vehicle means we are half way through with investigation. So, it is illegal to use unmarked vehicle under any guise. 

“Our challenge on this issue is that most of those arrested are high profile people in the society, government officials and even from the traditional institutions. But this is not an excuse. Government officials have government plates attached to them and people should stop removing them and moving around with such vehicle,” he said. 

Giving the statistics of arrests made thus far, Ogidan added, “From April-June, which is the last quarter, we arrested 423 offenders and 22 vehicles in July over the issue. However, I have also observed that offenders mostly work at night and we don’t do night patrol because of the security situation in the country. This is where we seek the collaboration of the police.”

Also, the Police Public Relations Officer of Kwara Command, Ajayi Okasanmi, told Daily Trust on Sunday that there is ongoing campaign that unmarked vehicles and special numbers not registered with the FRSC should be removed, including covered number plates, in line with the IG’s directive.

According to him, “We have started enforcement. Such vehicles are used to commit crimes and difficult for the police to trace. 

Before now, we have arrested and prosecuted offenders and we are continuing with the policy. We will keep arresting them. Even car dealers have limit to the time they can use their vehicles unregistered, same for those who just purchased vehicles. So, driving without plate numbers or any form of proper identification is a crime.”

Okasanmi, however, said he will provide the figures of offenders arrested over the issue but was yet to do so before the filing of this report.

Also, the FRSC Commander in Benue State, Ibrahim Abubakar, said measures are already being taken by the command to curb the trend due to the high level of insecurity, especially as most of the criminals are road bound. 

“Most of their (criminal) activities are on the road; they use vehicles, motorcycles and tricycles to perpetrate their act. We are carrying out operations now and we are also clamping down on those whose number plates have faded. Even the police Spy number, we have started removing them and impounding their vehicles. We ask the owners to go and duly register their vehicles. 

“These are the actions we are taking now. We are also enlightening the people on how to follow the proper process in registering their vehicles. We are working,” Abubakar stated.

On her part, the Spokesperson of the Benue Police command, SP Catherine Anene, said “Motorcyclists have been arrested and motorcycles confiscated on several occasions. They are usually advised to go and register their motorcycles before coming back to collect them.”

Meanwhile, our correspondent who monitored some roads in Makurdi observed fewer vehicles without number plates and others covered.

Meanwhile, the FRSC Corps Public Education Officer, ACM Bisi Kazeem, has said the Corps is very proactive in addressing the issue of unregistered vehicles.

“I believe by unmarked you mean unregistered vehicles without number plates. If that is the case, I would have to let you know that the Corps is highly proactive in sanitising the highways and making the roads safe for all to use. And one of our key priorities in the operational front is the ongoing enforcement to face out unregistered vehicles plying our roads. 

“We are compelled by the necessity, the demands and the prevailing circumstances of the present time to put things in the right perspective. As such, the Corps is determined to play critical role in ensuring that all vehicles plying Nigerian roads are duly registered with their number plates visibly placed on the vehicles. So, we are not relenting at all due to the sensitivity of the operations,” he said.

Yusufu Aminu Idegu (Jos), Mumini AbdulKareem (Ilorin), Tijani Labaran (Lokoja), Hope Abah Emmanuel (Makurdi), Salim Umar Ibrahim (Kano), Seun Adeuyi, Maureen Onochie (Abuja) & Hassan Ibrahim (Maiduguri)