INVESTIGATION: Inside Nigeria’s drivers’ licence fraud and how officials dupe applicants (1)

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Entrance of a VIO Office at Anthony-Onigbongbo, Lagos

“In Nigeria, with the right (amount of) money, anybody can drive,” the officer said in hushed tone, grinning, his hands in the pockets of his trouser as he led this reporter into the open space that is the compound of the WEMA-Apata office of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), Ibadan, Oyo State.

The officer had just been assured of a ‘deal’ involving at least 10 driver’s licence applicants who would be paying an average of N21, 000 each.

With the amount, far higher than the government-approved rate, the applicants would not have to go through a driving school neither would they be screened by FRSC and Vehicle Inspection Office (VIO) officials. They would only be invited for biometric enrollment and, and after a while, be issued with valid drivers’ licences, with which they can drive on public roads.

The FRSC officer’s words, which placed priority on money rather than the process, were in response to a disclosure by the reporter that nine of the so-called 10 applicants did not know how to drive.

“It doesn’t matter,” he added, “They will learn it later on the road, gradually. It’s a gradual process.”

In Nigeria’s vehicle driving world where no law seems too stringent to be ignored, there are three methods of obtaining new drivers’ licence: one, by enduring all the frustration, time-wasting antics of officials and finally obtaining the licence legitimately; two, by colluding with officers to beat the system in a ‘semi-legitimate’ way in order to obtain a valid licence in a short time; and, finally, by going for outright fake licences.

While a few Nigerians endure the process to obtain the licence by going through the laid down procedures, a PREMIUM TIMES investigation shows many drivers adopt the second option. This fraud, the investigation showed, happens with the collusion of officials of the FRSC, the VIO, owners of driving schools and third party racketeers.

Certified without training

In March, our reporter disguised as an applicant and was directed from Ikeja bus-stop to some ‘agents’ in and around Ikeja GRA who could help with the driver’s licence application.

But on the day of the meeting, the ‘agent’ turned out to be operating at the entrance of the Police College, Ikeja, Lagos. The woman, who identified herself as Chiamaka, also worked an office assistant in a law chamber around the GRA.

Entrance of the Ikeja Police College
Entrance of the Ikeja Police College

“So you should be rest assured now that we are not fake, my colleagues are there too,” she said, pointing in the direction of some ladies standing at the other side of the entrance of the Police College.

On the fees, she explained that the three-year application for drivers’ licence would cost N25, 000 while the five-year application would cost N35,000.

“The original licence will be ready in two weeks, it is very fast,” she said, in apparent contrast to what the FRSC procedures stipulate.

She never spoke about driving school certificate and other legitimate requirements; she only assured that she would ensure that her “contacts” deliver on time. She was soon joined by another woman who showed the reporter a few “original copies” of driver’s licences awaiting collection by their clients. “This is to show you this is for real,” they both said.

Several agents also operate around the entrance of the police college and other parts of the old Lagos State Secretariat without hindrance, arranging fake driver’s licences and other documents for many Nigerians.

Evangelist Dan, a ‘driving licensing agent’ at the old state secretariat in Lagos, is quite popular among the people. He is also well known among FRSC, VIO and MVAA officials. MVAA is Lagos’ Motor Vehicle Administration Agency. Dan prides himself as the most reliable go-to man when it comes to getting things done quickly at the old secretariat.

Like Chiamaka,Mr Dan said he would ensure an applicant gets a genuine drivers’ licence quickly. But he would need to settle regulatory officials and jump the procedures, he said.

“You can trust me. Just ask anybody around about me,” he told this reporter during the first encounter in late February.

Dan said fresh applicants are expected to pay N23, 000 for drivers’ licence of three years duration while those applying for that of five years pay N26, 000. The fees, he explained, would cover online payment to the government, ‘settlement’ for VIO, MVAA and FRSC officials, as well as driving school certificate payment.

“You don’t need to go to driving school,” he said, “we will arrange the certificate for you after 26 working days.”

Evangelist Dan's Clients awaiting their licences right inside VIO and FRSC offices at Old secretariat
Evangelist Dan’s Clients awaiting their licences right inside VIO and FRSC offices at Old secretariat
Checks and violations

There are several checks put in place by the system to forestall racketeering, but they are circumvented.

