Expectedly, the introduction of biometric central motor registration system by the Nigeria Police has generated a public debate. Given the stress and financial burden the motorists have gone through with new licence and number plate registration by the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) in connivance with some elements, it is natural for what is considered, albeit erroneously, a similar process or initiative to be resisted.
Indeed, a lot of arguments, obviously borne out of emotion, have been canvassed to rubbish the initiative. For instance, the opinion in some media describe the initiative as unnecessary and asks the police to “concentrate on their basic responsibility”. While it apparently means to be derisive of the police, this statement inadvertently justifies why the police has to embark on the new registration system. This is because it is “their basic responsibility” to “protect lives and properties” of Nigerians by ensuring and providing effective security measures and processes.
According to Frank Mba, the Force Public Relations Officer, the new registration process, as quoted by some reports “is against the backdrop of contemporary security challenges bordering on terrorism, high incidence of car theft, kidnapping and other crimes”. This primary basis for the introduction of the new process as stated by Mba cannot be sufficiently faulted. Indeed, N3,500 one-off charge for the registration cannot stand as a serious argument against the program. The consequence of not doing it is much costlier for the country. More so, the fact that there are bad eggs among the police at all levels such as it obtains in all facets of life and polity including both public and private cannot be a strong point to dismiss the initiative meant to improve on security measures. What is important is to create safeguard against corrupt practice and not succumb to corruption.
The argument that if the police need the data of vehicle owners, they should get that from the vehicle registration authorities or the FRSC appears strong on the surface but it misses the point. It is putting the cart before the horse. The police all over the world are the frontline internal security agency; and as such, responsible for collation, safety and distribution of crime related data. It will be an aberration, operationally catastrophic and suicidal to expect the police to rely on secondary data from other agencies on crime prevention and detection in performing its basic functions. In the United States of America for example, the state of Illinois Police department has what is called LEAD (law enforcement Agency Database). This agency maintains an online database record of wanted persons, missing persons, vehicle owners, stolen vehicles and properties; and thereafter, makes them available to other agencies that may need same. This is the international best practice.
The central motor registration is the basic responsibility of the police and not that of any other agency. Section 3(2-6) of the Road Traffic Cap 548 LFN, 1990 among other laws, mandate the Inspector General of Police to maintain Central Motor Registry of all vehicles issued under Traffic Act (RTA) and keep data of licenses and renewals by licensing Authority.
In other words, the police are empowered by law to maintain the central motor registry and not to source the data from other agencies. Indeed, the police have been doing that over the years since 1958 and nobody has questioned the authority of police to that effect. It is not a new development as it being portrayed. What is actually being newly introduced is to change from analogue process to the digital means. As explained by Mba, “Unlike our hitherto analogue based procedures, the BCMR operates on smart-cards and portable hand-held receiver and is a specially developed technological means of attaching automobile owner’s unique traits and personal data to their vehicles for proper identification and protection purposes.” (Premium News, September 19, 2013).
We should be concentrating on the future because that is where we are going to spend the rest our lives. And technology is central to the actualisation of that future. While other entities from media and banks to government ministries are digitalizing their operations and services to universal applause and acceptance, it is callous and hypocritical to accuse the police for moving similarly with advancement in technology, more so for protection of lives and properties. Of course, the police have to retrain its officers and recruit competent hands to handle and deploy the technology in order to achieve the goal.
It should be stressed that the number plate registration and central motor registration are different processes which are complementary to improve the security measures in the country. Yes, it is a fact that a crime could be committed without a snatched or stolen vehicle. But this is not always the case. Besides, such possibility is not an enough basis to cancel central motor registration. It is expected of the owner of a snatched vehicle to report the incident to the police and not to any other agency. The information from the vehicle owner or biometric data could serve as a lead in the crime investigation.
For us to move forward in line with global practice like in United Kingdom and USA, the emphasis should be that agencies like FRSC, NCSDC and others should be merged with the Police for effectiveness and to reduce budget wastefulness.
The police should be given a benefit of doubt. Technology has helped improve services and operation of other businesses; it could be the same with police. We have to pay a price of N3,500 and manpower hours spent for the registration. It would be worth every kobo if the goal is achieved. The opportunity cost will definitely be more expensive.
By; Mike Dada, Public Relations Consultant and MD/CEO,PRM Africa, based in Lagos, Nigeria.