Not too long ago I wrote a two part serial on the FRSC titled “FRSC and the Yorkshire Ripper” in which I surmised that the greatest failure of the Commission is it’s failure to fully realize the object of the national licensing scheme which it embarked upon many years ago. Despite the deluge of reactions which flooded my mail box over those articles, I did not intend to return so soon to the subject vexatious as it is. But the controversial plan by Lagos State Government to commence the issuance it’s own drivers’ licence rankles.
One of the reasons why the FRSC was established vide Decree 45 of 1988 amended by Decree 35 of 1992 otherwise known as FRSC Act cap 146, Laws of the Federation (1990) was “ to design the driver’s license to be used by all vehicle operators and to determine from time to time, the requirement to be satisfied by an applicant for a driver’s license”. Before the creation of the FRSC, every state in Nigeria issued it’s own drivers’ licence and collected the revenue derivable therefrom. The arrangement was less than perfect for a developing nation and was fraught with grave implications for the challenges of national security.
When the FRSC embarked on the uniform licensing scheme in 1989, the objective was to harmonize and standardize the multitude of state issued drivers’ licences as well as to create a national digital databank of licenced drivers and registered vehicles. Whatever credits the FRSC deserves for the landmark success it has achieved in this regard is often beclouded by the unending delays that attend the issuance and renewal of this critical document and, of course, the fact that the much expected digital databank has remained a pipedream.
Thus, there is nothing new about states in a federation issuing their own drivers’ licences. In the United States, drivers’ licences are issued by the individual states for their residents. Specific requirements and procedures for drivers’ licences vary from state to state. However, under US federal law, a licence issued in one state must be accepted in all other states including Washington DC and in all US territories. Canada and many other countries also accept US drivers’ licences in deference to various international treaties. In Nigeria, the situation is markedly different. In the first place, the federalism practiced in America is different from the warped federalism practiced in Nigeria: while there is decentralization of power to the states in the US, the bulk of political power in Nigeria is vested in the federal government. And there is no law in existence in Nigeria today that compels any state to accept or recognise a drivers’ licence issued by another state.
Lagos State Government has tried to justify it’s plan to issue drivers’ licences by basing it on the shortcomings of the FRSC even though some observers believe that the whole thing boils down to exploiting the internal revenue generating potentials of the initiative. Still, there is no doubt that the FRSC has been having difficulties in coping with the task of producing drivers’ licences just as it has demonstrated inadequate capacity to promptly provide required motor vehicle licence plates across the federation. Already Lagos State is producing its own motor vehicle number plates – a project which has been severely criticized by the FRSC. But there can be no wisdom in trying to clear a mess by creating a bigger mess. The solution to these problems ought to be to find ways of strengthening the capacity of FRSC to achieve it’s core duties and to fast-track the digitalization process without which the e-licensing platform envisioned by the commission will remain a mirage.
Lagos State Commissioner for Transportation, Bamidele Badfejo has stated that when the state government begins issuing the Lagos State drivers’ licences it would be the sole authority for a driver to drive on Lagos roads. On it’s part, the FRSC has questioned the statutory right of Lagos State to embark on the project and threatened to impound any vehicle and prosecute any driver that drives on federal roads without the national drivers’ licence. It is only in Nigeria that those saddled with the responsibility for public welfare relate to each other as rivals rather than as partners in progress. But where does this drawing of battle lines leave the commuter who is going about his legitimate business but finds himself caught in the cross-fire of two authorities that cannot put their houses in order?
Beyond the unnecessary suffering that will be visited on commuters in this battle of two elephants, the question of the legal basis of the proposed plan of Lagos State needs clarification by a competent authority. The public acceptance which the issuance of vehicle number plates by the Lagos State Government has garnered owes more to the desperation to have a faster source of number plates than the propriety or even legality of the venture. Even though the FRSC has continued to complain about this obvious invasion of it’s raison d’etre, it has acted almost as if it was relieved that Lagos State was taking a load off it’s shoulder.
But what is it that causes FRSC to spend weeks on end to process issuance and renewal of drivers’ licences? This is one question that cannot be glossed over.
In any case, the solution that will arise out of the plan by Lagos State to produce it’s own drivers’ licence can only be partial. While Lagos may have the capacity to initiate the venture, what about other states with lesser capacity? And if every state in the federation copies the example of Lagos State, every citizen that drives would require a briefcase to hold the dozens of drivers’ licences that will be required to drive from one end of the country to the other. That cannot be in the public interest. In a country where forgery is rife we would only succeed in compounding an already bad situation. Even where every state is able to initiate the venture, will it not tantamount to a return to the era of uncoordinated issuance of drivers’ licences and a negation of the philosophy behind the creation of the FRSC? At this point in our national development and with the jinx that has stagnated the national identity card project, what Nigeria needs is a national drivers’ licences, not state drivers licences.
In the absence of a law made by the national assembly to compel the acceptance of a drivers’ licence issued by one state by every other state of the federation, the Lagos State drivers’ licence plan may turn out to be an invitation to chaos. So, “Who wants a Lagos drivers’ licence?”, “Not me!”