By ROGERS EDOR OCHELA
”Life is about change. A leap can only be attained when dreams are translated into reality. A goal can also be fulfilled when a decayed system goes through the surgeon’s knife”—Alhaji Adamu Muazu, ex-Governor of Bauchi State
It is often said that the only constant thing in life is change. Abraham Lincoln, a former president of America talked about the inevitability of change when he said that those who make peaceful change make impossible makes violent change inevitable.
Since it was established in 1986 via Decree 45 of 1988, Federal Roads Safety Commission (now Corps) by the Ibrahim Babangida military regime, the only federal government agency saddled with the onerous responsibility of restoring sanity on the nation’s highways has evolved policies and programmes that have greatly assisted it in the discharge of its statutory functions. And none of these policies or programmes has generated the kind of controversy and opprobrium like its recent new licensing policy.
Since the commencement of the project, skeptics, either out of lack of understanding of what it entails or out of pure mischief has subjected both the policy and its purveyor, the FRSC to needless bashing. The criticisms, misinformed as they were, if allowed to subsist, will over time assume the toga of truth in the minds of unsuspecting members of the public. And it is this misconception that I intend to correct in this write-up.
It would be recalled that the House of Representatives after a deliberation on a motion sponsored by Hon. Sam Tsokwa, Chairman on Business and Rules passed a Resolution last year suspending further production of the new driver’s license and number plates, with a resolution mandating its Committee on Road Safety to conduct a public hearing on the necessity and importance of the scheme. As a law-abiding and responsible agency, the FRSC has not only suspended the production of the licenses, but prepared itself for the public hearing.
At this juncture, it is apposite to avail uninformed critics of this laudable project with its numerous benefits not only to the individual motorists but the nation as a whole. But before then, it is equally necessary to educate such critics that prior to the introduction of this new licensing scheme, it is a well-known fact that criminals have more than one driving license, a situation that made it extremely difficult for FRSC to manage and monitor road transport system. But with the new license, the Corps can track vehicles and know as much as possible about drivers.
From all intents and purposes, the new policy is intended to restore the integrity of the Unified Licensing Scheme (ULS) and National Vehicles Identification Scheme (NVLS) initiated by the government in the 1990s. It is also geared towards maintaining a credible database of drivers in the country as well as developing a robust Information and Communication Technology network. This will enable the Corps to track down vehicles in case of theft or robbery and drivers that have violated traffic laws. Laudable objectives, no doubt!
In voicing out their criticisms of this new policy, several Nigerians have complained bitterly about the high cost of the new driver’s license and made it appear as if the money is going into the coffers of the FRSC. Far from it! The truth is that the money involved in the new license plate and drivers’ license is not an FRSC affair. It is the responsibility of the Joint Tax Board (JTB). It must be on record also that the FRSC did not fix the price of the new license plate number and drivers’ license but the JTF, which FRSC is not even a member but an observer. Those on the Board consist of Federal Inland Revenue Service; Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission; Ministry of Finance and Board of Internal Revenue Chairman of the 36 states of the federation. They met and reached an agreement on the price tag of the new license and plate numbers.
Juxtaposing the new and old number plates, the new plate has the following distinguishing features: while the old plate number does not capture the full database of the motorist, the new one is much more secured, just as it will assist the federal government in national planning because with the new concept, they will know the exact number of vehicles plying the roads.
On the workability of the new scheme, all the fees are to be paid into any Internal Revenue Board account in the respective states as a condition for necessary tests to be conducted on the drivers by the Vehicle Inspection Officers (VIOs) before the issuance of the new license. The same VIO were to thereafter forward names of successful applicants to the FRSC for the issuance of the new licenses to qualified Nigerians. Judging from the foregoing, the pertinent question that comes to mind is: where has the FRSC gone wrong to warrant its barbecue in the media?
According the Corps Marshal and Chief Executive of FRSC, Osita Chidoka, unlike previous licensing scheme, the new one was aimed at generating materials from a central location which would consist of the following features: standardization and enhancement of driver’s license; upgrading of Information Processing Centre; reduction in processing time; clean-up of driver’s license database; establishment of a one-stop- shop for the processing of application and physical capture of applicant’s data and central print for the production of the document.
This new licensing system will enhance the nation’s security system. Before the introduction of this new scheme, even a day old baby could get his driver’s license by only making a payment and not appearance at the licensing office at all. Under that kind of situation, the FRSC was unable to control the proliferation of the document, a development responsible for the high prevalence of ‘insane’ drivers on the nation’s highways.
The current scheme is a collaborative effort between the states and the FCT on the one hand and the FRSC on the other. In the case of the FCT, the scheme is jointly operated by the Directorate of Road Traffic Services and the FRSC, a tripartite arrangement involving the Board of Internal Revenue Board of a state in collection of revenue, while the Vehicle Inspection Officer of the state will engage in testing drivers and the FRSC will engage in the design and production of plate number as well as the management of the database.
According to Mr. Charles Akpabio, the image maker of the FRSC, the new licensing scheme is equally laudable for the following reasons: no duplication; no multiplicity; universal acceptability as a means of identification; all licensing agencies are co-located in a one-stop-shop housing all relevant parties. They are also easier to obtain, restoration of the credibility and reliability of driver’s license; centralized production and credible verification system.
Allegations are rife about the proliferation of fake plate numbers and driver’s license. This may be true to some extent. The stoppage of further production of the number plates by the FRSC has given impetus to syndicates that specialises in the production of fakes licences to engage in their nefarious act in full blast, which was the basic reason in the first place behind the reform in the licensing system.
While one must concede that the resolutions of the House of Representatives and the Senate are part of the legislative powers of oversight of the National Assembly, the real concern is that, if care is not taken, Nigeria may be pushed into a state of confusion that will not only undermine the nation’s safety and security, but make her a laughing stock in the comity of nations.
Lest we forget, it was the same National Assembly that created the FRSC with the exclusive powers of enforcement, design and production of the driver’s licences and number plates and to fine traffic offenders, which are ultimately remitted to the Federation account. And as disclosed by the Corps Marshal recently, FRSC remitted as much as N1.4 billion to the Federation account as fines in 2010.
No doubt, since the launch of the National Uniform Licensing Scheme (NULS) in the 1990, the scheme has been bogged by several challenges including inadequate investment in the plants to upgrade the system which created the problem of regular and timely production of the licences to the states, and failure of the States to return forms MV01 filled by vehicle owners after issuance of number plates for entry into the FRSC database among other challenges.
It is these challenges that the new licensing system intends to tackle when it made the Driving Schools Standardisation Programme (DSSP), one-stop shop and credible database the cornerstones of its administration. There is no doubt that while the initiative of the new licensing system would have resolved the apathy being witnessed in our licensing system, those syndicates that are beneficiaries of the distortions would have been dealt a deadly blow and possibly thrown out of business.
Ochela, an Abuja-based media consultant and public affairs analyst, can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org (070-83843278 & 070-35109174)