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Insecurity: Old number plates, fake driver’s licence as albatrossDriving school sabotaging FRSC’s efforts

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Insecurity: Old number plates, fake driver’s licence as albatrossDriving school sabotaging FRSC’s efforts

Driving school sabotaging FRSC’s efforts

Criminal activities continue to fester in the country despite the launch of new vehicle number plates and driver’s license in 2011, which the authorities said, would assist in crime prevention, writes ONYEKACHI EZE

 

The Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) new driver’s licence and number plate scheme is about seven years’ old now. Apart from ensuring uniform standard in the number plates and driver’s licence issued to motoring public, the scheme, according to the authorities, is aimed at checking criminal activities.

During its launch on September 2, 2011, former President Goodluck Jonathan said he ordered the scheme to be fast tracked following the October 1, 2010 terror attack on Eagles Square in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). “Since the last bombing episode on October 1 (2010), I had directed the hastening of efforts to build a credible database of drivers and vehicles in order to improve public safety.

The importance of this project is reaffirmed by the consistent use of vehicles in the conduct of the recent bombing episodes,” Jonathan had said. The fear of the former president was justified.

There have been a number of terror attacks in Abuja by terrorists since the Independent Day bomb attack. Most of these attacks were targeted at landmark buildings in the nation’s capital by terrorists using vehicle-laden explosives. For instance, there was June 16, 2011 terror attack on the Force Headquarters, Abuja which left about six people dead.

The attack was believed to have been targeted at the then Inspector General of Police, Hafiz Ringim, whose convoy the attacker followed into the police premises. Two months later, on August 26, another attack took place at the United Nations’ building in Abuja, killing 21 persons and injuring 60 others. Perhaps, this was to internationalise the attack by the insurgents.

After the launch of the scheme, the nation’s capital and environs further witnessed more terror attacks. These included the Christmas Day (December 25) 2011 terror attack on St. Theresa’s Catholic Church, Madalla, Niger State, which killed 37 innocent worshippers and left 57 others with serious injuries.

On April 14, 2014, a-twin blast at Nyanya Motor Park, a densely populated suburb of Abuja, left 88 persons dead and 200 others wounded. Another attack barely two weeks later, on May 1, just a kilometre away from the April 14 attack, killed six people.

Another blast at Emab Shopping Plaza, Wuse II in Abuja on June 24, 2014, killed 21 persons including the Managing Director (North) of New Telegraph Newspaper, Mr. Suleiman Bisalla. Police said 17 persons were wounded during the attack. Also on October 2, 2015, two bomb attacks at Kuje Market and police station, and at Nyanya Street market, left a combined figure of 15 persons dead and 20 others wounded.

The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) said 13 people died at Kuje attack while the Nyanya blast recorded two. All these attacks were executed with vehicles laden with explosive devices.

Given the speed with which the masterminds of the Independent Day 2010 Eagles Square attack were unmasked and quickly brought to justice, one would have expected that with the launch of the new number plates and driver’s licence, criminal elements in the society would no longer have a hiding place.

But except the December 2011 Christmas Day bombing at St. Theresa’s Catholic Church, Madalla, and the April 14, 2014 first Nyanya terror attack, perpetrators of the other attacks or their masterminds were not identified so could not be prosecuted.

Kabiru Dikko aka Kabiru Sokoto and Aminu Sadiq Ogwuche were identified and arrested as masterminds of the Madalla and first Nyanya attacks, respectively. Other criminal activities such as kidnapping, bank robbery and other associated crimes were committed with the use of vehicles. And except on a few reported cases, other perpetrators are yet to face the wrath of the law. Force Public Relations Officer (FPRO), Jimoh Moshood, said other bomb attacks were still under investigations.

Such investigations, Moshood added, could be concluded within a short period or they could take a little bit longer.

“All the cases you mentioned, they are under investigation. If they have been arrests in two instances, that does not mean they cannot arrest in the other instances you have mentioned.

