Owners of private and commercial vehicles in Nigeria have, in recent weeks, been expressing concern over the introduction by the federal government of a re-registration exercise for all categories of automobiles, as most vehicles on the roads in the country are already registered. Speaking in Abuja at a sensitisation seminar on the National Vehicle Registry (VREG), the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Hajiya Zainab Ahmed, said VREG is a project aimed at reducing car theft and also ensuring inter-agency database on cars in the country.
Justifying the imperatives of the project, the minister disclosed that “from October 2018 to September 2019, Nigeria recorded over N1.8 trillion value of used vehicles importation, noting that the country was the hub of stolen vehicles where the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) of automobiles were usually unregistered and could consequently not be traced. She revealed that the VREG was established under the Strategic Revenue Growth Initiative (SRGI) of the federal government to boost revenue generation for the government and enhance national security.
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With the pilot phase beginning at the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) Kirikiri Light Terminal, Ahmed observed that the VREG seeks to “provide the NCS with guidance in all clearing, duties, registration and redistribution of vehicles, targeted at ensuring that all vehicles are trackable, taxable and generate more revenues.”
The statement by the finance minister that VREG project is meant to “boost revenue generation for the government” under the Strategic Revenue Growth Initiative (SRGI) of the federal government” in addition to her further commitment that VREG would ensure that “all vehicles are traceable, taxable and generate more revenues” both suggest that VREG is more of a revenue generation project than a security solution. Besides, the Federal Ministry of Finance is not known to be a security outfit.
Believing that vehicle owners paid various sums of money to the FRSC to register and obtain number plates just as they paid other forms of charges at the Vehicle Inspection Offices (VIO) to register their vehicles and obtain vehicle license, proof of ownership, certificate of roadworthiness in addition to paying for third party insurance cover, the VREG project only adds to the unnecessary tax burden on vehicle owners in the country. If it’s for the sake of security, details of vehicle engine and chassis numbers and other vehicle data that were captured during vehicle registration processes at the FRSC and VIO should be available for use by security agencies. Initiating a fresh re-registration exercise under the VREG project in order to re-capture basic vehicle information for tracking in case of theft or other purposes, including violation of laid down rules by vehicle owners, is unnecessary.
The VREG is not only an extra financial liability at a time Nigerians are passing through difficult economic conditions, including inflation and the weak value of the naira, but also a waste of time and energy. Poor Nigerians would be the worst hit under the VREG project as owners of commercial vehicles shall simply pass the tax liability onto passengers. VREG is also wrongly timed because this is coming at a season when other countries are giving tax relief or waivers to citizens in order to cushion the effect of the COVID-19.
It is almost becoming a burden to own a vehicle in Nigeria and that should not be the case in a country where there is no organised mode of transportation for citizens. Instead of extra charges, citizens should be encouraged through some form of palliative to support their movement from one place to another.
To meet government’s revenue targets, we call on the minister of finance to look elsewhere under the SRGI. Tobacco, alcohol, and luxury materials, for example, could have the duties and taxes paid on them increased. To tackle car theft and associated crimes, vehicle information that already exist in different agencies can simply be synchronised without necessarily subjecting vehicle owners to any financial or other inconveniences that may arise from the haste, stress and health risks involved in the VREG exercise. The trauma experienced by Nigerians during the recent re-registration of SIM cards should not be visited on them again through the VREG.