On September 2, 2011, President Goodluck Jonathan launched the new national driver’s licence at the then FRSC headquarters Wuse zone 7 Abuja. It was a significant milestone and what I thought was the end of a tortuous road to a dream come true. When I invited the President to launch the Driver’s Licence and be the first person to get the new license, his handlers balked at the idea as no President had visited a government agency to perform a civic act, even symbolically.
They suggested that we bring the driver’s licence equipment to the villa and perform the launch there. I told them it was not possible as the new license is designed to work on a virtual private network (VPN) and as such it will require us setting up a VSAT at the villa and establish a secured connection with the backend.
Also and more importantly the all-important symbolism of a President going for his physical capture, signposting a new chapter in the driver’s licence procurement process would be lost. They remained adamant in their refusal to let the President come to the FRSC for the launch. In deference to them, contrary to the perception that I was being difficult, I accepted their view that the President should not come but rather delegate someone to represent him. We all agreed.
A few days later, I saw the President to commiserate with him on the UN bombing incident. While with him, I briefed him on the new driver’s licence and the argument about his performing the launch and the decision for him to send a representative in his stead. He was surprised at the reason adduced by his staff on why he should not come. He listened patiently as I explained the new licence procedure and why bringing to the villa, though technically feasible, would be a major setback for the project. He asked a few questions about the program and then calmly said “I will be there”. He went upstairs and brought his old licence, which I had explained was necessary to enable a renewal.
Before his arrival, we had followed the full process, paid N6, 350 online, gotten the Vehicle Inspection Officers (VIO) Abuja to set up a desk and interview him before signing off. His presence was a defining moment for me and the new licence project. While he was at the FRSC headquarters, I took him to the Data Centre from where all FRSC vehicles are tracked and all commands are in view. He saw the screen monitoring 450 VSATs powering the largest public sector wide area network and driving real-time data collection and analysis. He was impressed. When he appointed me Minister of Aviation, he specifically asked me to replicate the professionalism he saw at FRSC in Aviation.
After the launch, the driver’s licence centres opened for business and it dawned on the beneficiaries of the old system that things have fallen apart. First, it was no longer possible to generate a driver’s licence without paying at the bank and generating a code that will enable physical capture. This was a major change as the FRSC staff and touts who use to collect N5, 000 from unsuspecting drivers and printing a driver’s licence in the night using FRSC equipment and deleting all action were immediately out of business.
Another group that lost heavily where individuals who had invested in acquiring the cloned copy of the driver’s licence software and the printing technology. This group also bribed their way into uploading the data of the fake licences to the FRSC database. I underestimated the capacity of these groups.
The driver’s licence was a cash cow if you calculate that over 3 million licences are printed annually through this illegal method. If you multiply the 3 million by N5, 000, we are talking about 15 billion naira annually passing through middle men, FRSC staff, state VIOs and the licence printers scattered around the country. You may include the cloned software producers who keep the business running.
The state government officials who sell number plates, were suddenly out of business as the requirement for the data entry and tying number plate to individuals changed the dynamics. They now have to make payment to the state to generate the code to enable production of electronic proof of ownership certificate.
These business losers, who I was blindsided to, formed the core of the sponsors of the campaign against the new licence using unsuspecting members of the public. First they lied that the license cost N10, 000 and the number plates cost N40, 000. Aligning with the public anger against the now rigorous process, which had teething problems for sure, they alleged corruption.
They got a legislator to raise the issue in the House of Representatives. The House resolved to stop the new Driver’s licence and number plates pending the outcome of a public hearing and investigation. Same day in the senate, strangely, the issue was raised by the Chairman of the Senate committee overseeing FRSC. We were surprised because he had come on oversight function and praised the new system. The Senate also resolved to suspend the new scheme pending public hearing and investigation by the Senate Committee.
At the end of the public hearings and investigations, spanning over seven months the House on July 3, 2012 resolved to lift the suspension and urged FRSC to increase the revalidation period to not less than one year from the date of the resolution. It also called on the Joint Tax Board and States to reduce the cost of vehicle registration including reducing selling price of number plates from N15,000 to N10,000.
The Senate also resolved to lift the suspension. They praised the system for its robust technology and also called on the States to reduce the selling price of Driver’s Licence and Number plates. The most positive outcome of the investigations and public hearing was the realisation by both chambers of the National Assembly that FRSC did not sell driver’s licence nor set the prices for the items.
It also came to public knowledge that the FRSC plant that produces the number plates were built by the state governments in 1992 and they recovered their cost through the collection of number plates. The decision to centralise the design and production of driver’s licence and number plates was endorsed by the states.
The battle was won in both chambers but the instigators of the mayhem made out like bandits in the period of suspension. During the eight months the suspension lasted the parallel producers of driver’s licence and number plates issued over 800,000 fake drivers licences and depleted their stock of the old number plates while the unsuspecting public thought they were fighting a corrupt system.
The new driver’s licence and number plate system was designed to give direct access to the process to the individual through technology. It also sought to limit the ability of fake producers, working with internal collaborators, to issue fake licences. It also ensured that payment for the items got to the government, hence the increased mark-up that touts now charge since they must pay government to produce a genuine license.
The aim of the system upgrade was high and it impacted positively on the organisation. To achieve the real-time production capability staff skills and office infrastructure had to improve. Process improvement led to the FRSC attaining the ISO 9001 Quality management system certification to assure of sustainability. I rest my case.