Whether Certificate of Road Worthiness Applies to Private Vehicles

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CASE TITLE: GOVERNOR, DELTA STATE & ORS v. EDUN (2021) LPELR-53369(CA)

JUDGMENT DATE: 12TH MARCH, 2021

JUSTICES:

  • MOHAMMED AMBI-USI DANJUMA, JCA
  • JOSEPH EYO EKANEM, JCA
  • ABIMBOLA OSARUGUE OBASEKI-ADEJUMO, JCA

COURT DIVISION: ABUJA

PRACTICE AREA:  ROAD TRAFFIC LAW

FACTS:

​The facts of the case are that the respondent, a legal practitioner, drove his car along the Afisere Road, Ughelli, Delta State. In the course of the journey, he slowed down on approaching a road block mounted on the road by the 3rd appellant for the purpose of verifying vehicles without valid Road Worthiness Certificate. A Vehicle Inspection Officer (VIO) suddenly jumped into the middle of the road, wielding a big wood.

​The officer identified himself as a VIO and menacingly demanded for the respondent’s Road Worthiness Certificate. He (the respondent) replied that he did not have and did not need it for his vehicle which he uses personally and not for commercial transportation or haulage. This attracted other VIOs who congregated around his car on the road. A traffic gridlock was almost created by the situation. On seeing the riotous situation, the VIOs removed the wood, planks etc. to allow the respondent to pass. After the incident, the respondent checked his vehicle particulars and discovered that in the course of applying for his vehicle license, a Certificate of Road Worthiness was processed alongside and he paid N2,800.00 to the Delta State Government.

The respondent, not being satisfied that there is any provision of the law that empowers the appellants to collect money or to issue Certificate of Road Worthiness in respect of vehicles used for private purpose or any law authorizing blockade of public highways with dangerous instruments, took out an originating summons against the appellants for the determination of certain questions and grant of reliefs against the appellants.

The appellants filed a statement of defence denying the respondent’s claim, contending that the VIOs did not block the Afisere Road and that the inspection/classification of vehicles for road worthiness is not restricted to only commercial vehicles but also extends to private vehicles.

After trial and taking of addresses, the trial Court in its judgment on found for the respondent and granted reliefs and awarded costs in the sum of N100,000.00 in respondent’s favour.

ISSUES:

The appeal was determined upon consideration of the issues thus:

  1. Whether the suit of the Respondent filed against the Appellants on the 21st day of November, 2014 is not statute barred in view of the provisions of Section 2 (a) of the Public Officers Protection Law Cap P23 Vol. IV Laws of Delta State of Nigeria 2006.
  1. Whether the 3rd Appellant “Senior Vehicle Inspection Officer” (Ughelli North Local Government Area of Delta State) is a juristic person that can be sued.
  1. Whether by virtue of the provisions of all relevant laws relating to Road Traffic, the Certificate of Road Worthiness has no application to private motor vehicle.

COUNSEL SUBMISSIONS

Appellants’ counsel argued that certificate of road worthiness has application to private vehicles. He contended that if the intention of the law makers was that private vehicle be exempted from carrying certificate of road worthiness it would have been expressly so stated. He argued that this is on account of the fact that the Law which empowers persons authorized to impound vehicles plying the road without certain particulars includes road worthiness certificate as one of the particulars meant to be carried by vehicles plying the road.

Respondent submitted that a perusal of the Law and its Regulations shows that there is no provision therein that empowers the appellants to issue certificate of road worthiness in respect of vehicles used for non-commercial purposes. Rather, the only law only authorizes the appellants to examine vehicles and issue certificates after such examination. He submitted that his vehicle does not fall within the definition of a commercial vehicle and argued conclusively that there is no similar provision in respect of vehicles used for private purposes.

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DECISION/HELD

In conclusion, the appeal was dismissed.

RATIO

LEGISLATION – ROAD TRAFFIC LAW: Whether under the Delta State Traffic Law and Regulation the requirement for a motor vehicle to have certificate of road worthiness applies to private motor vehicles

“Section 43 (1) of the Road Traffic Law gives the Executive Council of the State power to make regulations in respect of the various items set out in paragraphs (a) to (t) of the sub-section. This includes: –

(a) Registration of motor vehicles and trailers and the particulars to be entered in the register, and prescribing the fees to be paid; and

(b) The compulsory examination at any time of motor vehicles or trailers or (sic: of) any class or description thereof and the places and manner of such examination.

