In the second of this two-part report, PREMIUM TIMES’ Oladeinde Olawoyin uncovers how the fraud is orchestrated in other states outside Lagos, the grand collusion, and why some Nigerians resort to illegitimate means of acquiring the licence. Read the first part of the report here.
For several minutes on the day our reporter was invited for collection of his driving school ‘certificate’ inside the old Lagos State Secretariat, Ikeja, Evangelist Dan held on to document issued to this reporter in anticipation of the agreed ‘balance’, his eyes wide open. Defying the hot afternoon sun, he threw the booth of his car wide open and brought out numerous files containing drivers’ licences he had helped other successful applicants ‘procure’ in the past. After several minutes of negotiations, he agreed to release the certificate and quickly advised that the remaining “processing” be initiated so that the “deal” would be effected promptly.
“We have to make sure your file goes with the next batch our people will treat,” he said, his hands generously spread apart. “There are many other applicants so go and bring the money quickly so that we can start online works.”
When our reporter again asked if the processes would be successful having failed to attend the driving school as required, he assured that the FIRS and VIO officials involved would be ‘generously settled’ and the entire process would be hitch-free.
“We will begin by buying Learners’ Permit from MVAA, before we move to other offices,” he explained. “Don’t be afraid; nobody will ask you to identify any driving code and nobody will disqualify you. FIRS, VIO, every one of us––we all work together and they are our people.”
He continued, smiling: “In fact, one sure way of not getting your licence on time is by going through the ‘normal’ way. If you don’t know people like us, you will not do capturing in about five months, trust me. It is what we know. Officers will tell you to come back every week, that there is no network, that the server is bad… whereas others who do the right things by coming to them through us would have been captured and might have forgotten they received their licences.”
Earlier, when this reporter teased him about the cumbersome nature of the driving school process, he admitted that it was not like that until the death of the late Nigerian Minister of Labour (State), James Ocholi.
“Since that minister died and they said his driver didn’t have a valid driver’s licence, the driving school process and the whole driver’s licence issue have been difficult. That’s why the money too is high in some cases,” he explained.
“Before, we used to produce driving school certificate in one or two hours here. But now, it is being monitored from Abuja and you have to tick register that you attended driving school for 26 days. So it is very difficult.
“But since you have your (Driving school) certificate already, you don’t have any problem. The most difficult part is the driving school certificate. Others are easy; our people will take care of everything. Just pay your money and come for capturing, you will have your certificate very soon.”
Several other ‘agents’ who spoke to PREMIUM TIMES also admitted that the processing of driving school certificate and the entire licensing processes were reviewed after the death of the minister, forcing them and their official allies to change prices and tactics.
James Ocholi’s Death
On March 6, 2016, Mr Ocholi; his wife, Blessing; and son, Joshua, died in a road crash along the Abuja-Kaduna Expressway.
Reports said the Sport Utility Vehicle in which the family travelled had a burst tyre on the highway, leading to the crash. Mr Ocholi, who hailed from Ogbabede-Abocho in the Dekina Local Government Area of Kogi State, and his third child were said to have died on the spot after the Prado-SUV somersaulted several times. It was gathered that the minister’s SUV ran into other vehicles in his convoy.
The wife, Blessing, died at the Doka Government Hospital, Kaduna. The driver and aide de camp, who were also rushed to the clinic, were later brought to the National Hospital, Abuja for treatment. Announcing the incident, the Kaduna State Sector Commander of the Federal Road Safety Commission, Francis Udoma, said the accident occurred about 57 kilometres from Kaduna.
But days after the death of the minister and his immediate family members, details emerged that the driver of the ill-fated vehicle, James Elegbede, had no valid driver’s licence. The Nigerian government later said it would prosecute the driver for driving without a valid driving licence and speeding at the time the crash occurred.
The Head, Media Relations and Strategy of the FRSC, Bisi Kazeem, in a statement said, “Elegbede is not captured in our driver’s licensing data, so the licence he claimed to have expired must be a fake one.
“Our licence procedure includes physical presence and biometric capturing of applicants which is permanently stored in our data bank, for the purpose of verification. We always tell members of the public to visit our licensing centres spread across the country and desist from patronising touts while applying for their driver’s licence.