By law, an applicant for a driver’s licence is expected to start by obtaining Learner’s Permit from the MVAA or BIR or MLA as the case may be. He or she is then expected to choose a driving school from a list of driving schools certified by the FRSC.

The driving school is expected to train the applicant for 26 sessions and offer certificate after ensuring that the applicant is well grounded in driving. The applicant thereafter uses the certificate number to call up record on pre-populated form to complete the remaining fields.

The applicant then proceeds to the VIO for driving test and if successful, is issued a Driver’s Test Certificate. If unsuccessful however ––a case that is near-impossible if one goes through the ‘right agent’–– the applicant is entitled to apply for another test before the expiration of one calendar month from the date of the previous test.

A successful applicant is expected to proceed to make payment of prescribed fee of N6, 350 or N10, 450 for driver’s licence with three or five years validity period respectively at designated banks. He or she then proceeds to the BIR/MLA/MVAA for confirmation of the payment and thereafter proceeds to FRSC DLC for Biometric enrolment.

The FRSC DLC then processes and issues a temporary driver’s licence with 60 days validity to the applicant on the spot, after which he is expected to return in about two to three months for original driver’s licence.

But in practice, as our investigations showed, nearly all of the listed stages are largely compromised through the collusion of the agents, the driving school, FRSC, VIO and MVAA officials.

“Once you pay the right fee, you will never, never fail the VIO test,” Mr Dan explained.

He gave an insight how things work: “The breakdown of the money (N23, 000 for three-year fresh application) is that we pay N10, 000 to driving school to save you the stress of going for training and N6, 500 to the bank. The N6, 500 is federal government’s money; we can’t evade that because you’d need the print-out.

“We work with VIO and FRSC officials who will collect N5,000. With that payment, nobody can tell you to go and do VIO test. Nobody! You have passed the test. For ‘capturing’, the money will also cater for our FRSC people. We also buy Learner’s Permit from MVAA and do other ‘documentations’. Can you see now that even me have very little to go home with?” he asked.

The payment is almost the same for the five years fresh application, our reporter gathered, aside that a higher fee is paid into federal government’s account––N10, 500.

“The beauty of this is that you will get your certificate at the right time. If you don’t go through us, their agents, FRSC may not capture you until after two months. But with us, you will be captured on time and you will not even undergo VIO test,” Mr Dan concluded.

In the middle of our discussion, a man approached us and handed a few documents to list Mr Dan. He later explained that the documents, about 30 copies, were driving school certificates ‘obtained’ by Nigerians. The young man, Mr Dan explained, was a staff of one of the numerous driving schools with which he did business around Lagos.

“Do you now see that there is no lie in this,” Mr Dan said, smiling. “I get an average of 20 to 30 copies of these certificates daily from our people. It is because we are reliable.”

‘Deadly statistics’

In June 2017, the National Bureau of Statistics in its half-year report said at least 2,673 people died in automobile accidents between January and June of that year, implying that an average of 15 persons died daily. According to the figures, in the first quarter, 1,466 died from 2,556 accidents while 1,207 deaths were recorded from 2,503 accidents in the second quarter.

FILE PHOTO: FRSC officials at a scene of an accident

In April, the FRSC said 456 people died and 3404 others were injured in 826 accidents recorded nationwide in January 2018. Speed violation, among commercial vehicles especially, remained the highest contributors to road traffic accidents in the country, according to the January report. Similarly, the Federal Ministry of Health said car crashes were the second leading cause of violent deaths in Nigeria, apart from insurgency.

In 2015, a report by the World Health Organisation, WHO, said one in four car crash deaths in Africa occurred in Nigeria, adding that car crash deaths have a higher toll than malaria in sub-Saharan African.

The FRSC said these numbers are linked to the quality of not just the roads, but the drivers. Still, the fraud continues.

At the licensing office inside the Oshodi-Isolo local government secretariat in March, this reporter was attended to by a woman named ‘Iyabo’. The woman, alongside numerous others, was among the ‘agents’ used as fronts by different officers in the licensing office, PREMIUM TIMES learnt.

Iyabo gave her fees: for the three-year fresh application, the applicant is expected to pay the sum of N23,000, while the five-year fresh application goes for N25,000.

“It is not in any way expensive, we have so many people to settle ––VIO, FRSC, Driving School people, everybody,” she said.

