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The FRSC and the legislative ‘siege’

The entire process leading to the phasing out of the old order in both items has been stymied by the House of Representatives. This reaches…

The entire process leading to the phasing out of the old order in both items has been stymied by the House of Representatives. This reaches back to November last year. The action of the House members came as curious to many watchers; especially as the new license and number plate regime had gone six months into smooth implementation in some states of the federation and Abuja. The entire initiative and implementation also had earned the official seal of endorsement from President Goodluck Jonathan. Going by the costs prescribed by the FRSC, a new license goes for N6000, while the new number plate goes for N15000. The latter, however, could climb higher depending on the vehicle type and upon special number requests. With the new regime, the commission had projected to realize an impressive N192 billion within one year. Seventy-two billion naira from the new drivers’ license and N120 billion from the new number plates.

Fact is that the initiative is not about improved revenue generation, but a response to the compelling need for standardized and comprehensive e-data acquisition from drivers, car owners and the vehicles, plying our roads. Do we presently have such a crucial data-base? The answer is no. Yet everyone who has ventured even to South Africa knows that such an information portal has become an integral aspect of driving cultures in today’s societies. With a punch on a hand-held device in advanced societies, the policeman or any other appropriate authority accesses every necessary information regarding the vehicle, the owner or driver in real-time. Unlike here, this is partly why someone would not readily donate his vehicle for robbery or suicide bombing in those societies because such a person knows right from the start that he would be smoked out. Same in matters of car snatching and hit-and-run incidents.

The new license and number plate order captures the biometrics of the car owner, down to the minute details, and marry them to both the drivers’ license and the vehicle registration number, such that a man that owns more than one vehicle or fleet of cars can just be assigned same figures for all the vehicles. And all the data generated are warehoused in a central information portal, accessible anywhere with a touch on a button. The new regime also effectively takes away acquisition by proxy, of either the license or the vehicle registration number. The entire initiative is a project that replicates what the Nigerian Immigration Services did with the present fool-proof Nigerian e-passport. Apart from being tied to the owner, the new license and number plates have tamper-proof VIT tags, web printed proof of ownership certificate and are backed by IT infrastructure for verification. As against the current practice, the new drivers’ license can only be obtained by new applicants after they have passed a standard driving test. Current holders of drivers’ licenses who can be traced on the FRSC’s database will be exempted from having to do the driving test.

The current drivers’ license and vehicle registration models we must concede, hardly serves anyone and the country adequate security purposes. The law enforcement officers can hardly be sure to track down robbers with the registration numbers on their get-away cars because robbers and other criminal elements easily acquire multiple plate numbers, some of which are churned out by forgers. For a better monitoring and regulation this time, the FRSC in collaboration with the appropriate authorities in all the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, designed a one-stop shop for the acquisition of the drivers’ license and number plates.

The current internal terrorism, often implemented with vehicle-laden explosives has also made the need for a more efficient tracking process of vehicle and owners’ identities, more compelling. As President Jonathan observed on the day of the launch of the new driver’s license and vehicle registration systems, which was barely a week after the United Nations Building car bombing in Abuja, acquiring an effective national data-base of vehicles and drivers in the country has become imperative in the face of such criminalities. And following the Independence Day car bombing in the Federal Capital in 2010, the president disclosed that he had to direct for the hastening of efforts to build a credible database of drivers and vehicles in order to improve public safety. The importance of the new regime of license and car registration, Jonathan said “is reaffirmed by the consistent use of vehicles in the conduct of the recent bombing episodes.”

With all these to gain from the introduction of the new license and number plates, the House of Representatives at a plenary session last year November 15 surprisingly asked the FRSC to put a hold on the newly introduced number plate and drivers’ license, describing the initiatives as “economically oppressive”, and lacking in added value to national security. The House members also argued that the commission erred by striving to earn revenue for the government. This, according to them, is because the commission is not revenue generating one. Fact is that the additional N2000 to the cost of the drivers’ license, which the commission has explained was brought about by the improvements in standard can hardly be branded in good conscience, as oppressive. Same with the marginal addition in the cost of the number plate.

Can anyone volunteer to argue meaningfully that someone who can afford to pay over a million naira to own a second-hand private car is actually being oppressed by the licensing office to register it with N15000? Who can also make a successful case of oppression for the same person for having spent N6000 to acquire a three years drivers’ license that would enable him drive the car? That the FRSC initiative does not add value to national security is a puerile argument we must for the integrity of the Nigerian legislature not allow to filter out beyond the borders of this country. The anger of the House against the FRSC for generating revenue would have made some sense if the House had pronto, barred the commission from remitting revenue to the Federal Inland Revenue Services, FIRS, which come yearly in billions of naira from fines for traffic offences. All these demand an urgent need for some sober reflections on the House of Representatives belligerence against these FRSC initiatives.

Ayeni, a medical doctor, wrote from the  UK


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