The Akwa Ibom State High Court has ruled the the Vehicle Inspection Office (VIO) lacks the powers to impose penalties on traffic offences or impound vehicles.
Delivering a judgment in a fundamental rights enforcement suit filed by a lawyer, Edidiong Akpanuwa, on behalf of his client, the court said to be so empowered would mean the VIO has assumed the duty of the law court.
It noted that the VIO, acting on the instructions of the Akwa Ibom State Government, cannot, by virtue of section 36 of the Constitution, assume the powers and/or functions of the court to impose penalties and impound vehicles of a person alleged to have committed a traffic offence.
The court particularly declared the action by the VIO unconstitutional.
Accordingly, the court ordered the Government of Akwa Ibom State and the Ministry of Transport to, immediately, return to the applicant the sum of N5,000 (five thousand naira) illegally collected as a penalty for alleged breach of traffic regulations.
The court, which was presided over by Hon. Justice Aniekan Eton, also ordered the Akwa Ibom State government to pay to the applicant the sum of N500,000 (five hundred thousand naira) as general damages.
Also, the sum of N1,500,000 (one million and five hundred thousand naira) was ordered to be paid to the applicant as exemplary damages, while N80,000 must be paid as a cost of the action.
Reacting to the judgment, an Uyo-based human rights activist, Mr Agbor Jimmy, lauded the court for what he described as “another landmark judgement to check the activities of government agencies”.
While lambasting the VIO and other governmental agencies for “always acting ultra vires’, Mr Agbor hinted that he has “alerted the appropriate quarters including the Nigeria Police to ensure that these agencies operating illegally in the state are apprehended before they force law-abiding citizens to resort to self-help.”