So, virtually all these cases are under investigation. While there are successes in some instances, others are being worked to ensure that success is achieved at the end of the day,” he stated.

The FPRO would not be drawn into the argument that the use of old number plates for the attacks was hindering the investigations as he stated that it was within the purview of the FRSC and the Directorate of Road Transport Services (DRTS), otherwise known as Vehicle Inspection Office (VIO) to issue vehicle number plates and driver’s licences.

Moshood added: “I wouldn’t comment on that because I don’t work with FRSC. The FRSC and the VIO have the responsibility of the issue of number plates…. That is why I told you that investigation is ongoing.” FRSC has encountered some hitches while trying to enforce the implementation of the new number plates and the new driver’s licence.

The commission had initially set September 30, 2013 as the last date for the motoring public to replace their old number plates with new ones while defaulters would have their vehicles impounded from October 1.

This date was later shifted to June 30, 2014 and eventually suspended following two Federal High Court judgements that described the enforcement of the new policy as “illegal and unconstitutional”.

Mr. Emmanuel Ofoegbu and Ajefo Ekwo had instituted actions against the FRSC at Federal High Courts in Lagos and Abuja respectively, challenging the powers of the FRSC to impound vehicles of motorists who failed to obtain the new number plates after the September 30, 2013 deadline. They argued that there was no law validly made in accordance with the constitution prohibiting the use of the old number plates.

Justice John Tsoho of the Lagos Federal High Court, in a judgement delivered on March 26, 2013, ruled that the FRSC had no power to enforce the new number plates. The judge also described the scheme as illegal and unconstitutional.

He said: “The FRSC cannot force Nigerians to acquire new plate numbers by impounding cars without the backing of any legislation to that effect. “I hold that the act of the FRSC amounts to an arbitrary use of power, and is therefore illegal and unconstitutional.”

Justice Adeniyi Ademola of Abuja High Court, on June 30, also ruled against the enforcement of the new number plates and driver’s licence. The FRSC, however, appealed against these judgements. But in obedient to the court order, the commission issued a statement suspending its earlier decision to enforce the use of the new number plates at the expiration of the deadline.

The statement added that the FRSC had decided to abide by the decision of the Joint Tax Board (JTB) an umbrella body of state Chairmen of Boards of Internal Revenue, statutorily mandated to determine road taxes including prices of number plates and driver’s licence.

“For the avoidance of doubt, the corps wishes to state that it still stands on the earlier resolve to defer enforcement of the new number plate and driver’s licence following the suspension of the 30th June 2014 deadline for a change to the enhanced motor vehicle number plate by the Joint Tax Board.

“The board had decided after its 129th meeting held on 23rd and 24th April, 2014, at the headquarters of Edo State Internal Revenue Services in Benin that: (a) In the light of the court judgement against the FRSC, the board decided to suspend the 30th June, 2014 deadline earlier announced for a change to enhanced Motor Vehicle Number Plate and the Driver’s Licence pending the outcome of the appeal by the FRSC.

(b) The states Internal Revenue Service, the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) and the Vehicle Inspection Offices (VIOs) have been encouraged to put all necessary logistics in place to improve motor vehicle registration and issuance of driver’s license in order to build a comprehensive database.

“In the light of the above, the corps wishes to reiterate an earlier directive to its commanding officers to defer enforcement on the deadline, in keeping with the JTB suspension and the court, ruling pending the determination of the appeal. “Motorists are, however, urged to renew their driver’s and vehicle licences as they expire in line with extant provisions of the law,” the statement added.

The FRSC won a partial victory at the Court of Appeal when a judgement delivered by Justice Joseph Ikyegh, in November 2014, set aside the judgement of the lower court. But out of the four issues canvassed by the commission, the appellate court ruled in favour of the respondent, Mr. Emmanuel Ofoegbu in three.

