Last week I wrote about my personal experiences and motivation for the upgrade of the National Driver’s Licence Scheme (NDLS) and the National Vehicle Identification Scheme (NVIS). I made effort to show that the system in place was well-thought out and followed international acceptable standard in the procurement process.
Though, we followed the route of transparent procurement process, stakeholder engagement, due process in approval stages the project still ran into stormy waters. The process was tortuous and tedious. I learnt some life changing lessons and understood why government official do not embark on major reforms. The FRSC at that time had serious institutional and process challenges and I will relate the ones affecting road users.
The staff on patrol on the road had no ability to verify a driver’s licence, had no capacity to check the authenticity of a number plate, had no ability to know if an offender had been booked before for any offence by another patrol team. More worrisome, FRSC was regularly inundated with request by foreign jurisdictions to verify a driver licence and also locally EFCC and Police made routine requests for plate number verification or for evidence in court.
More disturbing was FRSC’s inability to provide reliable data on how many vehicles where on Nigerian roads, who owned the vehicles and how many licenced drivers were on our roads? The issue of road crash data was high on my list, as there was no information about the identity of drivers involved in crashes.
Hence the question how do you enforce road regulations and ensure safety without reliable data? Should we continue with the practice of impounding vehicles for a driver’s infraction? Why impound a vehicle that does not belong to a driver due to the driver’s error? Impounding vehicles was inefficient, time consuming and archaic. It meant officers had to leave the road while taking the car to their office leaving the road without patrol.
How do we implement a point system so that serial offenders can be tracked and denied driving privileges? What do we do with the stack of driver’s licence lying in FRSC’s offices across the country belonging to offenders who have gone and taken the cost effective route of getting a new drivers for 5,000 than pay fine of 10,000 naira? At all FRSC commands are registers of offenders and fine paid, what do we do with the large cache of information?
These were some of the questions that led me to embark on an ambitious program of reforming the vehicle administration system in the country. PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), was engaged to review the driver’s Licence Scheme while NEXTZON was appointed to review the Vehicle Number Plate Scheme based on the advert made on September 13, 2007 and April 16, 2008 requesting for Consultants.
After PwC identified suitable vendors capable of delivering the envisioned driver Licence solution as I explained last week the approval process started. Following the evaluation exercise, FRSC approached the Joint Tax Board (JTB), the body that coordinates the states and set prices for driver’s licence and number plates. The technical evaluation result was presented and a demonstration of the envisioned driver’s Licence solution was also conducted. The JTB referred the submission to its technical committee for assessment and evaluation. Thereafter, the technical committee made recommendations to the JTB which granted approval for the new schemes on August 4, 2010.
The approval of the JTB was the final approval required to roll of the scheme as they are the body charged with the responsibility of setting road taxes. The approval also came with the price increase which for driver’s licence moved from 3,000 to 6,350. At this price level FRSC was to receive 3,000 and the State 3,000 while the payment platform and participating banks got the 350 naira; of the 3,000 naira FRSC share 1800 went to the solution providers who did all the investment and was paid per card produced.
This was an innovative system as government did not have to award any contract or lay out heavy initial investment. We aligned the interest of the providers with FRSC’s interest as they will not be paid if the permanent card was not produced. The balance of 1,200 was used to build the wide area network, pay for bandwidth and operational cost of the licence centers and manage the driving school system. To ensure that states do not owe FRSC we used a payment system that ensured the split between the states and FRSC occurred as soon as payment was made. More importantly the payment platform allowed for easy financial audit.
Excited at momentous step we had taken to the realisation of the project aspiration, I ran to the then Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Yayale Ahmed, who listened to me patiently while smiling at my enthusiasm and idealism. He then gave me advise that dampened my excitement that day but which turned out to be a career saver. “Corps Marshal, your idea is great and I wish we had more public officers like you, but please don’t implement this policy without Federal Executive Council approval” he said. I was devastated as I had been on this project for 3 years and my first tenure was to end in 2011 without any result as at August 2010. Trusting him I went back and prepared for council.
At the Federal Executive Council, in September 2010, it was fiasco. Twenty Ministers raised questions, BPP raised issues and President Jonathan, sensing a rejection, was about calling for deferment to resolve issues raised when I raised my hands and the President asked me to speak. I dealt with all the issues raised one by one and provided more answers than they required. At the end of my impassioned speech the council unanimously agreed to the project subject to the concurrence of the National Economic Council, (NEC) since the matter involved states. Another setback.
In October2010, FRSC presented the new National Driver’s Licence Scheme and Vehicle Number Plate scheme to the National Economic Council. At the council, Lagos state raised serious objections and questioned the legality of FRSC producing driver’s Licence and number plates for states. After my robust defense, the Council directed that a meeting of all Attorneys General in the Federation be convened to determine the legality of FRSC’s endeavour.
The meeting of Attorney’s General took place on November 19, 2010 after which a communiqué was issued validating FRSC’s authority to carry out the production of drivers’ licences and Vehicle Number Plates for the states. The Attorney’s General not only validated FRSC’s position they called for inclusion of the production of driver’s licence and number plates in the exclusive legislative list. We went back to the National Economic Council and they approved the scheme, price increase and states provision of minimum of three one stop shops per state for issuance of driver’s licences and number plates.
FRSC, went back and represented the new Driver’s License and Vehicle Number Plate schemes to the Federal Executive Council on December 22, 2010 for approval. The Council approved the schemes and subsequently adopted the Driver’s License and Vehicle Number Plate as security documents on December 22, 2010. On September 2, 2011, Mr. President launched the new Scheme. Then the trouble started….