Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Nigeria At 50 - Day 13 "Complicated. But....."

Nigeria at 50 - day 12  Flygirl

I have always known that my country's issues, challenges and problems are multi-faceted but nothing brought it home to me like my experience at the FRSC (Federal Road Safety Corps) office at Ojodu, Lagos, recently.

The first time I got my drivers' license, it was through my instructor at the driving school I was attending at the time. He told me how much it would cost, I gave him the money and in less than three days, I had my drivers' license. No stress, no hassles.

On my birthday this year, my license expired and I proceeded to go get a renewal.
I had envisaged that the process was probably going to be a very tedious one and I was prepared to go through the rigour. However, the officers I met seemed to have other plans. From the gate, the first officer (Let's call him Officer-1) was quite friendly and he pointed me in the general direction of the license office. He said I needed to check for my name in their database first and if it was not found then I needed to begin the process of requesting for a fresh license since my old one was not the 'original'.

I approached the building I believed 'Officer-1' had directed me to and just to be sure, I approached Officer-2 who sent me right back in the direction from which I had come.
"No, no, no, go to that green building first" he says.
I squint and follow the direction of his outstretched arm and even though I could not see any 'green' building, I set off in that direction. I got to the front of a small building, the green paint on it now almost white and since there was a crowd there, I approached Officer-3,

"Please I would like to renew my license but no body has been able to give me clear directions".

"Oh, okay, follow me" she says and we walk right back towards the direction Officer-1 had initially pointed out only we stopped halfway to stand under a shed where car safety accessories were sold.

Officer-3 punches some numbers on her phone and barks into it,

"Meet me under the shed. Hurry up, a customer is waiting!". In less than five minutes a young man approaches us and Officer-3 says, "Madam please follow him. He will help you". And that was it. Officer-3 walks away and I follow Agent-1 who leads me to a spacious reception office and asks me to relax.

To cut a long story short, Agent-1 does everything for me, after I had paid his quoted amount and hands me a photocopy of my filled-out application form with instructions to return the next day around 1pm to have my photograph taken.

Here's where it begins to get interesting.

I returned the next day and Agent-1 led me to the license office. There was a queue that extended a few yards from the entrance and Agent-1 asked me to stand behind the last person on it. A few minutes later, Boss-1 comes out barking at those of us on the queue.

"What are you people doing here?! Eh?! Where is your tally? What is your number?!"

I quickly deduced that ALL of us on the queue were there illegally. I quietly left the queue so that I would not be embarassed.

"If one of those small boys told you to stand on this queue, you are wasting your time o! They have no power to influence things here! None at all. So please leave this place!".
Boss-1 was still barking even as I walked away in search of Agent-1. 

Agent-1 assured me that there was absolutely no problem and asked me to wait some distance away. He did not tell me how long I was to wait but he promised that it would work out. I began to feel uneasy when I realized that Boss-1 was trying to ensure that things were done properly and orderly. From my vantage position, I watched as licensees were herded from a conference room in a building several yards away to the license office. They all had tally numbers. Apparently, a good number of them had been there as early as 7am and most of them said they'd been waiting for their photographing appointment for several months!

While I sat on a bench pondering my presence there without an appointment, the person sitting next to me tapped my shoulder "Madam, dem dey call you". Agent-1 nodded me towards an officer at the entrance who asked me to hurry inside, along with about eight others, and take a seat. We were the 'shunters'. Boss-1 had gone into his office probably patting himself on the back for being very efficient. Boss-2 was in the lobby 'continuing' with what Boss-1 had started, only this time, Boss-2 was allowing some 'special' licensees to go straight inside to have their photographs taken while the rest of us sat on rows of benches awaiting our turn. But who was I to complain? I was shunting as well!

After about two hours, Boss-1 appears again and since the people on the last row could not produce their tallies, he sent them out and called for a younger officer (Officer-4) to go bring in the last set of licensees from the conference room.
"The last set should be numbers 420 to 445 right?" Boss-1 asks Officer-4. Shaking his head and poring over sheets of papers spread out on a counter at one corner of the room, Officer-4 replies
"Sir, we are still at number 289 sir."
There was an incredulous look on Boss-1's face. "But we were at 275 before I went into my office 2 hours ago!". Officer-4 was staring at his shoes as though he was clueless.
Boss-1 skimmed the faces seated on the benches as though he could somehow point out the shunters. You could see just how frustrated and exasperated he was.
Boss-2 barked "Next!" and then it was my turn to go inside. The time was 5pm.

That day at the FRSC office painted for me a clear picture of just how complicated Nigeria's issues are . Even though someone at the head feels like it is his responsibility to make things work and is indeed doing his best, there are other seemingly inconsequential elements foiling his attempts!
It showed me that even though it takes one man to make a difference, it will take the rest of us to sustain that difference and make it a way of life.
I could have insisted on getting an appointment and refusing to shunt but I didn't and that makes me culpable too. I could stand and point accusing fingers but I must first look inwards and be the change I want to see.

Okay, so it is complicated BUT, it is not all bad.

I got a taste of how efficient and effective the Nigerian Police Force could be and it sparked some hope in me.

I was on my way to work one morning around 5.30am. I needed to pick up a colleague of mine at Estate bus-stop just under the pedestrian bridge. There were many danfo buses struggling  to find a place to park so they could 'shadow' passengers and I knew well enough to drive some meters ahead of them to park. Everything seemed clear and so I turned into a space just after the bridge where BRT buses would normally exit the bus-stop. Just as I was clearing off the road there was a huge "Gboa!". A danfo bus had rammed into my side towards the rear on the passenger's side, taking my tail lights with it as it sped off. Everything happened so suddenly that I didn't know just how to react. I came out of the car and several by-standers yelled at me "Madam! You no go pursue am?!"
Pursue who? To where?
The damage was bad and when I saw that my tail lights were gone, I just started crying. I felt helpless. Not only were my tail lights expensive, it was the third time I was being bashed in the last 6months!

Suddenly bright lights flooded the area and sirens came on. It was the RRS team parked a short distance away. "Madam, please clear well." one of the officers said to me as they jumped into their vehicle.
They had seen the whole thing  and apparently, the danfo driver was  trying to run away after being accosted by one of the officers for double parking. I just happened to be turning in at precisely that same time.

About  40minutes later, the RRS team returned and one of the officers brought the danfo driver to me holding him by the collar. I almost laughed in relief. The officer advised me to take the case to the nearest police station if I felt we could not come to a suitable agreement. They handed me the documents for the danfo which they had collected from the driver just in case he was planning to run away.
I was amazed at how professional the police men were acting. I was still trying to calculate how much 'egunje' I would have to part with but they simply nodded when I thanked them for their help, turned around, got into their vehicle and drove away. Maybe to go help another citizen.

I felt so pleased that I was lenient with the crazy driver making him pay for the body work of the car while I took care of the tail lights.
That was the first time I got the chance to see the NPF in another light - better light and I kept thinking, there is still HOPE!
It is possible for things to change in Naija. Not all the apples in this basket are rotten!

To view the next in these series please visit -
 Nigeria at 50 - day 14 LamikayTy