Understanding vehicle number plating in Nigeria

Understanding vehicle number plating in Nigeria

Recently, the Inspector General of Police announced the total ban of the SPY vehicle number plates citing internal security. Almost immediately afterwards, the then Corps Marshal of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) Boboye Oyeyemi, ordered personnel of the FRSC to enforce the IGP’s directive, and also to “impound vehicles with faded plate numbers and private vehicles with commercial plate numbers”. The IGP accused the SPY-plate users of “continuous disregard for traffic rules and regulations and other extant laws guiding road use by individuals hiding under the privileges of SPY police number plates”. The FRSC on its part worried that “the use of faded and unauthorised vehicle number plates has implications on national security”. In view of the concerns raised by these security chiefs, it is important to consider the system of vehicle number plating and the wider implications of the system for security and orderly management of the road transport system in Nigeria.


As I understand, the SPY number plates allowed certain road privileges to approved privately owned vehicles. If this privilege has become so irredeemably abused that the police found no control measure short of banning and confiscating the plates, then I think we have a serious problem. The IGP did hint that some of the SPY number plates may have been illegal when he ordered the ban “irrespective of whether it is authorised, or not”. The FRSC seem to have concurred with this when it flagged the security implication of unauthorised vehicle number plate. Recall that the FRSC had announced that the “Peace Ambassador” number plates were illegal as far back as 2016 (some of them are still on the highways, though). But if it is possible that people drive vehicles with fake or unauthorised plates then perhaps a ban is not enough; arrests and prosecution should follow – not just of the driver, but whoever issued unauthorised number plates or licensed the vehicle.


How do you know when a number plate is “unauthorised”? I am not sure, but the website of the FRSC has a section for verifying number plates. I imputed a vehicle number plate and the query returned as “Validated; valid but yet to be assigned” – the problem is, the said number plate was assigned to my vehicle in 2016 and the vehicle registration has been renewed, and road-worthiness tested annually since then. Check your number plates, but I hope the authorities have a more accurate verification system.

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Who decides when a number plate is faded and constituting a security risk? Is it possible that a vehicle would be licensed and certified roadworthy while its number plate is “faded”? It would make more sense to include the integrity of number plates in the checklist for assessing roadworthiness annually rather than attempting to fish out faded number plates in traffic. Annual roadworthiness test should provide opportunity to check and validate everything about the car. Already, there are concerns that fishing out faded plates is being done in manner that inconveniences Nigerians.


The emphasis on number plates is appreciable; however, it must be noted that the number plate is only a part of the string of measures necessary to ensure approved and safe usage of vehicles in Nigeria. Number plating goes in tandem with the registration and annual licensing, which includes roadworthiness test of the vehicle and certification. Driver training and licensing is part of the regime as well. Therefore, removing SPY, faded and wrongly used number plates from circulation is an important measure, but it must be taken in coordination with other aspects of the process. Daily Trust’s recent interesting article on lapses in vehicle registration in Nigeria is illustrative of the work ahead.


Elected public officials perform critical duties to the state, true. But it is not clear why some of them are entitled to customized number plates based on their office yet on privately owned vehicles which are often driven without the office holder. If the government considers it necessary that office holders should be recognized on the highways, it should provide them with government-owned vehicles and drivers, otherwise they should use regular number plates. However, where number-plates tied to public office are issued, they must be revoked and retrieved upon expiry of the tenure of office.

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It is important to also consider the use of customized number plates. In my opinion, plate customisation should only be allowed for privately used vehicles (blue plates). Institutions can have regular plates and then inscribe internal notations as needed on the body of the vehicle. The practice of having customised number plates for brand ambassadors should be discontinued, if at all it was legal in the first place; it is unclear why “SDG Ambassadors” (there are still MDG Ambassador plates on the highways!), or beauty queens would need customized plates; particularly where such plates are green, suggesting government ownership. Perhaps the government is not behind those number plates at all. So if there are illegal an unauthorized number plates in Nigeria, who is making them, are the vehicles they are on otherwise registered and certified roadworthy? How are they able to survive on the roads where a the Police, VIO, FRSC, NSCDC, NDLEA, states’ road agencies, and local government “task forces” are all on the road checking vehicles and their occupants?


Nengak Daniel Gondyi

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