As expected, the introduction of biometric central motor registration system by the Nigeria Police has generated a public debate. Given the stress and financial burden motorists have gone through with new license and number plate registration by the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC), it is natural for what seems like a duplication of or similar process to be resisted.
Indeed, a number of arguments have arisen over the introduction of the process, born mainly out of the public's perception of the police. The initiative has been described as unnecessary and the police asked to "concentrate on their basic responsibility". One key responsibility of the police is the protection of life and property and this is their argument, that in order to enhance their efficiency and be more effective the BCMR is absolutely necessary.
According to Frank Mba, the Force Public Relations Officer, the new registration process is coming against the backdrop of contemporary security challenges that border on terrorism, the high incidence of car theft, kidnapping and other crimes. This primary basis for the introduction of the new process, as stated by Mba maybe a bit hard to fault, but the antecedents of the police make it difficult for the public to buy into it. It is not the N3,500 one-off charge for the registration that is the issue here. That there have been too many of such initiatives from agencies with similar functions or that claim similar functions is really what some of the arguments are about. And on this the people cannot be faulted. The consequence of resistance may in the long run prove to be costly to the country, but what is the assurance that the police will ensure transparency, equity and due process? More so, the fact that bad eggs among the police are seen as worse than street criminals by the general populace means that the police need to do more than just introduce this initiative, by engaging in serious image laundering and advocacy for the BCMR. It is may not really be fair to dismiss the whole concept outright, but the people need to be convinced, for it is important to safeguard against corrupt practices.
The argument that if the police need the data of vehicle owners, they should get it from the vehicle registration authorities or the FRSC appears strong on the surface, but actually misses the point. Central motor registration is basically the responsibility of the police and not any other agency. Section 3(2-6) of the Road Traffic Cap 548 LFN, 1990 among other laws, mandates the Inspector General of Police to maintain a Central Motor Registry of all vehicles issued under Traffic Act (RTA) and keep data of licenses and renewals by licensing the 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. It is the fault of past and present leaderships that such functions of the police have been taken away or duplicated in other agencies with less locus standi. What is actually being newly introduced is the change from the analogue process to digital means. According to the police, while analogue is based on manual procedures, the BCMR uses smart cards and portable hand-held receivers, and is a specially developed technological means of attaching automobile owners' unique traits and personal data to their vehicles for proper identification and protection purposes.
But do the police have the capacity to undertake this project? It should be stressed that the number plate registration and central motor registration are different processes that are complementary. So what measures have the police taken to ensure that the process does not constitute a drain on the people's earnings? We would like to give the police some benefit of doubt. Technology has helped improve services and operations of other businesses; it could be the same with the police. We have to pay a price of N3, 500 and of manpower hours for the registration. It would be worth every kobo if the goal is achieved. The opportunity cost will definitely be more expensive from all angles.