In many states in Nigeria, including the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, Vehicle Inspection Officers (VIOs) are ubiquitous. How they go about their task of inspecting vehicles and checking their road worthiness is a story for another day, but they do request for motor insurance certificates, which evidences the existence of motor insurance. I had reminded us previously that the Motor Vehicles (Third Party) Insurance Act of 1945 makes it an offence for anybody to use a motor vehicle on the road without having in place the minimum Motor (Third Party) Insurance to cover the motorist against liabilities arising from third party bodily injuries or death. You must, therefore, have the minimum and statutory Motor (Third Party) Insurance in place before you put your motor vehicle on the road (road here means a road to which members of the public have access).
The major problem with motor insurance in Nigeria is that more than half of the certificates motorists flaunt are fake, which negates the essence of the Motor Vehicles (Third Party) Insurance Act. To partly combat the problem of fake motor insurance policies, the Nigerian Insurance Industry Database (NIID) was set up. The platform has the data of all vehicles insured by licensed insurance companies in Nigeria, and it is user friendly. You can upload the app on your phone or access the platform online. Once you are on the platform, you can check the insurance status of any vehicle either with the vehicle registration number or the insurance policy number. The beauty of it is that you do not need the cooperation of the vehicle user to check the insurance status of the vehicle. The vehicle registration number is there for you to use.
Once a motor insurance transaction is concluded, the insurance company is SUPPOSED to upload the details on the NIID platform. I put SUPPOSED in caps because that is the crux of today’s article. It is not always that this happens. In fact, my company acted as an intermediary in a motor insurance transaction recently. The vehicle had been previously insured by the former owner. Now, when he sold the vehicle, the insurance automatically terminated because motor insurance is not automatically transferable. But the insurance company did not remove the data from the NIID platform. Consequently, the new company insuring the vehicle was unable to upload its own data.
This is where Vehicle Inspection Officers come in. VIOs, having embraced the NIID platform, have been using it to check the authenticity of motor insurance certificates on roads in Lagos. I do not know about other states. This is good news to the insurance industry and government. Fake motor insurance has rubbed the insurance industry of tens of billions of naira in premium income; and the government, billions of naira in taxes. But it is being alleged that injustice is being meted out to some road users in the course of using the NIID platform by VIOs. Once your motor insurance data are not there, your insurance is deemed to be fake. The fine, I learnt, is N20,000. This is in addition to inconveniences you go through and the “Nigerian factor.”
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The issue was discussed in one of our insurance platforms recently. It involved a client who was fined N20,000 because the data of the genuine motor insurance certificate he had were not on the NIID platform. Who is to blame? The client, who paid a fine when he is supposed to go to court, since he is not guilty? His insurance broker, who did not follow up to ensure that his client’s motor data were on the NIID platform? Or the insurance company that insured the vehicle, whose duty it is to upload the data on the NIID platform? Various opinions were canvassed, but I want to dwell on the following view first:
“There is no law that says insured vehicle should be uploaded on any platform, no matter the name given to it. The VIOs are not compelled by any law to use the NIID platform as a yardstick to penalise offenders. They should prove beyond any shadow of doubt that a motor vehicle is not carrying the minimum insurance (emphasis mine). The over bearing (attitude) of the VIOs can be subject to a test in the court of law. Brokers and insurers should not trade blame over this but use it as a test case. The broker concerned has arranged insurance through a duly registered insurance company and the insurer has not denied the issuing of cover.”
And now, other views and the conclusion on the matter: The import of Motor Insurance is that at the minimum, if the motorist using his vehicle on the road is involved in an incident that leads to third party bodily injuries, death or property damage, there should be insurance in place to take care of these liabilities since the tortfeasor (negligent or guilty party) might not have the resources to meet these obligations. This aspect of motor insurance relating to third parties is compulsory and any legal measures used to enforce it are welcome. There are more fake motor certificates than genuine ones. This trend negates the essence of the Motor Vehicles (Third Party) Insurance Act. Any legal measures to check this dangerous trend is welcome.
The debut of the NIID platform is one of such measures and it is a massive relief. Over the years, the insurance industry has yearned for law enforcement agents to embrace the NIID platform. It is good news that VIOs and some policemen have embraced the platform and we encourage those who have not to do so, so that use of the NIID platform can be widespread and nationwide. In using this platform, however, these law enforcement agents must realise that there are occasional hiccups that might necessitate some genuine motor policies not being on the platform on time. NIID should not be the final bust stop in such circumstances. The VIOs or police must go the extra mile and confirm the genuineness of the policy from the issuer, the insurance company. Under no circumstances should law abiding road users be penalised when there is an avenue to find out the truth.
For too long, many Nigerians have chosen to bribe or pay fines even when they are innocent. Nigerians must learn to leave their comfort zones, suffer some inconveniences, fight for their rights and get justice. That is how some of the landmark cases we rely on and quote today came about. NIID was set up to help curb incidents of fake motor insurance and ensure compliance with the Motor Vehicles (Third Party) Insurance Act. It should not be used as an instrument for extortion and oppression.