Licensed to drive, licensed to cheat

by Bob MajiriOghene Etemiku

Some Nigerians who are seemingly unqualified to drive but who obtain driving licenses indiscriminately contribute to the rise in motor accidents as well as swell the ranks of those who use the licenses to impersonate and defraud.

Favour Eke (not real name), an accountant with a blue chip company in Lagos always saw his dream car in his dreams. Rather than prepare to drive it by learning the ropes of the Highway Code, he visited the Glass House at Oyeleke Street, Alausa in Lagos and paid N4, 000.00 for a driving license. Within 48 hours, the document was there, at his door. Eke wanted the old license because the date on it was backdated to indicate that he had driven for long. Even if he had wanted the new one, Eke said that all he could have done was to pay a little bit more to the touts at the Glass House. Perhaps, in sync with his name, Eke was favoured with a promotion at work that brought a car and accommodation with it as perks. Without much ado, he jumped in his car and before long, was involved in a ghastly accident that almost took his life.

But desperation, rather than promotion, prompted Yinka Gbolahan, a 30-year-old unemployed graduate to buy an okada for transport purposes. As he made to pay for the brand new okada at Oyingbo market, several men approached him from nowhere and asked if he wanted insurance, plate number and driver’s license. He acquiesced. After he paid N3, 000.00, they melted in the shadows but showed up shortly with a third–party insurance policy, rider’s license and vehicle plate numbers. Before long, Gbolahan had sold off his bike – one rider after the other kept coming down with one accident case or the other, and the death of one of them through an accident made Gbolahan abandon his transport business.

Oyeleke Street in Alausa and Oyingbo market are not the only spots where vehicle licenses are easily picked up by Nigerians who want to drive but don’t know how but cannot stand the rigour of a test. Behind the gallant façade put up by the Federal Road Safety Commission, FRSC, clandestine issuance of driver’s licenses is the order of the day. My investigations revealed that while there is a front door of rigour to obtain a license, the back door procurement takes place briskly under the mango trees and kiosks in front of the public relations ofFicer, PRO’s office. A source at the front door said that the procurement of the customized national driver’s license, CNDL, must follow a ‘process flow chart’ that involved the filling of forms to screen applicants after a driving test or retest for both fresh and renewal of licenses over the 6-month expiry date.

Only a handful of applicants go through the eye of the FRSC needle. Touts, with the active connivance of the vehicle inspector officer, VIO, are in total control of the slippery business. One of them gave me an application No 123588, torn from an FRSC booklet. When I asked him whether he was a plain clothes officer, he retorted, ‘are we not all officers?’ According to him, for ‘only’ N5, 000.00, he could produce a CNDL in 24 hours. The tout who simply referred to himself as ‘Benson’ confided in me that he makes something close to N20, 000.00 everyday. ‘Of course, I give the oga kpaje everyday’, he said. Scenes like this also prevail in Benin City, Edo state at television road vehicle licensing office. Anxious applicants besiege the office like a swarm, while the dark-goggled touts who look like vultures come in, go out, come in and go out of the offices. Goodluck Omonya told the magazine that since he was expecting some money from his brother who lived in the United States, US, and could not wait for his international passport to be processed, he went to television road. ‘’All I did was pay N4, 000.00 to a chap on my street, and before I could say, ‘Shehu Yar’Adua!’ my driver’s license was right here in my hands’’, he said.

Pardon Osolase, managing director, P-wise Sleek ventures said that he was not aware of the implications of having a license without any knowledge of the Highway Code. According to him, that he tried to be sleek with the FRSC officers who arrested and gave him a ticket for not having his seat belt on. He said that the experience made him process a driver’s license for his wife through the front door so she would not drag him into any kind of mess with traffic officials.

Driving without having passed through the driving regimen has had devastating consequences on Nigerians. Statistics from the research division of the Lagos State Transport Management Authority, LASTMA, show that in 2007 alone, the agency towed 1,508 and 1,508 private and commercial vehicles respectively. Officials of the agency said that they hauled in 337 persons for driver’s license-related offences, with August having the highest number of arrests. Of all the arrests, government vehicles suffered the least casualty, raising questions concerning why there were so many high-profile deaths through motor accidents in 2007. What appears to be more worrisome is that the report said that motorcycle riders, MCL, accounted for zero percent of vehicles towed, arrested or involved in accidents. However, the number of MCL arrested and impounded at the premises of the Chief VIO seems to contradict the information and figures it put forward in that report. Adeniyi Adegbayibi, Lagos State Chief Vehicle Inspection Officer, VIO, declined to comment on this. Another document from Adeyinka Gbemibade, LASTMA PRO revealed that the number of persons busted for driving one-way in September 2007 was 300 per cent as against50 per cent for January of the same year. Of that number, the agency said it impounded 1,400 of those vehicles.

Michael Osazuwa, Lagos businessman, said that the Babatunde-Fashola plan to conduct psychiatry tests on erring motorists was laudable, but may likely fizzle out one way or the other. According to him, the FRSC and LASTMA must re-organize their affairs and ensure that drivers do compulsory driving tests, with the Highway Code as guide.

Anthony Efetevbia, mechanical engineer, said that he is not surprised that many people who cannot drive have driver’s licenses. According to him, some Nigerians obtain driver’s licenses to cheat and perpetrate fraud. ‘Look around you these days – wherever you want to do financial transactions in banks that need to be documented, no matter how little, they ask you to produce either an international passport or a driver’s license. Because of the relative ease that goes with getting the Driver’s license, you find a lot of fraudulent people presenting driver’s licenses rather than international passports’, he said.

Kayode Olagunju, corps commander, CC, of the Lagos State FRSC in Ojodu-Isheri who resumed duty about six months ago as sector commander said that the FRSC does not issue driver’s licenses. According to him, the FRSC produces licenses based on authorization of a state government through its local motor licensing and vehicle inspection units. He added that VIOs tests drivers and certifies them to be issued licenses and payments are handled by motor traffic authorities or through the tax boards of internal revenue. Olagunju said that the commission had successfully eliminated procurement by proxy by demanding that every applicant be present to be physically captured on a computer. ‘But we cannot rule out illegal licenses through touting mostly when people do not go to the right offices. The printed licenses are fake licenses and that is the same reason the FRSC has embarked on upgrading the security features of driver’s licenses. We’ve warned our men to desist from colluding with touts for the illegal production of licenses’, Olagunju said.

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