It is illegal to drive without a valid licence. You know that already. What you might not know is that it is also somewhat illegal to drive in Lagos without a licence processed and issued in Lagos State. You see, as the ‘Centre of Excellence’, anything not made here is substandard, including driver’s licences. We are building a mega city you know and we want only Lagos State certified drivers on the road.
Agencies of government in Lagos State, in their many colour shades of uniforms, have found alternative sources of personal income pouncing on vehicles on the road to challenge owners or drivers of such cars to produce their driver’s licence and gleefully declaring it “fake” if it is from anywhere else.
The civilized thing to do therefore is to get a licence (fresh issue or renewal) in Lagos if you live and work here. Now, what no one tells you is that to get a licence here, as it is with accessing other public services, is pure punishment, a ticket to some kind of self suffering. It is almost as if there is a motto that says: “If you must be a Lagosian, you must take up your cross and walk up Golgotha”. Yours sincerely just walked that treacherous path and honestly I should be charging a fee for this first-hand information you are receiving.
In other climes, it is a process you take for granted. Teenagers get it as a birthday gift on their eighteenth birthday. To be fair, the process outlined in the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) website, as quoted below, seems pretty straight forward, but the actual process itself is akin to breaking rocks with a wooden hammer.
“The Applicant will access and complete the online application form. The Applicant will then need to make payment for the application either at a bank or online. Once payment has been made, the applicant will take the acknowledgement slip to the BIR representative in the licencing office for registration. The applicant will then proceed to the VIO officer within the licencing office for screening and approval. After this, an FRSC officer at the Information Processing Center will capture the applicant’s biometric information and issue a temporary drivers’ license which will be valid for 60 days. The driver’s licence will be available for collection within the 60 day period.”
The registration and payments is easy, yes. Your trouble begins when you go for the said screening. The Lagos State Vehicle Inspection Office in Olowu Sura is like an abattoir of cars, like the yard of a metal scrap recycling plant. The entire area is spilling with impounded vehicles, so filthy is the vicinity you will think you were in some slum. The office building itself sits bent like an old woman, with faded walls and rough floors. So tight for the kind of foot fall it gets daily. Inside, it is like a market in session. Sorry, there is no air conditioner. The vision screening area is partitioned off. You snake in a queue of buttocks on wooden benches until you reach the lone screening point. Average time to the finish line is one hour.
The VIO officer, who looks bored with the assignment, asks you to look into the machine and say what you see. Even as you try to view, he is already making notes on your form. Clearly, what you see doesn’t matter. It’s just to fulfil all righteousness. The only important bit of the process for him is the N600 he collects for a driving video CD plate.
Then you proceed to write your driving test. Calling it a test is to glorify it honestly. Essentially, it is just another waste of time. You and many others, fresh from the vision screening, sit in benches in an open rowdy area and are handed question papers, photocopies that are now hardly legible. The questions are multiple choices based. The way it is, all of you can hold a national dialogue while writing the test. When you are satisfied, you submit. Who fails such a test?
After allocating scores at random in my estimation, they return the forms and you join another queue to register your details and then you are done with part one. By this time, you have quite a bulky pack of papers in your hands.
The second part is the biometric capture. In the whole of Lagos State, with a population in excess of eighteen million by some accounts, there are only three capture centres, I hear. Does that begin to paint the picture of the madness involved? The centre of my own ordeal was the Sura- Eti Osa, office located in one of the old party secretariats of the IBB two parties era. Date was August, 2013.
The Motor Vehicle Administration Agency (MVAA) officer, without giving it much thought, issued me a 22nd October capture date. Two months later when I went to keep my appointment, I was issued another date in November after hours of waiting and wailing.
The place is like a typical government office. Piles of documents littering every corner. Unruly staff who are neither civil nor ready to be servants. The confusion is enough to drive one to the edge. And while you complain about two months of delay, you hear even more agonising tales of people who have been on the process for up to a year. Inefficiency does not even begin to cut it. Believe it or not, there is just one biometric capture machine in that centre. Just one!
And the server which this machine works with operates like rush hour traffic in Lagos, at snail speed. The crowd is made to sit under a worn canopy that gets so uncomfortably hot in the afternoon and leaks when it rains. Such trouble, such stress, you will think this was for a first class ticket on the maiden Virgin Galactic cruise to space.
Now, when the process is this cumbersome, why wouldn’t people fake it? How should it be said that in this age, we still go
through such trouble simply to get a temporary, laminated licence (for that is what you will be issued after you eventually make it to the capture room)? Do the FRSC and the agencies of the Lagos State Government really have any moral justification for arresting drivers without licence given the gross inefficiency of the system in place for obtaining one? Are we really serious about getting rascals off Nigerian roads or is the revenue generation all that concerns us?
These questions beg for answers. Until we can get very simple things to work in this country, we will remain a very backward state. For now, you’ve been warned. If you plan obtaining or renewing your licence in Lagos, you might need a refill of patience and a new layer of thick skin.
First Published here