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Burdens, pains of vehicle registration in Nigeria

FRSC Corp Marshal Oyeyemi

Adesoji Oyinlola, Lagos

Activities of touts around many licensing offices in the country have been on the rise. The touts, despite concerted efforts by the government to dislodge them, are consistently duping many innocent motorists, especially the desperate ones.

Though the government has taken diverse measures and made several efforts using different agencies at both the state and federal levels to sanitise the situation, touting has remained unabated. 

And it is not only in a few instances and states but cuts across all the states of the federation particularly in places where there are increasing demands for vehicle particulars. In this regard, while the scenario painted above exists in all the states of the federation, the situation in some states such as Lagos, Kano and Port Harcourt degenerate because of the large number of vehicles available for registration. 

A check by Peoples Daily Weekend revealed that touts are succeeding in their illegal activities because of the uncooperative attitudes of government officials whose legitimate duty it is to assist the people in registering their vehicles, but who would prefer to deploy the services of touts for selfish gains.

 

Mr. Akanmu Akinola, a Lagos based chemist, narrated his recent experience when he went to register his newly acquired Tokunbo Toyota Sienna. According to him, he had made up his mind to follow official procedures, was ready and willing to go through whatever it would require to legally acquire needed documents, however officials of the licensing office that he went to made it impossible as they deliberately ensured he was sufficiently frustrated and discouraged from following the due process.

He said though he spent a week going to the licensing office by himself without any tangible result, it took a man he simply identified as Raji, just three days to get him all the vehicle particulars and the numbered plate. Of course, he did not pay the official price but twice the required amount.

However, it was later discovered that some of particulars Raji helped to procured were not genuine though the price was ridiculously inflated. This unfortunate discovery was made when Vehicle Inspection Officials requested for his vehicle particulars. He was embarrassed, subjected to delay and made to repeat the entire process afresh.

Also, a senior journalist equally related how he too suffered similar ordeal in the process of securing vehicle particulars. He, as an obedient and law abiding citizen, opted to follow the legal processes of renewing his vehicle particulars. He toiled, filled the forms, joined the queues and wasted so much time and subsequently he still could not get the necessary papers until an official directed him to his agent who ensured that the same papers were re-subjected to scrutiny but at a higher cost. Two days later the documents were released to him. 

He heaved a sigh of relief, thought all was over and that he was a proud owner of genuine vehicle particulars until the same elements arrested him one day barely three months later for being in possession of forged vehicle particulars.  

In fact, he contested the allegation especially since a lawyer from the Federal Road Safety Corps had insulted him and threatened to drag him to court for encouraging touting. He tried in vain to convince them that he followed the due processes, had subjected himself to all the processes, filled out the genuine papers, submitted them at the right office and got correct official stamps. His papers bore the correct official insignia and he could swear they were correct. His only sin was that he facilitated the processes by paying higher than he should, and therefore had no doubt that they were genuine papers.

The above scenario still plays out in many states. Most times, the particulars they procure are not from the genuine sources. Motorists are daily being arrested for having fake driver’s licence, fake particulars, including doubtful roadworthiness certificates and a host of other false vehicle documents. Their vehicles are towed. They are delayed, losing a lot of money. To secure their release, they are made to pay fines. 

Ironically, sometimes to the same officials who through their agents facilitated the procurement of the papers or who had stamped the so-called “fake” papers themselves. They encourage the fraudsters continue to have a field day. For the motorists, it is a case of double jeopardy as they have to obtain the authentic document if they do not want to go through the ordeal again. 

People always lament their innocence to VIO officials each time they ran afoul of the registration law. The problem of identifying the authenticity or otherwise of the vehicle particulars is worsened by the fact that these are issued by the same government officials who would labeled the same documents fake. Further, some of the touts, working in conjunction with same government officials, stay right inside the offices of the licensing officials and clearly know their ways around.

Though the licensing offices in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) are abuzz with activities one common scene is a parade of touts openly canvassing for patronage and even if you choose to ignore them you would be compelled to return to do business with them subsequently. They always know who wants to obtain fresh documents, renew and secure vehicle plate number. They know the right personnel, even those will take certain number of days to process the papers and the likely amount each document would cost from official to official.

At the Mambushi office in Abuja, officials at what they called “the bank” are notorious for allegedly extorting the public and openly ensuring that many are frustrated and compelled to use their agents to process their papers. There, the processes of renewing one’s papers can take as much as two weeks if you want to follow official procedures. But that same paper comes out within 24 hours if you have the “right connection” which simply means willing to pay the right amount to touts who would remit same to their bosses at “the bank”. 

