Applying for a Nigeria Driver’s Licence – A Study in Wasteful Bureaucracy

Driver's License

Bureaucracy (/bjʊəˈrɒkrəsi/) refers to both a body of non-elective government officials and an administrative policy-making group.  Historically, a bureaucracy was a government administration managed by departments staffed with non-elected officials. Today, bureaucracy is the administrative system governing any large institution, whether publicly owned or privately owned. The public administration in many countries is an example of a bureaucracy, but so is the centralized hierarchical structure of a business firm. (Wikipedia)

So, what’s my point?

I have always maintained that bureaucracy, while no human government can run or work without it, can be inefficient, convoluted, or too inflexible to individuals. This is excessive bureaucracy and often leads to corruption.

In Nigeria, in fact, corruption thrives on bureaucracy and vice versa. Without excessive bureaucracy, it is likely that corruption will not be as endemic as we have it; and I am not limiting postulations to the government – civil service, politicians – but also in the private sector, our banking system, industry, NGOs, every facet of inevitability of bureaucracies in any modern society.

The definition of bureaucracy means government workers, or a group that makes official decisions following an established process. An example of a bureaucracy, in Nigeria’s case, the Licencing Office (motor vehicles and drivers licencing Offices).

Okay. Let me start my experience in Ibadan, capital of Oyo State, at the Licencing Office in Secretariat. Of course, this will not be new to many Nigerians, but I wish to set it down on paper.

On a Friday, I went to the Federal Road Safety Commission’s office. The FRSC are supposed to be the issuing authority of Drivers Licences. Being a Special Marshal of the same FRSC, I thought I will be able to cut through the red tape and go it smoothly; I’m not inclined to paying any bribe or inducement. I was not asking for special favours, but just to have a smooth sail. Nay! it does not matter. The Regular Marshal, on introducing myself, assured me it is easy. I should collect an application form at the State’s Licencing Office.

So, off I went, virtually about four doors away, and I paid N100 for a form (I’m sure those forms are supposed to be free, but I humoured them anyway, money paid with no receipt; can you imagine how much they are raking in from that racket?). I went back again to my Regular Marshal, only to be told I have to go and do a photocopy of my expired Licence. No problem; there are hundreds of independent photocopy operators doing business in the community of civil servants of Oyo State (I doubt if any office in the first Secretariat in Nigeria has its own photocopying machine, and if they do, they are not to be used for the public good and service, yet the Civil Service are supposed to serve the public), so off I went to the nearest operator. The lady, doing brisk business, told me I need to do an ARENA (that’s the web service, I suppose) for N500; no problem, I paid, only to be told there’s not network to work on and print it off. This was Friday, so I said I will come back on the Monday, since I cannot wait all day for a network that might never come back. The lady took my phone number and promised to call me. She did call me later in the day, but I was too far away, so I told her I will come on Monday.

Monday, I was there. My ARENA was ready. I collected and asked for the next step.  Another Regular Marshal told me I have to go and pay the required fee in one of two banks to go into the Government’s purse. I chose to go to WEMA Bank, just outside the Secretariat. A bit of a walk, about 10 minutes to and another 10 minutes back; no use taking my car.

In the Bank, I was lucky; not a lot of customers, but I had a problem with completing the deposit slip. I had to ask for help; and help I got from the bank staff, who helped fill the deposit slip properly, as I had to put certain codes for it to go into the government’s account or else the N10,450 might disappear into a wrong account and invalidate my application. I was not told this by the people in Licencing. Anyway, I got it done, paid N10,450.00 into the government’s account, got my counterfoil and headed back to Licencing.

“What is next?” I asked. Oh, I have to collect all the documents I have acquired so far, make photocopies and put them all together and sign them at the VIOs (Vehicle Inspection Officers), those terrors of commercial drivers. So, where is the VIO’s Office? Next door, they said.

So, I spent another N100 or so doing the photocopies. The sun was burning and I was traipsing all over the Oyo State Secretariat. When I looked at my Italian made shoes, it had nearly worn out at the heels from all those walking on concrete and tarmac. I made a mental note never to bring my expensive shoes to Nigeria again, or my children who bought them for me will never forgive me.

So off next door I went, only to find the door shut. I was then told, “Sorry, VIOs only open their doors to the public on Tuesday and Thursdays”. By this time, I had already spent over four hours at the Secretariat. I am a very patient man, I know, and I thank God I didn’t blow my top. So, I headed off home.

