What is it like running an agency reviled by many motorists? That is a familiar terrain for Abdullaziz Toriola, an engineer and director of Vehicle Inspection Service (VIS or VIO as it is largely known), a department in the Lagos State ministry of transportation (in)famous for its officers’ uncompromising enforcement of traffic infraction. Toriola tells Shaka Momodu why the public should see his agency’s duty through a positive lens
There have been so many complaints by motorists that their cars are impounded even when their driver’s licence has yet to expire; they are being punished for having the old driver’s licence. What is your reaction?
We actually impound vehicles with invalid or fake driver’s licence. We have discovered over the course of our work that there are so many fake driver’s licence and it is our duty to ensure that only competent drivers are allowed to drive on Nigerian roads to prevent accidents and loss of life. Before we fully impound a vehicle for an invalid driver’s licence we take the pains to confirm that the driver’s licence is actually valid through our database. If it is ok then we leave the vehicle, but if it is not ok then the driver will have to pay the statutory fine of N20, 000. We have impounded over 200,000 vehicles and all of them have been properly cross-checked to ensure that motorists are not wrongly booked.
For every government-issued document for identification, there are always security features on them. So from merely looking at a fake driver’s licence you would know because it will not have the security features. Our men have been trained to know these security features. Even with the people that still doubt the observation of our officers. We then take them to our auto inspector which is a database containing all valid driver’s licences issued by the government for those who have followed the proper procedure.
The procedure is very key, and what is the procedure for obtaining a driver’s licence? It is very simple. It is a tripartite arrangement where we have three agencies producing one product. The agencies involved are the Motor Vehicle Administration Agency (MVAA). The second is the Vehicle Inspection Services (VIS) and the third is the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC). All these agencies have a role to play. The MVAA is where motorists apply for a driver’s licence and they fill an application form provided to them or they can go to our website which is www.nigeriadriverslicence.org and fill the form online. After making the necessary payments at a bank, you then come with your form to the VIS office. We will now conduct a test to confirm your driving competence and whether you have been trained by an approved driving school. Once you have passed all the tests on your vision, practical driving skills, Highway Code and the rest you can now move to the FRSC for biometrics which is their role in this process. When your driver’s licence is finally printed it is brought back to Lagos State MVAA to be issued to the applicant. This process I just described has been the process from day one. But what we have observed is that people just provide passport photographs to whomever and provide their signatures on a piece of paper which is not the proper procedure.
From the time of application to biometrics to finally getting the driver’s licence is so cumbersome it could take up to eight months to finally get it. Why does it take so long?
Just like I have said there are three agencies involved and every agency has its own role to play it is not just one agency. Also going from the test to the capturing stage has been tasking because of the amount of applications we now receive due to more enlightenment and enforcement by the government. Even when you are made to wait, either for your driver’s licence or capturing or whatever, you will be given a document to show that you are actually following the process. I must tell you that driver’s licence is not supposed to be issued carelessly and of course you know how these things are done abroad. You have to go through processes and tests for you to pass before you get one. It is not something like a commodity; like you are buying orange and you just enter the market to buy. Once you pass the tests you will be given a document accepted and respected all over Nigeria to show that you are going through the proper procedure.
Don’t you think that the government should do more in terms of educating the public, a lot of people fall victim because they do not have all these information
I can tell you that the government is doing a lot in terms of enlightenment and education. Before this interview I was actually just coming from a traffic radio station and I also went on TV to further educate the public. We understand the importance of education and we are doing just that. I also urge the public to visit the MVAA offices directly to make enquiries so they don’t fall victim to fake producers of driver’s licence.
Why have we not seen any arrests and prosecution of those engaged in forgery and production of fake licence?
Yes, the government has been doing that and some of them have been jailed once they are caught, prosecuted and found guilty by the court. We also advise the public to also know who they are dealing with and verify their identity. One problem we have in trying to catch the forgers is that after they have provided the fake driver’s licence the victim now says that he cannot find the person and he does not know the person that issued the fake driver’s licence, which should not be the case. If I am dealing with you, I should know your name, your office address and telephone number. I should be able to come back to you if I have any issues.
Do you have any government-sanctioned agents that can undertake part of the procedure on behalf of an applicant?
For vehicle documents, government recognises what are called ‘clearance representative’ and they are allowed to do documentation for your vehicle but not your driver’s licence. You have to be physically present for your driver’s licence. It is just like your international passport. If someone starts the application process for you, you will to have to go there yourself to finish. You have to be physically present to complete the procedure of obtaining a driver’s licence. Your biometric data and photographs have to be taken directly and there is no way that can be done if you are not present. I also want to mention that you cannot get your driver’s licence from the bank. You only pay at the bank.
What message would you like to send to the public on the issue of obtaining a driver’s licence
My message to the public is that for their own safety and wellbeing they should please try and follow the proper procedures for obtaining a driver’s licence. I am even begging them to do so because if they are caught operating a vehicle on the roads without one there would be no begging at that time. Their cars would be impounded and they would be made to pay the statutory fine. Also if there is any information about obtaining a driver’s licence they can visit any of the VIS offices or the MVAA offices.
We have learnt that the old driver’s licences and number plates are been phased out and will soon be invalid. What is the time frame for these to become invalid?
Yes, a date has been fixed and announced for everyone in the country to change their driver’s licences just like the number plate too. The deadline is September 30, 2013. That is the deadline for every motorist and vehicle owner to change to the new number plate and driver’s licence. Lagos State has put a lot of things in place to enable motorists, vehicle owners and the government meet this deadline. Our stations have been provided with materials needed to work and accommodate many applicants. We have increased the number of capturing centres from six initially to 13 and then to eighteen now. We have 47 MVAA station and 21 VIS centres that people can access to get the documents they require. For people who don’t have the time during weekdays, they can access our facilities during weekends on Saturday.
Is a licence obtained in ogun state valid in lagos?
As far as you follow the procedure it does not matter what state you are in. The process is the same. Lagos State does not have its own driver’s licence; it is a national thing. Whatever you get as long as you have followed the process, is valid in any state in Nigeria. One man came here to verify the other day and we saw on our database that he did his own in Kano. So it will be in our records.