In the past two months, I have engaged the services of more than three drivers to take me around the city for my field work. Although they have updated driving licences, I noticed that I drove better than each of them. I am not the best driver around but I have been driving for more than eight years. However, I lost my driving licence many years ago and I did not want to go through the stress of getting a new one. I decided to endure the service of these drivers who neither had the skills nor knew coordinates of the city well. In the course of my daily routine, I found myself always being the one directing them when they miss their way and that got me very furious. I had out of naivety assumed that any professional driver should at least know a little bit about how to navigate the town where the person is operating. So far I have missed many meetings because the drivers carrying me always did not know what to do to get me to the right place at the right time. After several frustrating outings I decided to try it on my own. I started by trying to renew my driving licence or get another one.
I consulted one of my old friends who brought a form for me to fill. The letters in the photocopied form were hardly legible but I managed to fill it up. He gave me two options. The easier option was for N15,000 and required him to do all the paper work. I called another friend who told me that the real cost was far less than that. Mine was just to appear in person for the capture and pick up. The next afternoon I got a text from an unknown number that I should come to their office as early as 6.00 am to wait for the photograph. I was a little worried at their efficiency because I know that no civil service organisation will open to attend to people at that time. However I managed to arrive there at about 8.00am. I met about 80 people waiting for the same service and joined the queue. I was number 126 on the list. I waited for six hours. I met many people including one Musa who did not know his date of birth. Now how can such a person get a driving licence?
Now the gist is that the new process of issuing driving licence is one of the most corrupt ever. It is a cash-and-carry process with no regard to standards. Right there and then they will issue you a certificate of completion from a strange driving school and a learner’s permit before arranging for you to take the picture. They will make you to pay between N13,000 to N15,000. The most unfortunate thing is that the scam is coordinated by fully-kitted officials of the Federal Road Safety Corps and the Vehicle Inspection Office. After that experience, I can boldly tell you that more than 70 per cent of those driving on our roads are not drivers. They are those who out of unemployment had to procure a driving licence and had to start driving. They do not even understand road signs not to talk about obeying them. You can now see why the level of road accidents in Nigeria will not reduce in a hurry. If I have my way, I will for arrest of the Corps Marshal of the Federal Road Safety Corps and the head of the Vehicle Inspection Office and prosecute them for murder. I will set example with them. Someone has to take responsibility for thousands of Nigeria who die through road accidents. I lost many loved ones through road accidents and this development always brings memories of pain. From the available statistics – which sounds very incorrect – 6, 052 people died through road accidents in 2010, 6,093 in 2012, 6,450 in 2013 and 4,643 in 2014. These deaths are completely avoidable and I will tell you why. Beyond the accidents caused by over-speeding, drunkenness drug abuse and others – the major cause of road accidents remains fact many of those driving on our roads have no business around the steering.
In the past things were worse – I agree. But has anything really improved? Those days, what you needed to get a driving licence is a passport photo. You presence was not needed and there was no Internet-based approach. With the reforms recently implemented by the FRSC, at least there is a form of database of drivers kept by the authorities. However the problem of standard still persists. Many Nigerians still carry fake licences in their pockets. One driver almost knocked me down at a zebra crossing in Sanusi Fafunwa Street in Victoria Island. He was on top speed and obviously did not understand the significance of zebra crossing. Many analysts insist that the convoluted process of acquisition of driving licence in Nigeria is deliberately designed to encourage corruption like what the Nigerian Immigration Service is doing with the issuance of Nigerian passport. They have refused to eliminate the human contact so that they can exploit those opportunities for venality.
In this era of fighting against corruption, a sector based approach may be necessary. For the transport sector, an important way to start will be to clean up the process of issuing driving licences. This is not a task for the FRSC or VIO alone. It is a task for everyone. Road accidents is a challenge that affects everyone and we must unite in vigilance to reduce it. We must stop the scam of issuing driving licences henceforth. It is simply putting the licence in the hands of wrong people who will continue to kill innocent people on our roads. One way will be to regulate the standard of driving schools. Anyone who brandishes a certificate from a driving school must have passed through some form of training. Sub-standard driving schools by the road side should be closed down immediately. Even those who eventually qualify and get driving licence should also know that it can be withdrawn. In other countries when you commit dangerous traffic offences you stand a risk of your licence being withdrawn by relevant authorities. The Federal Government should have a second look at the process of issuing driving licence. They must establish facilities where applicants for licences must be tested to verify who can drive before their application will be approved. The change we seek will start slowly. Like this!