Monday, September 16, 2013

The Nigerian "system"

As mentioned in an earlier post, Nigerians distrust their government. In addition to the stated reasons, Nigerians distrust the government because it allows the “system” have its way with citizens. Two cases illustrate this.
In 2011, the Federal government of Nigeria changed the license plates for vehicles and rolled out a new drivers license scheme. The reason for the change is the new plates  and driver's license have biometric features (data and fingerprints) of owners making it easier to fight crimes and terrorism. I am still trying to understand that logic. However, the issue is not whether or not the policy is justified or necessary.  The issue is the costs in terms of money and time in obtaining these items. According to FRSC, the new plates cost 7500 naira to produce but are distributed to State Licensing Offices for sale at N10,000 (replacement) and N12,500 (new) for the regular plates numbers. In 2012,the Senate slashed the cost to N8,400. One year later, the story is different. I am not aware of anyone (including me) who has obtained the plates at the official rate. Prices have ranged from N15,000 to 25,000. As the September 2013 deadline draws near, the prices are sure to increase.
Obtaining the new Driver's license is also tedious. I know people who have been issued temporary cards since November 2012 and are yet to get their licenses. It took two colleagues three months to write the test and have their biometrics captured. Yet, the government expects all drivers to have new plates and licenses by the 1st of October, 2013 without putting in place internet connection and systems to capture biometrics and transfer to their central database. 
Getting a passport is another exhausting exercise thanks to the system. The official rate for a Nigerian Passport is N8,750. However,with N20,000 and prayers you can get your passport in 2 hours to 5 days (this may or may not include the facilitation fees you pay if you go with incomplete documents). Like the driver's license, there is no stated timeline for processing a passport.  
Our colleagues at the Customs also charge unreceipted duties as they please when you arrive at the airport with your luggage. They are quick to show you the act that says you must pay for new items valued above N50,000 (tip: if your luggage truly has personal not-for-sale items, keep your receipts and show the custom officials, bring out your phone and calculate exchange rates, be very firm and polite). The lack of transparency at government institutions promote this idea that a "system"is responsible for all our ills. The same immigration official that sits on your passport application because you refuse to play ball, complains about the deplorable state of our Country.
Yet, the system continues to survive because citizens allow it to. Why do we allow this rip-off?  To my mind, i think we bear it because we can afford to, it is convenient and it is the way the system works so we just go with the flow. No one takes on the system because the higher-ups are aware of what is going and just watch. Unfortunately, the one who does is either stingy or a trouble maker.
It is easy to throw our hands up in the air and surrender but for how long? The “system” we blame for everything wrong  comprises  friends, neighbours, relatives and church members. The extra cost of the number plate goes into someone’s pocket. Pushing back on  little things  it sends the message that we are truly tired of being cheated. Imagine if all the Nigerians went to the passport office with all the required documents and refused to bribe any immigration officer. The government on its part needs to create clear and precise service charters on the expectations of its agencies, consequences of not adhering to the charter and empowering  SERVICOM carry out its duties. Again, the government has to walk its talk.

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