In most countries of the world, citizens are required to use both their national driver’s license and the international passport for driving and travels, respectively and as means of identification.
These documents are important because some of the holder’s bio-data on them are captured and stored in a form that can be referred to in a system for anything.
The information could be used to trace an individual in the case of an accident or crime. The system bearing such data is supposed to have a link to the vehicles registered by such individual. Where Police crime records are kept and protected, it could as a link to the record of the holders conducts, movements, and crimes of any sorts.
The driving license, in particular, is therefore a very important document of national security value and importance. It is for this reason that many governments accord it importance. In such countries, any intending driver must go through and pass requisite tests, including language, sand sight tests for the safety of the driver and other road users.
The language test is very important because a driver should be able to read and understand road signs and directions. In Germany, for example, you must pass the general Dutch language test before you get a driving license as it reduces accidents and confusion on roads. In most countries, including Great Britain, from where most of our traffic laws and rules were lifted, a citizen gets one driver’s license for life at an affordable rate or fee.
In this country, for a very long time, you could get a driver’s license seated in the comfort of your house. All you needed was to give your agent your passport pictures; he goes out and in a few days return with your driver’s license.
This system, coupled with massive illiteracy level among drivers, especially the commercial drivers, made life very difficult for traffic law enforcement officers, some of whom exploited the situation, extorted money from such drivers at every corner and turn. In those days the validity of the driver’s license was 10 years, after which a holder must renew.
Someone then decided to modernize the document, plasticize it, and reduced the validity period to only five years. Today, the FRSC has the responsibility for the driver’s license, with the assurances that the plastics will be ready within hours of one’s records being captured, but that is very far from what obtains.
The new driver’s license comes at a cost of about N12,500 and in some cases up to N15,000. You could wait for up to five months to receive the plastic card. Assuming only 85 million(about half of Nigerian population) can drive, this translates to an income to the FRSC of not less than N1.062 trillion.
With this type of money, it becomes difficult to understand why an applicant will have to wait for five months after his data has been captured to obtain his plastic driver’s license; and during this period he must be visiting the FRSC for update of validity periodically, thus subjecting citizens to avoidable hardship.
The temporary or paper license could be made valid for six months or more during which period the holder could be telephoned at any time to come and pick up his plastic card. Of equal concern is the short validity of the driver’s license which brings every holder back to pay another sum every five years, during which costs must rise for many reasons.
The Nigerian International Passport, which they call the e-passport, also costs about N15,000 to obtain, no matter what you may be told. In the 1980s the validity of the passport was for 10 years. Later it became renewable every five years, but must expire at the end of 10 years, leading one to wonder why the new e-passport should not be valid for a life time.
The policy of one life one passport will save costs, bring our own practices close to what obtains in other nations of Europe and the Americas, and reduce the drudgery intending Nigerian travellers go through at immigration offices across the nation. Most passport offices are often crowded, with officers processing new applications, renewing old ones, and other related issues, and these officers know that everybody will come back after 10 years.
What a colossal waste of money of Nigerians. Again if only half of Nigerians travel overseas in a period of five years, you are talking of another N2.75 trillion every five years. In spite of these, it is either that the booklet is scarce in one region or state, or the capturing machines will become faulty, with applicants spending long hours in long queues just to own the International Passport.
In some immigration offices in Lagos, people start queuing as early as 6 am for their applications. Under such a situation people start jostling to cut corners, to jump the queues; some officers begin to exploit the situation for corrupt practices and it all brings stress to poor and hapless citizens.
If I may ask, why can’t Nigerians have one driver’s license, one International Passport and one National ID per life? It is so in America, Brazil, Mexico, and Europe, to name a few.
If our National Driver’s license and the e-passport processing now conform to international standards as the Minister would want all of us to believe, why do we still have short validity in these documents that Nigerians carry about?
The answer may well be either that the government officials have the tendency to continue to milk the people until they say enough is enough, and cry out loud or someone thinks that Nigerians are happier when they suffer more indignities! We surely do not need to pray to know that the time has come with the vision 20-20-20,for Nigeria, to begin to treat her people better, and to bring the validity and processes for the driver’s license and international passport to conform with what obtains in other countries.
Mr. CLEMENT UDEGBE, a legal practitioner, wrote from Lagos.