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The necessary reform VIS needs in Lagos

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I read with keen interest a featured article titled: Motorists worry as VIO cameras make big catches on Lagos ‘un-roadworthy’ roads published in the Metro section of October 14, 2019. The writer tried to interpret the outcomes following the much-applauded directive by the former governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, for Vehicle Inspection Officers (VIOs) to, in his words, ‘vacate the roads.’

While the report did justice to the fact that the directive didn’t mean a subjugation of the functions of the Vehicle Inspection Service (VIS) or a license to flout the laws regarding putting roadworthy vehicles on the roads, it was short on drawing the parallel between the VIS statutory role of ensuring safety, wielding the big stick for offenders and boosting the revenue profile of the state.

Lagos has its hydra headed issues and tackling them demands more than the usual civil service approach for an effective and enduring solution. The transport system in Lagos has been the talking point in the last few weeks – from bad roads, to snarling traffic, and the deluge of motorcycles otherwise known as okadas.

In a recent CNN report, Lagos was described as unhealthily crowded. It said: ‘Despite being the smallest state in the country, it has the highest urban population with an estimated population of 22 million people and counting, more than double New York or London’s tally.

‘More than eight million people moving in five million vehicles cram into a tiny network of just 9,100 roads every day. This is the reason why Lagosians spend an average of 30 hours in traffic each week – or 1,560 annually, while drivers in Los Angeles and Moscow traffic spent only 128 and 210 hours respectively in the whole of 2018. Lagos is projected to become the world’s biggest city by 2100, with a population of 88.3 million. It urgently needs better road facilities and a high-capacity transit system.’

A window into how to prepare for this future is overhauling the entire transport system in Lagos to make it self-sustaining and one of the means by using what you have to get what you want is turning this huge numbers into revenue that can drive the projected infrastructural renewal this state requires. A good place to start is the VIS and that was where the earlier The Guardian report ended.

Truth be told, the VIS under the former director, Engr. Hafeez Toriola, successfully midwifed the transition of the agency from an harassment style of operation to a tech-driven modus operandi, which saw the increase of its revenue generation from N175.8 million to N2.24 billion just under 10 years. I am also privy to the fact that the preregistration inspection is expected to generate an average of N1.3 billion annually while the international drivers license and international vehicle permit is expected to generate an average of N1.1 billion every year, all nearing an estimated total net of N5 billion each year.

Such a ministry department like the VIS needs not only some re-engineering but also an upgrade to bring it at par with other agencies and parastatals under the transport sector like the Motor Vehicle Administration Agency (MVAA), Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA), Lagos State Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA), Lagos State Driver’s Institute (LASDRI), Lagos Bus Services and the Lagos State Kick Against Indiscipline.

This is why such re-engineering is important: the bulk of the data all the other agencies will need to carry out their functions is domiciled with the VIS and for an effective inter-agency coordination and collaboration, an upgrade of the VIS with the prerequisite personnel and provisions can upscale the activities of the other agencies of government even beyond the transport ministry.

Apart from the VIS newly installed Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR), a 24-hour camera across the state, which helps to detect vehicles with expired particulars, an ultra-modern office that would serve as the service’s operation head has been completed in Ojodu though it is yet to be commissioned for use by the state government.

Some of the groundbreaking facilities fully installed in the new building are the AutoVIN/Magneto Optical Device machine for pre-registrations and Accident Investigation Report; the Drivers License Training Room with the e-testing equipment installed in it; aback-end office with installed servers and ANPR sorting and processing equipment to monitor all installed cameras across the state; a central data room for issuance of road worthiness certificate; general training rooms equipped with projectors and training facilities; offices for heads of division and other sub units; and also inter-agencies offices for the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), MVAA and VIS processing centers.

I was impressed to read that even before its deployment, the AutoVIN/Magneto Optical Device machine has helped to tackle some intractable matters that knowledge of a vehicle’s history will help solve. The example of the Otedola tanker fire incident of June 28, 2018 is a worthy return on investment.

Explaining how it works, Toriola said: “The technology brought from Germany shows all details about the vehicle’s history. There was a time Interpol came to Nigeria three years ago on the number of stolen vehicles that finds its way into this country. We discovered that out of 20 imported cars, about four were stolen. With the technology, once you input the VIN number, the vehicle history will show up. If a vehicle is stolen abroad, it is reported with the police and the vehicle details flagged, which go into the vehicle history.

“When the Otedola tanker incident happened last year, we were the one that revealed the identity of the owner as our machine traced the vehicle history to Kano. The police were amazed. FRSC wants to buy it too. After scanning the debris of the burnt tanker, we were able to trace its VIN number, from there we got the registration number and the phone number/name registered on it before giving the information to the police.”

I am also aware that a lot of other states are already learning from Lagos, especially how they can adapt the Toriola legacy into their operations. It was recently reported that VIS officials from Oyo, Rivers, Cross River, FCT, and Abia states were on a fact-finding mission to Alausa. As the service awaits the commissioning of its new head-office, one way to fully utilize its resources and reposition it for better performance is the much needed VIS re-engineering and upgrade.
Olajide wrote from Lagos.


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