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12 Hours To Get A Driver’s Licence In Nigeria?

Lagos – Some weeks back the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) played a fast one on Nigerians. In a perfectly simulated photo operation, former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s application for the so-called new driver’s licence was processed and he was issued one within minutes as shown on television.

The Corps Marshal, Osita Chidoka, was the perfect host on that day, beaming with smiles and the pictures of the drama splashed on newspaper pages the second day. If, however, you believe that show, I feel for you, as my experience on Friday, August 2, at the Ojodu, Lagos office of the FRSC confirmed that it was a drama.

Truly we’ve been conned and still being deceived. It took me just 12 hours, yes 12 hours, to be “captured”, pardon the bad grammar as though one was an escapee from a maximum security prison. I went through the painful and macabre show simply because of my decision to go through the normal route and refusal to use any backdoor arrangement as I have enough contacts and friends made over the years as a journalist who are high in the FRSC hierarchy.

But I wanted to see what ordinary Nigerians with nobody to smoothen their ways go through in the hands of state agents. My horrific journey began on February 26 this year when I commenced the application process for the renewal of my driver’s licence which was about to expire. Go online and pay the required money, the numerous adverts and leaflets proclaimed with gusto. As a law abiding citizen, I followed the steps meticulously, paid the stipulated charges, and went through the tests.

Thereafter, I took all the documents to the FRSC unit at Ojodu and that was where I knew it was not going to be an easy application. In the wisdom of the officials, they gave me a date that was six good months away, August 2, stamped “Valid & Physical Capture Date, Ojodu Processing Station”. It was comical and all my pleas for a new date fell on deaf ears, but since I had a paper which shows that my application was being processed I was not bothered and as long as I can drive without being waylaid or molested by FRSC officials or policemen, all is well.

Surprisingly, no law enforcement agent stopped me to ask for my driver’s licence during the period. An officer was kind enough to give me his number and I kept on calling just to be in touch with the process, he continually reassured me that nothing will shift my “capture” date. I returned to Lagos on the evening of Thursday, August 1, so as to be able to partake in the exercise the next day. Friends and family members who have been “captured” told me that the 7am time for the exercise is sacrosanct and so I should not miss it for anything.

One actually told me that I stand the risk of being asked to come back in three months’ time if I did not get to Ojodu by 7am. And so I joined the bankers and Lagos Island workers’ train of early commuters and fortunately got to Ojodu at 7:05 am. Morning shows the day, the English say. My first shock was the sheer number of people I met at the office at that early period so much that someone was already arguing with a FRSC man at the gate in order to be allowed to park inside the compound and not outside.

Sensibly, I drove ahead and turned back to pack at the bus stop directly in front of the office but I was not comfortable with the place I parked. As I kept thinking about this, another car parked behind me. Perhaps the driver saw my discomfort at where I parked and as he locked his car after his wife and a child disembarked, he said to me, “Nobody will tow your car away from this place, just relax.”

We went in together and there we were met by a crowd that reminds one of the January 2012 fuel subsidy protests. Confusion and bedlam were the hallmarks of the gathering with no signs or direction to point those of us who were there for the exercise to where we should go. Questions, questions, and more questions led us to a hall where a woman FRSC officer was addressing applicants.

Unsurprisingly, there was no electric supply, meaning no amplifier and so we all strained our ears to hear her properly. Time was 7:30am and the odour emanating from the hall reminds one of putrefying bacteria feasting on a decomposing corpse. As I stood at the entrance, I surveyed the crowd, I saw women with their kids, husbands and wives, young and old all waiting to be “captured.” We all clutched our application documents tightly like refugees waiting to hear if their application for asylum will be granted by the host countries.

“Move back, move back, you are suffocating us,” the woman whose name tag reads Babasanya intoned. Pleading with the applicants, she threatened to stop the process if we kept pressing against her and the three other FRSC officers sitting down. Trust Nigerians, “Why don’t you move back too,” they asked as if they did not know why people had to press closer. Babasanya done, a gentleman started reading out the names of those of us scheduled for that day. Nothing suggested that he was a FRSC personnel as he was in mufti, he called people asking us to answer “present” just the same way teachers taught us in elementary schools.

Things got rowdy at this point as many could not hear their names, but somehow the process continued. I thought it was not going to be my turn until I heard my name, “you’re 228″, the class teacher told me. I memorised it as Officer Babasanya wrote the number and signed on my application. I stepped outside to catch my breath; time was 8:45 am.

An hour after, we were summoned into the hall again where those of us from number 120 upwards were asked to come back by 1pm. Meanwhile, all pregnant women and parents with children were given preference of being attended to first and everyone agreed. That was when I discovered that my case could be classified as neither good nor bad. Not good because some started the process in May and some in June.

Bad because some were there for the second or third time having missed earlier appointments due to lateness or inability to respond when their names were called on those days. There were people from Sango Ota, a border town in Ogun State, Agbara, Badagry, Ijanikin, and other far-flung places. Some have been victims of the system having patronised touts who gave them fake licence culminating in their arrest. Further, we saw some waltzing in and being attended to before those of us whose names were called in the morning.

On my return in the afternoon, the process was moving slowly that less than 60 people have been attended to. Another officer with name tag Aduloju, was the courier walking the distance from the data room to the hall. “Number 60 to 70,” he summoned as I arrived. By 3pm, tempers have risen that there was apprehension if the 300 people whose names were called will be “captured”.

By the way, those who came late or missed their names were given March 2014 as the next appointment. Optometrists were around to conduct eye tests and some applicants were turned back due to bad eyesight. It was shocking that some were teaching them how to beat the system next time. “But they cannot see, how will they drive?” I asked. My opinion was an unpopular one and I wisely walked away.

Fortunately, the generator started working and with the population reducing, the hall became more habitable. Forces of demand and supply took over with sellers providing drinks for people to quench their thirst. At 5:30 pm, I was called to be “captured” and led to a canopy in front of the data centre where we waited again.

Thirty minutes later, four of us entered the powerful room where only two computers were working and the two officers, a man and woman, thoroughly overworked, were slaving away. Officers Babasanya and Aduloju, however, deserve accolades for doing a great job under the kind of suffocating conditions they work.

Two machines for 300 people! My fingerprints were taken and photo too, “Go to room 28 to pick it up,” we were told. Room 28 was in darkness as there was no bulb, it was 6:30pm and our names were entered into another log book. Time now 7pm, a temporary driver’s licence was given to me after parting with N100 for lamination without a receipt. I stepped out of the premises at 7:12 pm. Mr. Osita Chidoka, this system is not working, please dismantle it.-TheNation