“Elegbede cannot be called a competent driver if he does not have a genuine driver’s licence, which he can only acquire showing mastery of basic driving principles,” Mr Kazeem said.
PREMIUM TIMES investigations however revealed that contrary to Mr Kazeem’s position, many Nigerians have genuine driver’s licences without mastery of driving principles largely through the activities of “agents” like Mr Dan and some officials of the FRSC, VIO and driving schools. The practice is not, however, peculiar to Lagos but cuts across other states.
In Ogun, ‘Authentic Referrals’ Hasten Process
Time was 10:55 a.m. when PREMIUM TIMES reporter sauntered into the FRSC office in Toll Gate, Ado-odo Ota area of Ogun State in the first week of June. He was, however, accosted by an officer who quickly explained that the processing and collection of driver’s licence was not done inside the Toll Gate office but at the local government secretariat in Ota township.
“You will need help, or else you won’t get your licence in four months’ time,” the officer said. “I will give you the number of Garto, he will help you out. Just tell him it is from the officer you met at the entrance of Toll Gate office, he will understand.”
The FRSC officer quickly scribbled a few digits on a piece of paper and directed our reporter to the local government secretariat where the licence is processed. “Only authentic referrals can make you get your licence quickly. Officer Garto will help you out,” he said.
When PREMIUM TIMES got to the local government secretariat in Ota, a distance of about two kilometres from the Toll Gate, Garto’s number was not reachable and other officers said he was not on seat. When approached by our reporter, another FRSC officer gave a knowing smile after PREMIUM TIMES explained details of the ‘referral’ from Toll Gate. He quickly directed our reporter to one of the men stationed at the entrance of the building. The men were all in mufti.
“For three years, it is 22K (N22,000); for five years, 25K (N25,000),” said the man, named Sunday, even before our reporter uttered a single word. Sensing that our reporter was surprised that he knew what the officer directed him to do, he smiled, saying, “Is it not Driver’s licence? Just calm down, we will get it done.” Sunday would later dash into the FRSC office, bring out a few documents and dash out to meet our reporter.
“The one I said earlier is for fresh application. For renewal, it’s 15k (N15,000) for five years and 13k (N13,000) for three years,” he explained.
When PREMIUM TIMES complained of the charges, Sunday gave a breakdown of the fees and how every participant in the grand collusion must get ‘something’ so that the process would be effected promptly.
According to him, they cough out N2,000 for ‘Hospital fitness certificate’, N1,000 for VIO verification and eye test, N1,000 for FRSC, N2,000 for Learner’s Permit, N10, 000 for Driving School certificate and N6,500 for online payment.
“Everybody involved in the referral too must get ‘something’ so that works will be fast,” he explained.
He added that all the applicant needed to do was to ensure he comes for capturing; no need to go for driving school as the certificate will be made available after 26 days.
To reassure our reporter that all was well, Sunday brought a couple of documents showing different driver’s licence applications at different stages of completion and a few valid driver’s licences obtained for some applicants.
In Kwara, Only ‘Driving Idea’ Needed
“You just must have the idea,” said Baba, a driver’s licence processing agent in Ilorin, the capital of Kwara State. “Just the idea, you don’t necessarily need to know how to drive, just the idea; the idea is important,” he explained in what was a mixture of Yoruba and English when our reporter asked him of the requirements for obtaining a driver’s licence.
Earlier, our reporter had visited the FRSC office located along Flower Garden Road, a few metres from the state NUJ secretariat. But an officer, who declined to have her name in print, directed our reporter to the Adewole licensing office of the corps, located inside the old site of the University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital, UITH, Ilorin.
Upon getting to the office, a VIO officer approached by PREMIUM TIMES directed our reporter to an old man identified simply as Baba, who stood behind him. The old man would later lead our reporter to a poorly lit room where there were officers and other non-uniformed agents attending to people in need of different documents. Inside the building, there were also young traders attending to the officers and the agents.
“Like I said, you need the idea and you don’t need to go to driving school every day as you can go, maybe, twice or thrice in the 26 days; you only need the idea–– driving idea,” Baba explained again, forcing a bland smile. He later gave a breakdown of the charges: For fresh application, N19,000 is paid for the three-year licence and N22,000 is paid for the five-year licence.
