The Role of the Driver’s License in State Building

Feb 1, 2008 | Seminar Papers

Being a paper delivered by Osita Chidoka, Corps Marshal  & Chief Executive, Federal Road Safety Commission, at the University of Nigeria Alumni Association, Abuja Branch, Dance/Award Night on Tuesday, December 18, 2007.


The geographical area presently called the “Federal Republic of Nigeria” was before the colonial penetration in to the land inhabited by peoples of diverse ethnic, cultural, religious and social backgrounds (Isichei, 1983). They were “a collection of independent nation states, separated from one another by great distances, by differences of history and traditions and by ethnological, racial, tribal, social and religious barriers” (Clifford, 1920:31) and according to Fadahunsi (1992), were at various stages of development until colonial powers changed their patterns of development.
The crises created by the imposition of European social beliefs and development patterns on them ultimately created dilemma of development. According to Ake (2001), even as they were disoriented from their traditional belief system, the   people lack the capacity to adopt wholly the western development patterns and productive values, as they were inappropriately assimilated by the West. This incongruence created the crises of development, as the state itself became weak, resulting in instabilities that have been the bane of Nigeria’s underdevelopment.
This paper will therefore look at the challenges of State building; Citizen-State relationships; the linkages between citizen identity and the state; the role of driver’s license in State building; the distortions in the production and issuance of the driver’s license in Nigeria and the on-going efforts of the Commission to restore the integrity of the drivers license, which would ultimately contribute to the enhancement of the Nigerian State’s capacity to deal with the  social and security needs of the citizens.
The term “state” in this paper refers to the geographical space known as the Federal Republic of Nigeria. According to Max Weber (1946), a state is “a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory”. Taking a lead from Fukuyama (2004:ix), state building is “…the creation of new government and the strengthening of existing ones”. He went on to assert that:
…state building is one of the important issues for the world community because weak or failed states are the sources of many of the world’s most serious problems, from poverty to AIDS to drugs to terrorism
Over the past thirty years, some hitherto underdeveloped countries have made conscious efforts which propelled them to their present state of development. The success story of the East Asian tigers such as Hong Kong , Singapore and South Korea showed clearly how nations can consciously bring about their national development. Though Hong Kong and Singapore were creation of the British Colonial powers, the nationalist spirits of their leaders, their transparent economic system and commitment of their citizens to issues of nation building created certain national consciousness that promote spirit of hard work and commitment to their nation building efforts. Today, these countries are not only developing fast, their human development indices can be favourably compared to what obtains in developed nations.
The Nigerian state as presently constituted is the inheritor of the sovereignty that emanated from the British subjugation of the people that existed in the area now known as Nigeria. This sovereignty has been tested at various times as exemplified in the Nigeria Civil war, coups and militant uprisings and yet has been resolved in favour of the Nigerian state despite its weaknesses and challenges. The challenge therefore has been the transformation of the Nigerian state from a mere state to a nation, manifesting the characteristics of a modern state; as the issue of state building remains a major crisis threatening African states  in general and Nigeria in particular.
For a state to be identified as functional, it must, according to the World Bank (2000:50), posses the following characteristics at the institutional level:

  • a. capacity to maintain nationwide peace, law and order without which other government functions are compromised or impossible;
  • b. must ensure individual liberty and equality before the law;
  • c. needs workable checks and balances on the arbitrary exercise of power. In order words, public decisions must be transparent and predictable.

A functional State must also:

  • a. effectively raise revenue and supply these services in ways that  contribute to development;
  • b. implement legal and administrative sanctions wherever  corruption is detected, regardless of the social and political status of the perpetrators;
  • c. ensure that free press and  public watch dog organizations guide against abuse of power and reinforce check and balances and  effective service delivery;
  • d. ensure that the political process is broadly viewed  as legitimate and provides an anchor  of predictability for private investment and economic development more broadly and above all, participatory civil society, free  speech and an independent press are indispensable for promoting productive and healthy investment (World Bank, 2000:51)

However these characteristics must not be fully present for development to occur. Concrete realities and peculiarities must be taken into account.
The metamorphosis of Nigeria to a well functioning state is the goal of the President Umaru Musa  Yar’Adua’s administration. The trajectory of the administration can be discerned by its avowed commitment to the sanctity of a rule-driven state tethered to the foundation of social justice and a consensual approach to wealth creation and diffusion. The elevation of rule keeping to a national mantra is the visible manifestation of a desire to create a predictable and transparent governance process that derives its essence from the instinctive quest to build state capacity, increase social capital and restoring trust between the state and its citizens.
To enable the achievement of the goals of this administration, we at the Federal Road Safety Commission have identified a nexus between development and citizen identify.
The Federal Road Safety Commission which was established by the Federal Government is 1988 as a response to the growing menace of road traffic crashes identified haphazard licensing of drivers as a fundamental problem in road traffic crash management. Thus, the National Driver’s License Scheme which was launched in 1990 has continued to undergo improvements to enhance its security status and validity. However, as characteristic of developing nations where poor institutional framework create problem of  capacity for the state, we have since discovered  that the national driver’s License has been subjected to the same corrupt  tendencies that put doubts on documents issued by the Nigerian state. For instance, despite the acceptance of driver’s license as one of the most acceptable form of identity in Nigeria currently, it is appalling that of the 12 million driver’s licenses in circulation, only 2 million of them have the correct records of the holders in our database.
This poor record keeping system which is a manifestation of our incapacity to effectively manage the state- citizen relationship has been a source of concern to us. This is so because; Driver’s License worldwide is a veritable source of national identity to citizens. It is one of the documents that the state issues to its citizens as a sign of their maturity after the holder passes through  series of training and tests to determine his or her competence, state of mind, mental and psychological alertness to operate a mechanically propelled vehicle. Thus, the experience of being issued with a fresh driver’s license by the state is that which some citizens would always want to remember with nostalgia and patriotic spirit. If such document becomes an object of doubts; one which non-state agencies could produce, the effect of this to national   security and social norms could only be imagined. We are thus appalled by the discovery that parallel national driver’s license production centers were being operated by syndicates across the country.
The restoration of the integrity of the driver’s license has a value reorientation dimension. Young adults who currently get their first driver’s license through illegal means, without testing or training are psychologically denuded of the moral ethos that fires the idealism of youth. A nation whose youths as a matter of course are conditioned to inadvertently or consciously commit their first crime of possessing fake driver’s license is on the road to failure. The incapacity of the state is magnified by the sheer horror of a citizen who is licensed to kill by the state through the issuance of a driver’s license without testing, certification or payment of the statutory fees to government. These young citizens confronted with state incapacity and corruption; develop a cynical attitude to issues of citizens’ rights and obligations, with attendant dire consequences for nation building.
It is our determination however, to restore the integrity of the driver’s license and enhance the capacity of the state as the only legitimate source of the issuance and production of this national security document. We hope to achieve our restoration programme through a three pronged approach being put in place for a short and medium term plan as follows:

