The New Driver’s License and the Need for Sanity on Nigerian Roads By Bright Ekwu



In the mid-70’s through the early 80’s when we were growing up as kids in the old Bendel State, there used to be a phenomenon referred to as ‘Sapele drivers’.The term was particularly rife in Benin City where it was used in reference to anybody who drove a vehicle roughly without any regard for basic driving and road use rules. It was much later, upon inquiry as to the origin of the term, that an uncle explained that in those days when getting a driver’s license was not an easy task, there used to be a centre in Sapele (a sort of Oluwole market) where one can easily acquire a fake driver’s license with a token fee within a few hours – and they were so good that one could not spot a difference between a genuine license and one acquired from the Sapele centre! With the process of acquiring a driver’s license thus ‘liberalized’ in Sapele, it was only a matter of time for a new breed of drivers who knew nothing about driving beyond turning on the ignition, engaging gear and moving a vehicle in any direction they choose to spring up all across the state with all the dangers they constitute to road-using public. Thus it was easy to recognize them by their style of driving and they were promptly named after the place from where they were believed to have got their licenses.

Today, more than three decades down the road, a drive through the streets of any Nigerian city would reveal that the phenomenon of ‘Sapele drivers’ is not only still with us, it has grown to such a level that it has been accepted as the norm. The root of this problem was the system of acquiring driver’s license. What we had as a system for granting licenses to drivers was a nothing but a legalized version of the old centre in Sapele where all that was required were passport photographs of applicants, his/her address and the fee. No one cared to know if the applicant indeed knows how to drive and can identify the road signs. In fact, I know people who acquired driver’s license before they ever had an opportunity to kick and drive a car for the first time!

This is one of the problems that the Federal Road Safety Commission is poised to solve with the introduction of the new driver’s license system which was launched in September last year. The system ensures that applicants for driver’s license are tested and certified by the issuing authorities before they are issued the document. Though it is not possible to get all those who got their licenses through the old system to go for proper training before getting the new license, it is a worthy step to begin a process of ensuring that Nigerians do the right thing by going through the rudiments of learning the nitty-gritty of driving and road rules which are the bedrock of road safety before acquiring a license.

It is not easy to get a people who are used to an easy but ineffective system of procuring driver’s licenses to accept a new system that seeks to enthrone efficiency and effectiveness albeit with a little inconvenience. The driver’s license is not just one of those documents, it is a safety and security document. It is a safety document in the sense that it ordinarily should guarantee that, barring any other unforeseen circumstances and factors, the possessor has the requisite knowledge and character to drive a vehicle without constituting a safety risk to himself and other road users.

The FRSC’s move to streamline the process of acquiring the new driver’s license is particularly laudable with regard to its use as a security document – a means of identification. There have been cases in the past where people were able to procure driver’s licenses to serve as identification to cash cheques issued in favour of other persons. But with the new system which involves full direct capture, it will no longer be possible for anyone to get two driver’s licenses with one bearing another name other than his/her real name for whatever reason as he would immediately be found out. This also serves as a means of creating a data base to check road use and vehicular offences as the new licenses are linked to the new vehicle registration numbers.

For a country that is facing the kind of security challenges that Nigeria has been up against lately, the new driver’s license and number plate system being championed by the FRSC deserves the commendation and cooperation of Nigerians. This is the way to go if we are to be counted among the civilized nations where the safety and security of citizens is handled with the utmost seriousness.

 

Ekwu sent this piece from Warri in Delta State

 

 

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