“You have to enrol in driving school with N9,000 and we have to settle everyone who brought you to me,” he explained, adding that the fee would cover all the ‘logistics’.
“For you, just pay the money and I will enrol you into (Driving) school for the certificate. If you have the idea of how to drive before, don’t bother. If you don’t have the idea, you may need to go like two or three times to have the idea. Only the idea is what you need.”
‘Know The Way’ In Oyo
When PREMIUM TIMES visited the Ibadan FRSC office along Abeokuta road around the WEMA part of Apata, our reporter met a sea of faces at the reception awaiting one directive or the other. But to navigate his ways around the crowd, our reporter approached an officer who quickly moved out with him upon hearing that at least ten driver’s licence applicants were interested in obtaining the document.
He explained that the prospective applicants would not go through the rigour of driving school or the rigorous screening of the FRSC and VIO officials but they would only be invited for ‘Biometric enrolment’ after he ‘clears’ all the process. When told that the applicants do not know how to drive, he brushed it aside.
He thereafter gave a detailed explanation of how the process is carried out: N21,000 for the three-year license which covers FRSC settlement, VIO payment, Motor licensing Agency payment and other ‘miscellaneous’ payments.
“Between two to three months, if you know your way, you should have the license,” he boasted. “We will do everything.”
For renewal, the officer gave another breakdown: N16,000 for 5-year period and N13,000 for the 3-year period. He explained further that although the applicants for fresh applications would be invited for VIO ‘eye test’ and other screening at the FRSC, he would not be subjected to rigorous questioning.
“All our clients who know the way always get easy passage; nobody can reject them or ask them to go back for any training. We will ensure that everything is done perfectly and in no time, you will all have your licences.”
Across the various offices visited by PREMIUM TIMES, applicants who came to obtain the licences had different tales of frustration to tell, including those who paid officers for ‘arrangement’. At the Old Secretariat licensing office in Ikeja, Lagos, a young man who identified himself to our reporter as John, told PREMIUM TIMES he had been on the application process since last year.
“I paid the agent almost N30, 000 for a five-year fresh application but as I speak to you, I haven’t even done capturing. He has been telling me to come back for several times without any positive reply. Now he is asking for another N5,000. The VIO officers who introduced me to him too cannot get solution to the issue,” he lamented.
But another applicant, Musbau Akande, told our reporter he was able to obtain a temporary licence after three months of persistent follow-ups. Musbau, who showed our reporter the temporary licence but declined request to have it photographed, explained that the seriousness with which the ‘agents’ handle the application depends on the officer involved.
He said, “In my own case, one of the top Ogas in FRSC handed me over to him and, although it is still late, I am very sure I will get my licence. The officer has helped many people I know in the past.”
At the Ibadan office, an applicant who told PREMIUM TIMES that he wanted to apply through the officer explained that he had been frustrated in the past because he tried to apply and go through due process.
“I tried applying in Oshogbo and I genuinely wanted to learn at driving school,” he lamented. “But for more than five months, I was being tossed here and there. Now, I need the license and do not have option but to get it quickly. If this is the way, I will simply do it and get out of this trouble,” he said.
In Ogun, two applicants who came to the Ota office complained that they applied at the Ilaro office of the corps but were frustrated by delays and had to come process it through the backdoor in Ota. “It was frustrating; they would spend months ‘verifying’ your records all because you have no officer, nobody doing the processing for you,” an applicant, Bashiru, said.
Another applicant, Imoleayo Salako, said she had to look for an ‘agent’ among the officers before she could get the licence processed easily. “Until one of the gatemen introduced me to agents working for the officers, that was when I finally got my licence,” she said, brandishing a newly obtained driver’s licence ‘procured’ for her before our reporter.
In a follow-up message sent to our reporter, FRSC spokesperson, Mr Kazeem, explained that once details of the erring driving schools were published and seen by the corps, they would be investigated and sanctioned appropriately.
“I think the best way out is to fish them out and sanction them appropriately,” read the message the FRSC spokesperson sent to PREMIUM TIMES.
“In addition to this, we have some driving schools who have been indicted on this issue and they are presently undergoing investigation by our intelligence but they are yet to submit their reports.”
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