Pursuant to the foregoing, the Executive Council of the State made or is deemed to have made the Road Traffic Regulations (RTR) as a subsidiary legislation, which carries the force of law. Regulation 5 (1) of the RTR sets out 12 categories for the registration of vehicles. They are: –

(i) Motor cycle;

(ii) Private motor vehicle;

(iii) Trailer;

(iv) Taxi;

(v) Commercial (goods only);

(vi) Stage carriage for not less than eight and not more than fifteen passengers;

(vii) Stage carriage for over fifteen passengers;

(viii) Omnibus;

(ix) Agricultural machines;

(x) Tractor;

(xi) Vehicles exclusively designed for use, or machinery used, on the construction or maintenance of road or bridges;

(xii) Fire engine or trailer pump.

Paragraphs (2), (3), (4) and (5) of Regulation 5 make detailed and comprehensive provisions for the factors or matters that must be present for the registration of categories of vehicles as follows: –

(1) Paragraph (2) is for registration of commercial and passenger carrying vehicles, to wit: categories (iv), (v), (vi), (vii) and (viii) of the paragraph (i).

(2) Paragraph 3 is for registration of trailers (that is to say category (iii) of paragraph (i).

(3) Paragraph 4 is for registration of agricultural machine, that is to say category (ix) of paragraph (i).

(4) Paragraph 5 is for registration of tractor, that is to say category (x) of paragraph 1.

The requirements include the production of a certificate of road worthiness issued under regulation 58 at the time of the application for registration. This requirement applies only to vehicles that come under paragraphs (2) and (3) only, that is, commercial and passenger carrying vehicles and trailers.

​It is clear from the above that the provisions of Regulation 5 are loudly silent in respect of private motor vehicles. The implication is, as rightly held by the learned trial judge, that: –

“… there is no subsidiary legislation or Road Traffic Regulation providing for the production of a certificate of road worthiness before a vehicle to be used purely for private purpose can be registered as a “private motor vehicles.” – page 182 of the record of appeal.

Regulation 58 (1) and (2) of the RTR states: –

“(1) Every commercial vehicle, trailer, taxi, stage carriage, omnibus shall before being registered or licensed and every six month thereafter be examined by a vehicle inspection officer.

(2) Examination certificate – where at such examination a vehicle is found to be road worthy the vehicle inspection officer shall issue a certificate to that effect as in form M. L. 9 in the Sixth Schedule which shall remain valid for six months. Such certificate shall be carried in the registration book and produced when required by licensing authority, a vehicle inspector or a Police office.”

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Again, private motor vehicle is not mentioned in Regulation 58 (1) and (2) above. In JEV v. IYORTYOM (2015) 15 NWLR (PT. 1483) 484, 506, Okoro, JSC stated the law on the implication of the foregoing thus: –

“It is trite law and an unassailable legal principle that the express and unambiguous mention of one thing in a statutory provision automatically excludes any other which otherwise would have applied by implication, with regard to the same subject matter. This is usually captured in the latin maxim which states” expressio unis est exclusio alterus.”

See also BUHARI v. YUSUF (2004) 114 LRCN 2808 and ATTORNEY-GENERAL OF LAGOS STATE v. ATTORNEY-GENERAL OF THE FEDERATION (2014) 9 NWLR (PT. 1412) 217.

The position of the law set out supra gives a quietus to the submission of appellants’ counsel that if the lawmakers had intended to exempt private motor vehicles from carrying certificate of road worthiness it would have been expressly so stated.

Appellants’ counsel referred to Section 48 (1), (4) and (5) of the law and submitted that the learned trial judge’s interpretation of the said provisions cannot be correct. The provisions are quoted hereunder: –

“(1) Any vehicle found plying the roads without any of the particulars enumerated in Subsection (4) of this Section may be impounded and kept in an approved place by any member of the Nigeria Police Force or any person duly authorized on the behalf.

(4) For the purpose of this Section, the terms –

“particulars” include driving licence, hackney and stage carriage licence, road worthiness certificate, certificate of insurance and vehicle license…”

(5) For the avoidance of doubt, it is hereby declared that the provisions of this section are without prejudice to and in addition to penalties already provided for in the Road traffic Regulation.”