While the court held that based on National Road Traffic Regulation (NRTR), 2012, the FRSC has legal right to enforce the use of new number plates on the set date, it agreed that the respondent had the locus standi to initiate the suit and enforce his fundamental human rights. “I would allow this appeal in part; for the avoidance of doubt, this appeal only succeeds in part to the effect that regulation 2012 has legal force, and is enforceable from October 1, 2013, the administrative date set by FRSC.

“The part of the decision of the lower court declaring the regulation 2012 unconstitutional is hereby set aside,” said Ikyegh. The judge further held that by the provisions of Section 5 of the FRSC Act, 2007, the National Assembly had delegated the authority to the commission to so act.

He, however, ruled that the fear of the respondent (Mr. Ofoegbu) of FRSC impounding his vehicle was justified because Section 35(1) of the Constitution makes personal liberty of a person, an issue of fundamental human right.

“The application of the respondent was brought to protect his personal right to liberty and protection of his movable property, therefore, the appellant has no legal framework to enforce regulation 2012 as it relates to impounding the respondent’s vehicle.

“The respondent would have the standing to sue to enforce his rights,” Ikyegh added. Since the Court of Appeal judgement, which is about three years now, why has the FRSC not deemed it necessary to set fresh deadline to phase out the old number plates in place of new ones?

The FRSC Public Education Officer, Mr. Bisi Kazeem, said the commission had already advised the licensing authorities to give effect to the court decision. He said: “Since the court validated the statutory powers of the FRSC to set deadline for change over to the new plates and the deadline set then was validated, the FRSC had advised motor licensing authorities to give effect to the court decision while FRSC has been enforcing number plate violation.

The FRSC was established by Decree No. 45 of 1988, and Section 5 of Act of the National Assembly, 2007, as an agency of the Federal Government to, among other things, prevent or minimise road accidents, educate motorists and members of the public on the importance of discipline on the highway as well as to design and produce driver’s licence. Before the commission came into existence, the nation’s licensing system was, to say the least, chaotic. There was no uniform standard in driver’s licence issued to motoring public.

The licence, which was in a booklet form, was issued by various states and local governments in the country. It was not until 1990 with the introduction of National Uniform Licensing Scheme (NULS) that a uniform national licensing scheme for the whole nation was adopted, to replace the ones issued by state and local governments. Notwithstanding, the new licensing scheme was still bedevilled by corruption, forgery and other associated malpractices, leading to the introduction of physical capture of the applicants image at the licensing office, in 2008.

The online process, including the issuance of vital document and vehicle identification number plates, was to follow three years later, in 2011. Former Corps Marshal and Chief Executive Officer of the commission, Osita Chidoka, said the aim of the new system was “to restore respect and reliance to the driver’s licence, which… has been grossly abused and faked.”

He said: “The improved process would obviate possession of the document by unqualified applicants, ensure global access to data bank for seamless authentication of identity claims of holders, up revenue accruable to government (due basically to the blocking of revenue leakage) and make forgery difficult.” The new licence, he added, had extra security marks, such as ghost portrait and overlapping data. Holders of old but valid driver’s licences were given one year grace period to key into the new process.

At the launch of the new licence and number plate scheme in 2010, former President Jonathan said the programme also included “the immediate implementation of the Driving Schools Standardisation Programme (DSSP) that stipulates that only accredited driving schools must sponsor all fresh applicants for driver’s licence. “Also a new regulatory regime of mandatory test and continuous drivers training has been introduced for commercial drivers.”

The DSSP was established and launched in May 2010 to standardise and create uniform standard in driver education and training provided by driving schools.

The programme was believed to have been fashioned after the United States of America (USA) Graduated Driver Licence (GDL) scheme, which helped in reducing the rate of road crashes and fatalities. Though it was launched in 2010, it was not until February 1, 2016 that the DSSP online application came to effect, which allowed driving schools across the 36 states of the federation and Abuja to enrol and update trainee records using their usernames and passwords.