Even the officials of the FRSC are not helping matters. True, there is conflict between them and the VIO over whose legal duty it is to issue licences and process vehicle documents. No, this is a matter for another day but the truth is whenever one falls into the hands of the FRSC officials whatever documents issued by the VIO is always termed “fake”. There are abundant evidences to that effect.

Well, in concerted efforts to curb the illegal activities of the touts, the Lagos State government launched the Automated Vehicle Registration, a new vehicle licensing arrangement meant to eliminate touting and counterfeiting.  Initiated by Courteville Investment Limited, AutoReg is now being used in about 14 states in Nigeria. 

Lagos State Government inaugurated a Clients’Representative scheme in a determined effort to stamp out the problem of fake vehicle documents. Through the CR scheme, the MVAA, under the Lagos State Ministry of Transportation, is providing the official recognition to individuals who, for decades had been engaged in playing the role of middlemen to corporate organisations and private persons in procuring vehicle documentation – especially vehicle registrations and renewals. 

The scheme, which was inaugurated by the state governor, Babatunde Fashola, endorsed 121 of such representatives out of the total number of 500 that applied for recognition. 

The governor said, before granting them approval, the CRs were screened by the State Security Service and certified not to have any criminal records. 

”We have decided to streamline and regulate the activities of these agents in order to remove the menace that the activities of some of them have created for the Motor Vehicle Administration Agency.  As a matter of fact, unlicensed agents encourage touting and forgery of vehicle papers.” 

The measure, according to the governor, will aid in the recovery of stolen vehicles, create employment opportunities for Lagosians and plug leakage of the revenue due to the state government. 

“This latest initiative is designed to complement other ground-breaking measures which the MVAA, since its inception in 2007, has introduced to reduce forgery of vehicle documents and other undesirable consequences of touting. The measures include full automation of MVAA‘s products and services such as Vehicle Registration and Licensing (Autoreg), Hackney Permit (Autohac), Vehicle License Renewal Alert and Vehicle Insurance Certificate-3rd Party (Auto-insure). 

“I believe that the automation of vehicle registration processes as well as the Clients Representatives scheme will reduce the turn-around time for vehicle registration. This will eliminate issuance of fake vehicle license and security documents,” he said. 

Some motorists, who spoke on the arrangement, described it as a welcome development and expressed the hope that it would not be open to any form of abuse. 

A commercial bus driver, Mr. Segun Ojo said the scheme is a welcome development but “government needs to monitor these people, so that they would not disorganise the whole thing by charging people crazy fees on the registration.” 

By “disorganize” he simply meant that the officials are likely to resort to the same old ways thereby abusing the process leading to frustration and compelling people to return to touts. That will be vicious circle. 

Some though believe the effort of the Lagos state government is not only a welcome development but if well managed would bring a huge relief to the people who had over the years being subjected to unnecessary upheavals, just to register or renew their vehicle particulars.

On his own part, a Lagos-based businessman, Mr. Akinyo Abayomi, describes the scheme as noble adding that it would eliminate the incidence of issuing fake documents for new vehicles and the renewal of old ones. 

The state government, however, puts a caveat on the operations of the CR.  Notwithstanding the introduction of this Clients’Representatives scheme, Fashola said, members of the public who so desired can still procure their vehicle documentations directly from the MVAA, especially vehicle registrations and renewals. “The engagement of the services of Client representatives is therefore by choice for those who want it.” 

The state Commissioner for Transportation, Prof. Bamidele Badejo, stressed that the CRs were not agents or employees of the MVAA or the Lagos State Government, and therefore suggested that the chances of their playing the touts or conniving with certain officials to defraud people are slim.

“The CRs do not represent the MVAA or the Lagos State Government in any capacity. They are only recognised to transact motor vehicle documentation business with the MVAA on behalf of their clients. Therefore, the MVAA and the Lagos State government are not liable for any conduct or misconduct of the CRs.” This is not too reassuring, but at least one knows once the documents are processed through them the likelihood of these documents being fake, are reduced to the barest minimum.

Vehicle Registration in Nigeria began over 100 years ago and the records have been essentially manual, which in turn has not helped to raise the efficiency of general automotive services in recent years. 

The manual exercise only focuses on vehicle registration and inspection, and not on other supporting services such as vehicle tracking, learner’s driving permission, and driver’s licence management, monitoring of drivers and vehicles operations and documentation of both accident and crime report. 

Vehicle registration in the city, state, and district offices burdened applicants by requiring them to personally deliver the certified copy of resident’s registration and other documents. 

Vehicle registration used to involve manual recording of vehicle’s information which ranges from cars to buses and later to trucks and heavy duty equipment on ledgers and tracking other related information such as registration, road worthiness test certificates, change of ownership, engine and chassis numbers; and expiration of road license. 

This process has been extremely inefficient and the recovery of the information was not possible once ledgers were damaged or lost as it frequently occurs.

 

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