THE Director-General of the Nigerian Insurers Association, Mr. Sunday Thomas, disclosed this week that as many as 12 million vehicles on Nigerian roads have fake insurance papers. This lack of proper insurance for these vehicles portends grave danger for their owners and other road users who are thereby not insured against any risks relating to the use of the uninsured vehicles. Thomas noted that of the about 16 million motor vehicles on Nigerian roads, only 4.3 million are recorded as insured on the insured vehicles database of his association.
Nigerians ought to be alarmed by these revelations because it means that our roads are much more dangerous than generally thought. The Federal Highway Act of 1971 stipulates that all vehicles plying Nigerian roads must be properly insured. Thus, it is not optional to insure a motor vehicle. It is compulsory and imperative for the obvious reason that the risks of everyday movement of millions of people deserve to be covered by insurance so as to provide a sense of security to motorists and passengers who daily ply our highways.
Procuring fake insurance papers to mislead law enforcement agents and fraudulently satisfy the basic requirements of an insurance cover as demanded by the law is self-deceit. It is an affront to the people who are then exposed to untold risks without remedy should an accident occur.
The danger to the public of failure to properly insure vehicles should be emphasised. But, while we denounce the penchant of Nigerians for cutting corners on every regulation, we must also note that part of the blame for the state of affairs ought to be placed squarely at the doorsteps of the insurance industry itself.
The general performance of insurance companies in their responsibility of cushioning the people against risks, and the paying of claims in the event of an accident, has at best been discouraging.
Many Nigerians view insurance as a statutory extortion of citizens, for which they receive little or nothing. Nigerians would readily recite a litany of instances in which insurance firms collected insurance premiums but dodged the payment of claims, hiding behind spurious excuses that were hitherto either not disclosed to their customers, or craftily hidden in ‘small print’ that the customers never bothered to read. In spite of the industry’s protestations that things have changed, we must acknowledge a considerable measure of distrust between the insurance industry and its customers, which would require a hefty public relations effort to dispel.
We think the industry can begin such process by first helping law enforcement agencies to run fake insurance companies out of town. They should assist the authorities in their efforts to apprehend and bring fake insurance peddlers to justice, to serve as a lesson to others. Conducting occasional raids on the fake insurance paper merchants and apprehending motorists who carry such fake documents on the highways will not do. Many honest motorists may have been fooled into buying these fake policies, and the best way to stop them from patronising the fake insurance companies is to publish the list of genuine insurance companies and inform motorists on how to access them.
Maintaining the Nigerian Insurance Industry Database (NIID) is a good thing but it is apparent that not enough information about its use has been disseminated. This probably explains why millions of fake insurance covers are in circulation, seven years after its creation.
Again, the NIID does not constitute an alternative to making a list of genuine insurance companies available in the media, at licensing offices and motor vehicles and traffic administration offices nation-wide. There cannot be millions of fake insurance papers circulating in Nigeria without a huge influential racket behind it. Touts and emergency vehicle papers contractors are a reality of Nigeria’s licensing world. But, there are also some reliable organisations like ‘Auto-reg’, which should be encouraged.
It is the duty of the insurance industry to restore public confidence in its services. That means the mobilisation of everyone concerned, including insurance agents, brokers, the firms themselves, and the National Insurance Commission (NIC), all pulling together to sanitise the insurance environment while sensitising motorists. The general view in the industry is that there is a need to migrate away from the paper certificate format, which is so vulnerable to forgery to an electronic system that would be impossible to fake.
It should also look inwards to see if it is not charging too high for its services thereby forcing motorists to look out for cheaper alternatives to beat the system.
Above all, the danger to society of so many motor vehicles operating without genuine insurance covers should be made clear to every Nigerian. It is against public safety.