At page 185 of the record of appeal, the learned trial judge reasoned thus: –

“I have carefully perused the Road Traffic Law and the subsidiary legislation, the Road Traffic Regulation, aforesaid and I hold the firm view that the use of the word “any” under Section 48 of the Road Traffic Law is used to mean “some” and of all motor vehicle to which each document listed under particulars applies. The certificate of Road Worthiness or Road Worthiness Certificate whatever you want to put it as the law stands today in this state has no application to private motor vehicle.”

I agree with the learned trial judge. The provisions for particulars of motor vehicles are to be found in the RTR which as I have already demonstrated do not require a private motor vehicle to have a certificate of road worthiness. It follows therefore that the words “any of the particulars…” refer to the particulars as are required in respect of each category of motor vehicle as set out in Regulation 58 of RTR. In the case of SKYE BANK PLC v. IWU (2017) 16 NWLR (PT. 1590) 24, 103 – 104, the Supreme Court (per Nweze, JSC) opined that: –

“Now, the adjective “any” is a word of enormous amplitude which admits of no limitation or qualification, Duck V. Batey IQBD 79 and indeed, has been constructed to mean as wide as possible” Becket V. Sutton 51 LJCH; some out of many, an indefinite number, one indiscriminately of whatever kind or quantity” Federal Deposit Ins. Corporation V. Winton C.C.A Tenn 131 F2 780, 782, Texaco Panama Inc V. SPDA (NIG) LTD (2002) LPELR 3146 (SC) 28, A – C (2002) 5 NWLR (PT. 759) 209. Put differently, the word “any” has a diversity of meanings and may be employed to indicate “all” or “every” as well as “some” or “one” and its meaning in a given statute depends upon the context and subject matter of the statute.”

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In the context of Section 48 (1) of the Law, the words “any of the particulars…” mean some out of many. Excluded in respect of the particulars for which a private motor vehicle may be impounded is the road worthiness certificate. The implication of holding otherwise and accepting the position of appellants’ counsel is that a private motor vehicle can be impounded for not having hackney and stage carriage licence which is part of the list in Section 48 (4) of the Law. But Section 2 of the Law defines hackney carriage to mean: –

“… any motor vehicle designed or constructed to carry not more than Seven persons, used or intended to be used for carrying passengers for hire or reward under a contract expressed or implied for the use of the vehicle as a whole at or for a fixed or agreed rate or sum”

Stage carriage

“means any motor vehicle used or intended to be used for carrying passengers for hire or reward other than such a vehicle constructed or adopted to carry less than eight persons, the passengers paying separate and distinct fare or at the rate of separate or distinct are for their respective places and shall be deemed to include the expression “omnibus”.

A private motor vehicle certainly cannot be described as a hackney carriage or stage carriage following the above definitions. The law does not contain a definition of “Private motor vehicle”. However, Section 2 of the Law defines “a commercial vehicle” to include a hackney carriage, stage carriage and any motor vehicle primarily designed for the carriage of goods excluding any such vehicle used exclusively for carrying the personal effects of the owner and not for hire or reward. The word “Private” is defined as: –

“Belonging to or for the use of a particular person or group not for public use.” – Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary 7th edition, page 1155.

It can be drawn from the foregoing that a private motor vehicle is a motor vehicle belonging to a particular person or which is for the use of a particular person or group and the carrying of their personal effects and not for public use or for hire or reward.

It would be absurd and completely illegal to impound a private motor vehicle for not having or carrying hackney licence or stage carriage licence because it is provided as two of the particulars for which any vehicle may be impounded for not having. That is the absurdity that the interpretation canvassed by appellants’ counsel will result to. An absurdity should not be attributed to lawmakers. The Courts will lean against a construction that will produce an absurdity. See DIN v. ATTORNEY-GENERAL OF THE FEDERATION (2004) 12 NWLR (PT. 888) 409 and OKIKE v. LPDC (2005) 128 LRCN 1861.

It is well established that the provision of a statute must not be read in isolation from other sections. Rather a statute must be read as a whole and related sections are to be considered together to arrive at the intention of the lawmakers – BRONIK MOTORS LTD v. WEMA BANK LTD (1983) 1 SCLR 296 and NWAIGWE v. FRN (PT. 1166) 169. When the relevant sections of the Law and the relevant regulations of the RTR are read communally, the conclusion is inescapable that the requirement for a motor vehicle to have certificate of road worthiness does not apply to private motor vehicles.” Per DANJUMA, J.C.A.

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