Biometric Rape? By Wole Olaoye

IGPnew 600The announcement by the Nigeria Police that it would soon commence a new vehicle registration scheme requiring collection of biometric information of vehicle owners appears to be one swindle too many. Coming on the heels – or perhaps as an imitation – of the new driver’s licence scheme of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), the police version is touted as an anti-crime innovation. But motorists who have always been at the receiving
end of various government-sponsored hare-brained schemes which end up ripping the people off, are convinced that the police force is just trying to create its own avenue for separating Nigerians from their hard-earned cash.

This must be the only country in the world outside the perennial war zones of the Middle-East and North Africa where police officers, road safety marshals, Vehicle Inspection Officers, Customs personnel, and sundry uniformed bribe-seekers routinely block the highways demanding various fancy documents. Nigerian motorists carry the highest number of documents in the world. And we are not under a general state of emergency.

Apart from the driver’s licence, vehicle licence and insurance papers, a motorist is also required to carry a “Proof of Ownership certificate” (obtainable after undergoing a bribe-laced exercise at the VIO’s office); a “Tinted Glass Permit” from the Police Headquarters (advertised as free but in actual fact sold for N10,000); and now, a police biometric vehicle plate number!

All over the nation, enforcement agencies that have anything to do with transportation mount surprise checks for a cocktail of vehicle particulars, causing untold traffic snarl. In Abuja they specialise in mounting their checks between 8am and 10am when honest people are on their way to the office or business. If you thought that the reason that government created those agencies was to ensure smooth flow of traffic, these uniformed characters convince you otherwise as they seem to believe that the barometer of measuring their efficiency is the extent of disruption they can cause in people’s lives.

Every government agency on our roads operates in an island of its own. You would be forgiven if you thought they were not serving the same government. If the police were interested in data collection and easy access to biometric data, then we clearly don’t need a new biometric scheme.Considering that less than five percent of Nigerians have access to motor vehicles, wouldn’t it have made better sense for the police to go into partnership with the gsm service providers so that they can use the databank of about 120 million subscribers in the telecommunications system?

We have only just concluded a nation-wide sim registration exercise costing billions of naira which generated massive database into which the police and other security agencies routinely tap. Why subject Nigerians to another so-called biometric exercise after those of the gsm service providers and the FRSC?

The announcement of the police plan coincided with the sentencing to death of the four rapists in the celebrated Indian rape case. A court presided over by Judge Yogesh Khanna convicted Mukesh Singh, Vinay Sharma, Akshay Thakur and Pawan Gupta in the December attack on the 23-year-old woman who eventually died of internal injuries two weeks after the attack. The judge described the crime as one that “shocked the collective conscience” of
India and that the case belonged in the “rarest of rare category and warrants the exemplary punishment of death,” It took less than nine months for the case to be tried and verdict secured. This is not the forum to discuss the various arguments on the propriety or otherwise of death penalty. We leave those for another day.

While the Indians are apprehending rapists, diligently prosecuting them and obtaining death sentences for the crime, our own celebrated rape case involving some students in Abia State (which was filmed and posted on the internet) during the tenure of Hafiz Rigim as Inspector General of Police, has all but been swept under the carpet.

In my column at the time, I said: “From my amateur analysis, the young lady knew her captors. She kept begging one Uchenna to please prevail on the others to let her go. Her pleas of “biko, biko …” (“please, please…”) were heart-rending. It takes strong will to watch the horror to the end …. Such pre-historic barbarism; such unspeakable debasement! We are living in one big zoo. It is Abia State today. Who knows where next this kind of thing will happen next? … Inspector General of Police Hafiz Ringim had better cracked this one. Otherwise, he should simply retire to his village and leave us to our own devices.”

The civil society groups who tried to intervene and force were frustrated as it was clear that the poor girl’s family had been intimidated to discourage their intervention.

The police have not only failed to tackle crimes like rape in the society, they are compounding their image problem by embarking on this new biometric scheme that can only be described as economic rape of the citizens. While the rich may shrug off the new development, the common man will bear the brunt because it will also lead to increase in fares.

Is Nigeria angling to be named the most unfriendly country to motorists in the world?

It has become necessary for government to regulate the level of swindle in the system. How can the hapless citizen be taxed three times for the same item? What is in the proposed police biometric system that is not in the FRSC’s? It’s all part of the rot that has eaten deep into the system and provides more armour for the various gangs of police bribe-takers on our various highways. If they don’t catch you for tinted glass permit, they will hold you for biometric licence plates. What a country!

Effective policing ought not to be about making life unbearable for law-abiding citizens. It shouldn’t be about changing uniforms or recycling well-worn clichés. Nor should it be about duplicating efforts. I’m waiting to see how the people’s representatives in the National Assembly will react to this planned biometric rape of Nigerians.
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