And by August that same year, the FRSC said it had received about 1,103 applications nationwide, for the establishment of driving schools, out of which, 623 had been certified while 480 schools were then awaiting cer-tification.

Also within that same period, the commission said a total of 170,505 applicants had enrolled into the accredited driving schools while 82,086 had graduated.

To seek to run a driving school, the applicant-proprietor is required to provide a certificate of incorporation from Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), a classroom/administrative office, roadworthy vehicle(s) for driving instructions (dual control), licensed driving instructor(s), course manual, highway code, traffic laws/regulations handbook, first aide facilities, openspace driving range and computer/ mobile device with internet capabilities.

Kazeem described the DSSP as a success, adding that “before now, new applicants of driver’s licence don’t attend driving school, but with the DSSP and the portal designed by the present FRSC management, it is now compulsory that you must go through an accredited driving school before you can apply for new driver’s licence. Secondly, the driving schools registration of applicants has been interfaced with the DSSP portal.”

The FRSC had boasted that “if this portal is allowed to work as designed, no fresh application of driver’s licence can be done without having to go through a driving school approved by the Federal Road Safety Commission under the Driving School Standardisation Programme (DSSP).” Both renewal and application for the new driver’s licence are now done online.

FRSC said only applicants from 18 years and above are qualified to possess its driver’s licence. Those seeking to renew their licences will apply online at www. nigeriadriverslicense.org, or he/ she goes in person to a Driver’s Licence Centre (DLC) with his old licence, where a printout would be generated for payment of prescribed fee at designated banks.

The payment slip and application form will be presented to the Board of Internal Revenue (BIR) Officer and Vehicle Inspection Officer (VIO) at the DLC for  endorsement. Thereafter the applicant proceeds to the FRSC office at the DLC for biometric data capture.

He/she will be issued with a temporary driver’s licence valid for 60 (now about 30) days before the original will be ready for collection at BIR office. Applicant for new a licence is to attend training at an accredited driving school for a specific period of time (usually 26 days marked attendance).

The school will then take the applicant to VIO for a driving test, if successful, the applicant will be issued with a certificate of proficiency by the VIO. He/she now undergoes the same process of completing a driver’s license application form at DLC, pay the licence fee online or at the bank, and other processes like those for renewal.

Most applicants complained that the authorities have made the process cumbersome with too many procedures, hence the resort to other means by some applicants to get it done faster. The FRSC defended this. It agreed that the process may look tedious or long, it was aimed at preventing “the loss of irreparable lives and valuable properties. It is better to be late than to be the late. Life has no duplicate.

“This Graduated Driver Licence Programme is being successfully implemented in America with commendable reduction in the rate of road crashes and fatalities.” When the former Minister of State for Labour, James Ocholi, his wife and son died in a motor accident on Kaduna-Abuja highway on March 6, 2016, the FRSC quickly disowned Mr. Taiwo Elegbede, the driver of the ill-fated vehicle. Corps Marshal, Boboye Oyeyemi, told President Muhammadu Buhari that Elegbede, was not an FRSC licensed driver because he was not captured in the commission’s database. Kazeem was further to explain that Elegbede had no driver’s licence record with the commission.

He said: “Elegbede is not captured in our driver’s licensing  data, so the licence he claimed to have expired must be a fake one. “Our licence procedure includes physical presence and biometric capturing of applicants which is permanently stored in our data bank, for the purpose of verification. “We always tell members of the public to visit our licensing centres spread across the country and desist from patronising touts while applying for their driver’s licence.

“Elegbede cannot be called a competent driver if he does not have a genuine driver’s licence, which he can only acquire showing mastery of basic driving principles.”

The commission said Elegbede, who was hospitalised after the accident, would be prosecuted immediately he was discharged. It is nearly two years after the incident and the FRSC has not said anything about his fate. Kazeem told New Telegraph that “FRSC has always prosecuted motorists with fake driver’s licences. It is a continuous thing. We use relevant agencies to get defaulters prosecuted.”