a. In a short while from now, all holders of current driver’s license would be required to go for online verification of their driver’s licenses on the FRSC database in line with the ACT establishing the Commission. To achieve continuity, all Information Processing Centers for the production of driver’s licenses would be linked on a Wide Area Network to the Database to ensure that license is no longer duplicated. This will be supported with the capture of signatures and thumbprints to enable cross matching of any duplicate biometric. We would continue to ensure that no driving license is produced by proxy.
b. In order to install sanity into the driving culture, driving schools are being standardized for the purpose of driver’s certification. Under this regime, only recognized driving schools would sponsor drivers for driving test. It is believed that with our guidelines and uniform curriculum, driver education will produce sane people on the highways.
c. Certification of commercial drivers is undergoing revision. Currently we have embarked on the reorganization of fleet operators under the Road Transport Safety Standardization Scheme (RTSSS). In the same vein, any driver engaged in the conveyance of more than 6 passengers and those operating articulated vehicles would be certified to be free from alcohol and drug dependence, while the visual acuity of drivers would also be determined from time to time.

Ladies and gentlemen, I wish to assure the nation that the Federal Road Safety Commission under my leadership today is prepared to contribute its quota to the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals which is in tandem with the Vision 2020 of the present administration. Nigeria as a nation whose transportation system is road-based, where the economic goods are mostly transported using the roads; the need for functional road safety system cannot be over emphasized.

Corruption in Africa has deep roots in failure of state institutions and a value system that promotes cynicism over idealism. To uproot corruption, we must go beyond enforcement, a critical ingredient in the fight against corruption, to the holistic approach that factors in the relationship between Citizens and State. This approach must include the restoration of social trust and enlargement of social capital.
The Federal road Safety Commission has decided to bring to the front burner of its activities the revalidation of driver’s license and the restoration of the confidence of the citizenry in the document. This is borne out of the underlying fact that there must be trust between the citizens and state. The situation now is that of uncertainty of gaminess of the drivers’ document a citizen holds. According to Fukuyama (1995:26):   Trust is the expectation that arises within a community of regular, honest, and operative behaviour, based on commonly shared norms on the part of other members of the community.
We are equal to the task and it is our belief that the restoration of the integrity of the driver’s license is one way of restoring citizens’ hope to the gaminess of the document issued by the Nigerian State . Therefore, despite all opposition coming from members of the syndicates who adopt various tactics to attack the Commission, our resolve to hold on to the truth no matter whose ox is gored is unshaken. This is borne out of nationalist zeal where the essence is not to promote personal interest but the collective national interest of Nigerians. We are confident that by the time we accomplish our vision for the Federal Road Safety Commission, every Nigerian holding the National Driver’s License would be proud to present it either in Nigeria or outside the shores of the land free from fears of adulteration, distortion or fakeness of the document.
Mr Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen, it is the collective responsibility of every Nigerian to join hands with the Federal Government in its effort to make the nation one of the 20th largest economies in the world by 2020. As we have said elsewhere, the attainment of this national vision is hinged in our ability to ensure the safety of lives and property on the nation’s highways. This is because, apart from our transportation system been road- based; road traffic crashes have become a global source of health concern, which cause death to over 400 lives monthly in Nigeria . In fact, the menace of road traffic crash has assumed such an epidemic dimension that by the year 2020, if nothing tangible is done to redress its present menace, it  would become the number three (3) killer of mankind.
To avoid this catastrophe therefore, it behoves on all of us to join hands with the Commission as the lead agency in road safety in Nigeria to ensure that as we celebrate this year’s Sallah, Christmas and New Year, our roads are free from the usual carnage for which the period of the year is notorious.
In conclusion Mr Chairman, let me reiterate that we are resolute to positively change the fortunes of the Federal Road Safety Commission through a reform process that would optimally utilize the human and material resources of the organization to achieve the national objective of crash-free roads and strive to unfurl the banner of service to nation above self. But to accomplish these objectives, I call on all Nigerians, particularly those in the academia to rally round the Commission and render intellectual support to the on going reforms so that the nation could for once, heave a sigh of relief that its roads can be safe for the citizens. It is our strong belief that getting the issuance of driver’s license right as we are currently putting in place, would be the first and most important step in the elusive search for road safety in Nigeria and serve as the basis for renewed dialogue between the Nigerian State and its Citizens, in the quest to build a modern State in Sub- Saharan Africa.
Thank you for your attention.

Osita Chidoka
Corps Marshall & Chief Executive
Federal Road Safety Commission

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