Tuesday (Children’s’ Day), I was back at the Secretariat again, around 10am. Yes, won’t you believe it, the VIO’s Office was open as they said and a long queue had formed. The office had five officers as far as I could count, with only 2 tables, and one Oga VIO (I must say, under the circumstance, he’s a very pleasant guy) doing the interviews. The others, all females, were of indeterminate functions; some looking through piles of forms, one collecting money for signed documents, all of them mostly on their mobile phones, some helping touts who keep coming in and disrupting and flirting with them, and paying them money, mostly without receipt.

I think I spent up to 3 hours before it came to my turn. The Oga VIO is the only one conducting interviews and tests (by asking us to identify random Highway Signs and asking questions; he will then deem you passed or failed, in some instances, he will ask the applicants to come back in two or 4 weeks after they must have learnt the Highway Code; and in many cases, he will ask if you have a car outside, and then go with you for a Driving Test around the Secretariat, and after coming back, will say whether you have passed the test or not and then sign your documents or ask you to come back. In the meantime, all of us miserable waiting applicants have to wait until he comes back. What can we do?

Anyway, my turn eventually came. I identified myself as a Special Marshal and asked to be exempted from the tests. Oga VIO smiled and said, “To whom much is given, much is expected. As a SM, you should be the one tested”, so I went through the Highway Code. At the end, he asked to test my driving, so off we went in my car, drove round the Secretariat for about ten minutes and came back to the office. Of course, he found some fault with my driving, but he decided to sign my documents.

Documents signed and stamped, I paid another N500 and asked what’s next?

I have to go to another office, about three doors away. It is the State’s Board of Internal Revenue Officer. I knocked, went in and submitted my form for signing with an apparently much-harassed young lady. She told me I have to come back for it in thirty minutes. I asked why? I could see the Oga through an open door in his office, so why can’t he sign now? I was assured the officers have to take full files to him so he can sign all off at the same time. So, off I went and sat in my car, totally exhausted, fuming, frustrated, but patient.

Thirty minutes, I went back to the office. And Lo! the forms have been duly signed and stamped. I collected them with something of a triumphant smile on my face and headed for the FRSC Office. By this time, some of the officers have recognised me as a Special Marshal, but none lifted a finger to help.

At their office, I now had to enter my details, including crucially, my mobile number, on a form. I was then told I will receive a text which will invite me for “Photo Capturing”.

Over a week now, and I am still waiting for that text.

You will now see why I can never be a fan of bureaucracy or agree that it is beneficial. Beneficial to who? Lazy and corrupt public officials, who prefer processes to be slow, so they can get something out of it.

I have been made to know that I wouldn’t have gone through so much stress and days if I had been  willing to pay an extra N5000 (all in all, I have paid a total of N11,450.00 excluding the few Naira paid for photocopying) to some touts who will do everything for me in one or two days, including Capturing, and my Licence would be out within one week. Wonderful, Corruption works!

If you look at it, paying an extra N5000 to be stress-free sounds wonderful, is really not too much and is fast, cutting corners and I’ll be home free. But I don’t want to cut corners nor want to be aiding corruption. Serves me right, I suppose.

Again, why does it take four agencies to issue a Drivers Licence? The Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC), the State Licencing Office, the Vehicle Inspection Office (VIO), the State’s Board of Internal Revenue and if we count the Bank, that makes it five. That is negative bureaucracy for you and all it does is slow the process down, create bottlenecks, encourage touting and corruption and generally endorse inefficiency. It is ludicrous!

In Nigeria, we continue to slug it out. I saw so many people in those days who were not willing to be stressed and gladly paid the extra not to be involved in running around, but let the touts do the work for them. We like cutting corners and this will always play into the hands of corrupt officials. We thus encourage corruption.

Of course, the touts know the officers and make returns to them.

In fairness to the officers of all the services I encountered (why so many?), during my experience, I did not encounter any officer who directly asked me for a bribe or encouraged me to cut corners. But I know the touts were working for them. And this is not only for Driving Licences. The same offices are doing all kind of motor vehicle licencing, registration, road worthiness, MOT, etc.

But if you ask the average Nigerian elite and even common man, they will tell you that’s how it is in Nigeria and it is better they leave it that way, or else, nothing will happen. Nothing will happen?

Please replicate this in hundreds of government departments, Federal, State and Local, and you will see why bureaucracy is the same as corruption; and it serves both sides okay. They can’t live without each other – the authority and the masses. They are made perfectly for each other in Nigeria. You want to tear them apart is to risk your own life.

God Bless Nigeria!

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Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay (modified)

Written by
Akintokunbo A Adejumo
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