He was however, silent on Elegbede’s case.

The Corps Marshal, Oyeyemi, admitted that the commission was aware of “the antithetical behaviour” of some proprietors of the driving schools, which include enrolling more than what their facilities could take, multiple logins by driving schools who gave their passwords and usernames out, driving schools updating vehicles that are not branded for training and updating training records for trainees without practical training for 26 sessions before generating a driving school certificate with a unique code which confirms its authenticity.

Apart from this, Kaazeem said there were also the problems of “lack of proper basic learner drivers’ training (and) incomplete mandatory training hours,” as well as touts at various licensing centres issuing fake certificates to untrained drivers, absence of reliable database for all driving schools, lack of records of all drivers trained by driving schools, and uniform driving programmes.

To curb the trend, the commission said it had decided to modify the DSSP web application to allow single login; pegging the application to allow driving schools to train based on the facilities they have. In this case, the corps only allows the use of one vehicle and one instructor to train eight persons per day, or two vehicles and two instructors to train 16 persons per day, etc. It also said there is a mechanism of ensuring that trainings were not backdated.

The Corps Public Education Officer disclosed that the monitoring team included the state committee on DSSP comprises state VIO, representatives of Commissioners for Work, sector commanders, training officers and members of driving school association. “However those who are found wanting are sanctioned. Presently over 30 driving schools have been blacklisted.

“The monitoring mechanism put in place is effective, because it is all the stakeholders at the state and grassroots that does monitoring regularly,” he added.

The American licensing system, which many believed the DSSP was modelled after, has three stages – learner’s permit stage, intermediate stage and full licence stage. This is a graduated process whereby advancement to the next stage is dependent on the certification and the passing of the standard test. For instance, a trainee driver on learner’s permit stage category in an approved driving school must have driven for a period of not less than six months, under supervision before he or she could move to the next stage.

Again, the trainee must have driven for not less than 50 hours without committing any traffic offence “or at-fault accident.”

This qualifies him or her to advance to the intermediate stage where the trainee can drive without supervision, but restricted from driving at late night. He/she will, however, continue to attend driving school classes.

The final stage, which is the full licence stage, is only achieved after meeting both the learner’s and intermediate stages, and with “satisfactory evidences of attendance at the approved driving school”. Compare this to the Nigerian system with just 26 days of training programme and you will not be far from the reasons why there is high accident rate in the country.

Surprisingly, Nigerian driving school was ready to graduate a student after one week training. The highest period a training programme could last, according to “syllabus” from one of the driving schools in Abuja, is four weeks.

There are allegations that some of these schools were established by FRSC officials. Kazeem however, denied this but said he was aware that “some retired FRSC staff have established driving schools and before they are accredited, they go through the process as others”. Last December, FRSC said there was an increase in the number of accidents nationwide, resulting in a total of 676 road crashes in October alone.

This, according to the corps marshal, was an 11 per cent increase compared to the previous month. The statistics shows that out of 4,902 people involved, 377 deaths were recorded while 2,351 persons sustained various degrees of injured.

Curiously, the FCT, the seat of government, recorded the highest number of traffic crashes with 67 cases involving 413 persons, out of which 127 sustain injuries, while 20 persons died. “Kaduna, Nasarawa, Nigeri, Ondo and Bauchi States, followed with relatively high records of crashes with 47, 43, 42, 34 and 32 cases respectively,” Oyeyemi added.

According to him, 377 deaths recorded amount to a-27 per cent increase compared to the previous month with Sokoto State recording the highest number of 38 deaths, while Kogi State had 24 with Kaduna and Oyo states, 23 each while Yobe State recorded 22 deaths. The corps marshal attributed the cause of most of the accidents to speed violation, which he said accounted for 403 cases, representing 51.8 per cent.

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