By Pini Jason
PERHAPS the Governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Raji Fashola, SAN, was acting according to conventional wisdom by ignoring the needless controversy started by the National Assembly over the new licence and vehicle identification number plate scheme.
While the controversy raged, Governor Fashola directed Lagos State to start issuing the new licences and number plates. I even understand that people started applying for the new licence and number plate since March, long before President Goodluck Jonathan officially launched the scheme, just to draw public awareness to the scheme.
This is a period of the year when young men, who have made new fortunes in Lagos and elsewhere, buy cars to announce their new status in their villages during the Christmas. Lagos, I am sure, accounts for majority of car purchases and registrations in Nigeria.
For these cars not to be registered ready for Christmas is a bit of worry for everybody. Imagine driving such cars from Lagos to the East! You will be paying toll every 100 meters even without the official tollgates. If you refuse you get shot, and nothing will happen!
If you run out of money, they (you know who I mean) will lead you at gunpoint to the nearest ATM for you to withdraw money for their toll! It happened to my driver at Onitsha last August! And the point is that the motorist would have paid ten times what it costs to acquire the new licence and number plates! Penny wise, pound foolish!
The second point is that Lagos is a state that depends more on internally generated revenue for all the monumental development projects Fashola has been battling with. Yet Lagosians are still making more demands on him. But the fact, which is one of the contentious issues in this needless controversy, is that nobody likes to pay for the services we all desire. I can understand the feeling. They want us to pay more for fuel.
They want us to pay more for electricity. They want us to pay tolls for driving on the roads. So a greater part of the criticism against the new drivers licence has centred on the cost of the new licence and number plates! So it has become convenient for people to argue that the Federal Road Safety Corps is not a revenue generating agency. Just any reason to make sure we don’t pay! But every year we read the FRSC remitting billions of Naira to the Federal Inland Revenue Service; revenue generated through fines and penalties. What is the difference?
Even at that, why have critics not noticed that the advertisement for the new scheme is signed by the Joint Tax Board and the FRSC? The FRSC designs and manages the scheme while the revenue is collected by respective states. And what is wrong if the FRSC generates revenue to run its affairs instead of depending solely on government subventions like many agencies that have become mere holes in government’s plimsole?
Another argument is that the FRSC is not empowered by its Act to generate bio-data of Nigerians. What does that mean? So, for anybody to take your passport photograph, your name and address to issue an identity card to you, he must be empowered by an Act?!
Come on, people! I don’t know what the proponents of this argument know about data generation and national security in other countries where crime detection is fast and efficient. I don’t think such debate should arise. We all know that the CIA generates data, the FBI does and the IRS also generates data. Customs and Immigration generate data.
Network operators generate data. It does happen that sometimes the CIA and FBI tap into the data bank of the IRS. I think the comprehensiveness of IRS data is the reason why it is said that you can run but you cannot hide from the IRS! Nothing should stop any agency from generating the data it needs to function efficiently. It does not matter who generates the data. What is important is that whoever needs them for its assignment, can have them without encumbrance.
The first time I visited South Africa in June 1993, I noticed that any store you went to buy anything, they manage to get as much information about you as possible keyed into their computer. We see UK Border Force carry hand held gadgets with which they can access Home Office data wherever they are. We see United States Police process licence and plate numbers on the spot with similar hand held gadgets that access the data bank and we wish our police can work like that. But somebody pays for it! And there is no bureaucratic tardiness in accessing such data. The question is not whose right it is to warehouse data collected. The question is, are we even collecting enough data on Nigerians? Do we know who is a Nigerian? Do we track the activities of Nigerians? Pensioners who spent a greater part of their youthful life working for this nation die on “verification” queues because we have no data about them! Go to any police command and report a police officer for a criminal offence and they will tell you there is no such name in the Police Force! These issues are relevant now given the security challenges we face.
The important point is that there are over ten million vehicles in this country owned by probably not more than four million Nigerians. These odd four million Nigerians DO NOT fall into the category of the “poor masses” we often use as alibi for dodging our civic responsibilities. The over ten million vehicles are driven by at least five million people and at average of five people per vehicle, carry about 50 million Nigerians at any time. This statistics may not be pin-point accurate, but it cannot be ignored by pedantic argument motivated by tax avoidance or obfuscated by politics.
Every vehicle on the road poses a potential danger. How can anybody say we need not know these people who can endanger our vehicles and our family members, whether they are armed robbers, rapists, terrorists or raving mad men? Have we not read stories of people murdered by their drivers or newly employed “drivers” escaping with the vehicle after dropping off madam at the market? I know that Nigerians love getting their priorities wrong. But what value can we really put on human life?
I have read and heard people argue that the job of FRSC is to ensure safety on the road. Such people have the pedestrian idea which equates traffic control with road safety. This derives from the fact that in Nigeria, there is hardly anything we have a culture for. We don’t have a culture of driving, sanitation, politics or anything! For me road safety begins with the person behind the wheel, his or her mental stability, his or her education, exposure and habits. If my instincts are correct, the FRSC may be doing what my friend Chief Joe Chukwura Udeh did in immigration with the introduction of the e-passport. Today multiple acquisition of passports for criminal purposes is no longer possible.
Today, many criminals have more than one driving licences. It will be wonderful if the FRSC is able to monitor and manage our road transport system such that it can track vehicles and know as much as possible about drivers. This is my expectation. We must encourage the innovations the FRSC is introducing instead of stultifying it with the usual Nigerian haranguing.
And let me say this: We have to brace up to the fact that we have to pay for those things we spend money to go and enjoy in other countries, if we want them here. This idea that Nigeria is so rich that we must have everything free is no longer tenable.
The excuse, usually made by tax dodgers, that they are wasting what we pay, is no longer sufficient because, the way I have seen it, we are all guilty, including the placard carrying and advertorial “groups” and fawning “youth organisations”. Richard Dowden in a recent lecture in Abuja said Nigeria is a country where both the rich and not so rich do not pay taxes.
The US, UK and same sex sodomy
I HAVE a word for the United States and the United Kingdom. The number of sexual perverts in Nigeria on whose behalf they want to interfere with our sovereignty, life, values and culture are no more than 10, 000.
Let us even say they are up to 50,000. If they feel so strongly about these sexual perverts, I advise they give them visas and refugee status, and settle them in their countries as they settled other refugees from Vietnam, Bosnia, Serbia, etc. They should take them, give them human rights and leave us well alone!
This same-sex thing won’t wash in Africa! We shall fight it to the end! If we don’t, next it will be “human rights” for pedophiles sex slavers!
So someone is reading!
OFTEN people say that those in authority hardly read our opinion. On November 1, 2011, I wrote about the dangerously dilapidating Eko Bridge. It is pleasant to read weeks after that the Federal Government has directed that the bridge be repaired. That is the way it should be. Our criticism may be hard, but it is not personal.