By Babatunde Ayedoju
The introduction of Proof of Ownership Certificate (POC) by the Federal Government is one of the breaking news in the last few months of the President Bola Ahmed Tinubu. The policy which requires that vehicle owners pay an annual fee of N1,000 for POC verification was made by the Joint Tax Board, but the information came to public domain when the Permanent Secretary of Lagos State Ministry of Transportation, Abdulhafiz Toriola, gave a hint about it last month.
Toriola disclosed that the certificate would help vehicle owners and the government guarantee the integrity of all vehicles registered on the National Vehicle and Identification Scheme database and track car theft and recovery of stolen vehicles.
He said, “The annual Proof of Ownership Certificate is in line with compliance with legal requirements fundamental to transparency, security and accountability within transportation network. To this end, the Federal Government has introduced the issuance of annual Proof of Ownership Certificate for all registered vehicles. This certificate will serve as official documentation of a vehicle’s legal owners upon successful completion of the necessary requirements and procedures.
According to the Lagos State government official, the POC will contain vital information, including the vehicle’s registration details, such as license number plate, model, year of manufacture in addition to the owner’s name and address.
He said further, “Having critically reviewed the challenges encountered in ensuring promotion of the safety and security of lives and property through the issuance of POC nationally, and especially in our dear state, the Joint Tax Board, JTB, in its communique issued at the end of the emergency meeting held on May 9, 2023, adopted and made a resolution that proof of ownership be issued to motorists on an annual basis nationwide. The Lagos State Government will commence the collection of the fee for POC from motorists beginning from July 2023.”
The novel government policy, no doubt, stirred some reactions from the public. One of those reactions came from the Nigeria Bar Association’s Section on Public Interest Litigation and Development Law (NBA-SPIDEL). The legal body reacted by announcing that it had set up a legal team to examine the legality of the policy and take appropriate actions, which may include litigation.
In a statement jointly signed by its Chairman, John Aikpokpo-Martins and Secretary, Funmi Adeogun, NBA-SPIDEL said: “Pursuant to our mandate as the Nigerian Bar Association Section on Public Interest Litigation and Development Law (NBA-SPIDEL) which amongst others, is to defend the interest of the public against oppressive and illegal policies of public authorities, and the overall objective of the NBA to defend the rights of the people, we, the officers of SPIDEL hereby set up this legal team to critically examine the legality of the policy and take necessary legal actions, including litigation, to frontally challenge same immediately”.
Members of the legal team, according to the statement, include Kunle Edun, Francis Ogunbowale, Maxwell Opara, Felix Akpowowo, Adeola Folarin, Ibrahim Al-Hussein and Izu Aniagu, while the team’s consultant is Ikeazor Akaraiwe, SAN.
Of course, there are many fees that citizens pay regularly, sometimes to generate money for the government, known as Internally Generated Revenue (IGR). Such fees include but are not limited to income tax, custom duties and money paid for driver’s licence, international passport, vehicle insurance and road worthiness. A good number of these fees are paid periodically because the documents or tags for which they are paid have to be renewed.
With this POC annual verification fee that has just been introduced, the Federal Government has added to the list of fees that affected citizens will have to be paying. Is that really justifiable, though the Federal Government has given its own justification for the new policy, which is security of lives and property?
Professor Simon Ehiabhi from the Department of History and International Studies, Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, considers it as a very wrong policy and a sign that labour unions have lost their relevance. He believes that It puts a financial burden on people who already have a lot of fees to pay, such as road worthiness, vehicle insurance and renewal of driver’s licence.
The university don said that though the recent removal of fuel subsidy is justifiable, considering the fraud associated with it, this novel renewal of vehicle proof of ownership is not a convenient for the masses at all.
He also decried the fact that Nigerians find it difficult to speak up in a situation like this because of sentiments, which he described as a result of lack of patriotism.
Similarly, Dr Bayo Fasunwon from the Department of Political Science, Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko noted that the policy suggests someone who has a vehicle only has legitimate right over it as the owner for one year, which is against the owner’s fundamental human rights.
The seasoned political economist, while considering it as a form of official corruption, equally warned that it would give room for fraud and stealing. He said that asking people to pay N1,000 as annual fee for renewing Proof of Ownership Certificate without giving them good roads is wrong, moreso, considering the fact that there are other levies that people are already paying. According to him, such levies include renewing driver’s licence, vehicle insurance, road worthiness and many others.
While saying that the policy might have come to say, especially if the agency in charge is tenacious with it, Dr Fasunwon said that the policy is also a divide and rule tactic between those who have vehicles and those who do not.
He said that those who do not own vehicles are happy that owners are taxed while those who have vehicles are overburdened because it is tantamount to multiple taxation.
Kayode Oguntoye, an agriculturist and car owner, likened it to a mere attempt to exploit the masses instead of providing basic infrastructure that they need. He questioned the logic behind annual renewal of ownership certificate of a vehicle, saying that once an individual purchases a vehicle and obtains the necessary documents once and for all that should be enough.