SOS to NASS – We are not Cashcows

One of the reasons that corruption blooms, grows, flourishes and abounds in Nigeria is the acute, ongoing state of uncertainty concerning most laws and regulations. Many regulations are actually no more than directives – the head of an MDA (governmental Ministry, Department or Agency) wakes up and “proclaims” a new law, upturning the status quo and, many times, bearing penal consequences for violation. See here on the danger in “legislating” by directive.

This is the reason why, if you run into trouble with the law and call your lawyer, he cannot come to your rescue with the swagger of an Alan Shore or a Harvey Specter. He’s never 100% sure of your rights – 99% maybe, but never 100%. He will, most likely, begin to bargain with the POLICE/LASTMA/FRSC/VIO/whoever, trying to call their bluff or negotiate the bribe you need to pay to procure your freedom. Corruption thrives and lawyers turn to bluffers – and that is where we are as a country. That, and the fact that every single government intervention becomes a racket, frustrating Nigerians (like here) – the official route is guaranteed, nay, structured not to work.

The current competition between MDAs to carry out “new” registrations and be the first to tout “biometric data capture” as the be-all and end-all to all our security problems (cue laughter) is leading us down a precarious precipice. Knowing our temperament though, enough will never be enough.

The Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) has ensured that we all cough up a mandatory N60,000 or so, to procure new vehicle license plates and new driver’s licences. The official cost is closer to only half that amount but good luck and patience to anyone going the non-racketeered route. I remember clearly when my dad changed the number on his Renault 9 GTL from OY 727 X to BF 77 BDJ, circa 1989. Olu Agunloye was the head of the FRSC then, and the change was ostensibly an upgrade to a modern, computerised database. Osita Chidoka, citing incomplete records (I monitored one of his interviews on BeatFM Lagos) and the need for an overhaul of the system, set 30th September 2013 as the deadline for the new plates. Government/the civil service screwed up the record-keeping (if he’s actually not merely arranging his golden parachute) but we are carrying the can for them. The same inefficient civil service will administer this new system so, we can expect more laxness and a need for revamping in another 20 years’ time. And, in any event, the “new” plates changed the format from AB123CDE to ABC123DE, and there’s now a splash of green paint in the background. Never mind the fact that, with regard to the “new” driver’s licence, people are being given dates four months into the future (well beyond the implementation/effective date) for their data capture.

Not to be outdone, the Nigerian Police has launched a Biometric Central Motor Registry (BCMR). The BCMR will cost us only N3,500 officially, though experience suggests it will also turn into a racket and we will probably need to pay at least N10,000 and we won’t get the BCMR cards for at least 3 or 4 months after paying. See here for the step-by-step guide to procuring the BCMR.

What are the reasons for the BCMR? According to the Force spokesperson, CSP Frank Mba,

“the decision informing the introduction of the BCMR comes against the backdrop of contemporary security challenges bordering on terrorism, high incidence of car theft, carjacking, kidnapping and other acts of crimes and criminality in our society.”

The newspaper report quotes him further on the features of the BCMR thus –

“BCMR will operate on smart-cards and portable hand-held receiver and is a specially developed technological means of attaching automobile owner’s unique traits and personal data to their vehicles for proper identification and protection purposes. With this forensic analysis, the police claimed that it is designed to match 20 million fingerprints per second which speed depends on the size of registered prints, adding that the system can match 500,000 pictures per minute if you have a registered database of 150 million; the likely match time for facial recognition is about five hours.”

I think this is nothing but a pile of utter bollocks (pardonez-moi). I clearly remember when we had to get ECMRs. We repeatedly pay a government not bound by any data protection law to collect our personal details and hope that they treat it with due care. Not only that, we become criminals if we do not pay the government to correct its own fundamental record-keeping errors. Successive administrations emerge with new schemes to tax us, to permit their staff to extort us on the roads, without giving us assurances of a minimum time-frame before they are allowed to (illegally) tax us again.

Why do you want to tie biometrics to a vehicle? What does the involvement of your vehicle in the commission of a crime actually prove, beyond the fact that it was used in the commission of a crime? People transfer ownership of their cars all the time. Will the BCMR back-end accommodate transfer of ownership? People borrow and drive each others’ cars all the time. Will the BCMR prevent car theft? Unless the driver’s biometrics are required to start the engine, I don’t see how. Tolu Ogunlesi was car-jacked and thrown in the boot of his car while the armed robbers with their armour-piercing artillery used the vehicle in their operations. Would a BCMR have helped the police in identifying the bandits after the operations? Where are the old ECMR records and what verifiable use were they put to? We cannot keep stumping up for unlegislated taxation and here’s what I think we should do. You should be warned though, depending on your location, that it will cost you about N500-N1000 to participate.

Here is a list of the current members of the House of Assembly. Here is a list of the current members of the Senate. Below is a short letter that everyone can copy and paste (or amend as liked) and send to each of the legislators representing their State. Will it work? Unlikely, but I think it beats merely tweeting, blogging or getting worked up about it.

[Date]

[Name of Legislator]

National Assembly Complex

Three Arms Zone, Maitama

Abuja, FCT

Dear Sir/Madam

Re: Frequent Levies by the Nigerian Police and the Federal Road Safety Commission

I am a resident/citizen of the State you represent at the National Assembly and I write to bring to your attention the hardship being caused by the recent changes being made to driving documents by the Nigerian Police and the FRSC.

The processes are convoluted and cost more than the official fee, the documents are not issued in good time and the legislative basis on which the agencies in question seek to exact levies on us is questionable. While the FRSC is indeed empowered by law to regulate vehicle/driver licensing, this should not mean that we can be mandated to procure new vehicle or driver identification at the Corp Commander’s every whim. The Nigerian Police, on the other hand, has even less ostensible power to “register” anyone, much less exact a fee for doing so.

I call upon you, in conjunction with your colleagues, to stand up for the Nigerians you represent and, at the very least, amend existing laws to stipulate the minimum time-frames permissible between regulatory interventions of this nature. Thank you.

Yours faithfully,

[Sender’s Name]

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