“But you will like it because it is faster and genuine. Once we send your name to driving school, we will give you a ‘covering note’ with which you can drive until your driving school certificate is ready after 26 working days,” Iyabo said. “You don’t need to bother to go to driving school, we will take care of that. Just pay the money, come back for capturing and you will have your certificate in few months’ time.”

Covering Note

Anthony Office

Unlike other offices this reporter visited in Lagos, the licensing office at Anthony area of Oshodi offers ‘agents’ and racketeers the most unfettered access to applicants. Located on the left side of the Anthony Bridge when moving toward Oworonshoki from Oshodi, the licensing office had no visible presence of any known official when PREMIUM TIMES visited, aside a vehicle supposedly owned by officials of the FRSC stationed inside the fenced building.

There were operators of photocopier machines and other itinerant traders, and there were numerous ‘licensing agents’ speaking with prospective clients. There were abandoned vehicles also, which served as ‘offices’ for the agents. As this reporter entered the building, he was lured into a corner by one of the agents.

“This is the ‘official’ person here,” he said, pointing to another colleague. They were both sitting inside one of the abandoned vehicles that littered the compound.

“We have the ‘key’ to the VIO and FRSC and everybody that will sign your licence,” the ‘agent’ who identified himself simply as MD, told our reporter.

“Just be rest assured that once you pay, your licence will be out. We are not fraudsters here but be informed that you can’t have your driver’s licence until after three months of processing.”

He also announced his fees. “For us around here, you’d pay N25, 000 for three years fresh application and N30,000 for five years. For us to be sure that you are serious, you have to drop N15, 000 now for Driving School Certificate and come back after 26 working days for your certificate. By then, we can now begin other processing.”

For more than an hour our reporter spent inside the building, he only saw one uniformed official walk away briskly even as hundreds of applicants and ‘agents’ moved around, negotiating terms and exchanging documents.

Inside of Anthony Onigbongbon where 'agents' hold sway

On May 16, this reporter returned to Mr Dan at the old secretariat to seal the driver’s licence deal.

First, a form was given to the reporter in which he filled his details. Subsequently, an initial payment of N10, 000 was made for the driving school certificate and Mr Dan assured that the certificate would be ready the following month. An agreement was also made that once the certificate was ready, the balance of N13, 000 would be made to process the details.

Meanwhile, pending when the certificate would arrive, this reporter was given a ‘covering note’ with which the driving school and their agents said he could drive on the roads – even as he knew nothing about driving. Further checks revealed that a number of ‘drivers’ on Nigerian highways use the road with this same ‘covering note’, obtained temporarily from driving school once the applicant is registered.

Nothing exemplified the shoddiness that goes into the certification process like the absence of checks and verification as experienced by this reporter. Since it was apparent the concern of the agent, Mr Dan, and the driving schools, was the money attached rather than process and safety, PREMIUM TIMES reporter gave a fictitious name during registration for driving certificate and no identification means was demanded to authenticate the name.

The names were recorded without authentication, processed by the driving school – Salbemm Driving School – and after a month on June 16, a certificate generated from the FRSC in Abuja was issued to this reporter.

The school, like numerous others involved in the racketeering, is duly accredited by the FRSC on its website.

The certificate, issued to certify that our reporter completed 26 sessions of training from the driving school, contained a driving certificate code number.

Olojede Giwa's Driving School Certificate

In effect, our reporter (who used a fictitious name) was certified to have gone through the driving school, fit to drive on the highway and was issued a certificate — without knowing anything about driving.

PREMIUM TIMES understands that the certificate generation process is initiated by the driving school operators, who in turn input daily records of applicants into their data system.

According to Mr Dan, the records are verified and duly approved via the FRSC online portal, through which officials duly acknowledge that the applicant is confirmed to have attended the schools for 26 days.

After 26 days, the certificate is issued and applicants are expected to authenticate it on the FRSC portal after which they are now considered eligible to begin the driver’s license application process.

When contacted, Bisi Kazeem, spokesperson of the FRSC, said, “There is no need to generalise. All accredited driving schools cannot be said to be like that. Names of such schools should be sent to us, so our intelligence can do a check on them, and if found true with concrete evidences, they certainly will be sanctioned appropriately according to the driving school operating procedures which all the accredited driving school are aware of.”

This is the first of a two-part investigation.

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