By Azuka Onwuka
Why do Nigerians bicker when their cars are involved in minor accidents? It is usually argued that the reason is that most Nigerian vehicle owners do not have “comprehensive insurance cover.”
Nigerian comedians use this as a joke regularly, comparing how Nigerian vehicle owners react to minor road accidents and how vehicle owners in the Western world react to similar accidents. When two vehicles have a minor accident on a Nigerian road that involves some dent or some damage to the headlamps or rear lamps, the two drivers would quickly jump out of their vehicles, inspect their vehicles and start shouting at each other, wagging fingers at each other, which may degenerate to an exchange of blows. Some may seize the offending driver or tow his vehicle away and insist that he must pay for the damage caused. In some cases, the person whose car has suffered more damage may rush to the car of the other person and damage its mirror or headlamp or even windscreen in retaliation. As the comedian acts this out, members of the audience laugh because they have either witnessed it or participated in it.
However, when such a minor road accident happens in the UK or the US, the comedian changes his countenance. He paints a picture of how the two drivers will come out of their vehicles gently, survey what has happened, exchange insurance policy numbers and business cards and drive off. The reason is that they know that their insurance companies will take care of the damage.
These jokes have sunk into most Nigerians as the reality. Most Nigerian car owners believe that the N5,000 third party insurance does not cover anything. The belief is that it is procured just to avoid the trouble from police officers who check vehicle particulars on the highways. But is that true?
That is a big lie. That so-called meaningless N5,000 insurance cover that you think is just for the police gives you a cover of N1,000,000 (one million naira) for any damage to any person’s property. Just open your glove compartment now, bring out your car insurance and read it. If it is not written on the front page, turn the leaf and check for it. You will see that the N5,000 you paid to the insurance company is not to fulfil all righteousness and escape police wahala. It is meant to protect you from fighting with another road user in the event of an accident. It is meant to ensure that you don’t hand over N100,000 or N300,000 to another road user because your car damaged the person’s headlamp or bumper or fender or bonnet. It also has an unlimited cover limit for any death or bodily injury you cause a third party with your vehicle.
So when you hit someone’s vehicle or damage someone’s property or injure someone or even kill someone, as long as your N5,000 insurance is valid, your insurance company will pay that person the cost of the damage within one million naira, if it is property, but if it is bodily injury or death, the amount may be decided mutually or by the law court.
It is called third-party insurance cover because it does not cover losses you incur in an auto accident. You are the first party; the insurance company is the second party; while any other person hit by your vehicle is the third party. So you have insured your car for any damage done to any other road user. If you want your car to be covered, you do the comprehensive insurance.
But if you and someone hit each other and damage each other’s vehicles and both of you have that N5,000 insurance cover, the person’s insurer should pay for the damage to your vehicle, while your insurer should pay for the damage done to the person’s vehicle.
So when Nigerians are involved in minor accidents, there is no need for all the drama they engage in. They just need to confirm that the other party has a valid N5,000 insurance cover. And because of the fear of the police on the highways, most private car owners have that insurance. Only the drivers of private intra-city commercial buses usually default in this.
However, when you want to renew your insurance cover, don’t give it to touts to do for you, to avoid spending your money to get a fake document. Check around you for the nearest office of an insurance company, broker or agent, or check for the list of Nigerian insurance companies online and send a message to them. They may even come to your office to collect the material.
That many Nigerian car owners or drivers don’t know their right is to the advantage of the insurance companies. What it does for them is that most people who are involved in road accidents do not report such to their insurers. Most car owners ignorantly pay the other party, if such is demanded, and go away to repair their vehicle. Sometimes, the owner of the vehicle decides not to collect any money and goes on to repair the vehicle. Such people are prayed for and called good men or women.
Naturally, the insurers do not bother to explain to those who patronise them what their rights are. Most times, vehicle owners do not even get the vehicle insurance cover themselves. They give money to a tout to procure it. Ironically, getting an insurance policy for a vehicle is the easiest paper one can get for a vehicle. Unlike other vehicle-related documents like driving licence, road-worthiness licence, vehicle licence, proof of ownership, registration number document and the like, the insurance cover is the only one that is not issued by a government agency. Therefore, it does not involve any bureaucracy, which usually causes delays which lead to bribery and corruption in the name of “processing fee.” There is nothing to process in an insurance policy. Just like banks are open all over the country looking for customers, so do insurance companies have branches and outlets all over the country looking for patrons. And just as banks are regulated by the Central Bank of Nigeria, so are insurance firms, brokers, and agents regulated by National Insurance Commission.
Once you make a payment to the insurance firm, your details and the details of the car are entered and your policy certificate is printed out. The document contains the policy number as well as your certificate number, which you will quote in the event of any claim. You can immediately verify the genuineness of your insurance by entering your policy number or vehicle number in the portal of the Nigerian Insurance Industry Database (NIID). If there is any hanky-panky, you can immediately report the insurance company, and the individual or company will be penalised.
The interesting thing about vehicle insurance is that the amount (N5,000) is so small that no vehicle owner should find it hard to pay annually. And one should not wait for it to expire for even a day before renewing it. It is even better to renew it a week or so before its due date to avoid any story. Accidents don’t give a notice before occurring.
If a car owner wants to add N100,000 cover for his vehicle, he can take the N7,500 special policy. This package covers the third party for up to N1,000,000, but covers you for up to N100,000. This will ensure that anytime you have a minor accident, your insurance company can take care of it for you.
But if you want your insurance company to take full responsibility, then you can go for the comprehensive cover, which is usually about 5 percent of the worth of your car. This will also cover the third party.
The ignorance about vehicle insurance is similar to that about health insurance. Most Nigerians do not know that they can insure themselves for about N20,000 annually and get treated throughout the year in good hospitals.
It is said that knowledge is power. Sadly, the Good Book says: “My people perish for lack of knowledge.”