Beginning from today, the Nigeria Police will start its new Biometric Central Motor Registration, BCRMR, which they claimed would help them to fight terrorism, kidnapping and car theft. For this, motorists, tricycle and motorbike owners will pay money into the coffers of the Nigeria Police. However, there are no provisions in the law setting up the Police empowering them to collect fees on behalf of the Federal Government. In other words, what the police have set out to do amounts to illegality.

On 9 September, CSP Frank Mba, the Police Force spokesman, at a press briefing in Abuja said the decision informing the introduction of the BCMR comes against the backdrop of contemporary security challenges bordering on terrorism, high incidence of car theft, carjacking, kidnapping and other acts of crimes and criminality in our society.

He added that in the police Commands and other designated formations, registrants would purchase a scratch card which would give pins to be used for registration. Vehicle owners are expected to pay N3,500, while tricycles popularly called ‘Keke Marwa’ or ‘Keke NAPEP’ and auto-bikes go for N1,500 Owners are to pay either through designated banks, on-line or at some police commands.

The police went ahead to deodorise the advantages that the process has. According to Mba, BCMR will operate 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. With this forensic analysis, the police claimed that it is designed to match 20 million fingerprints per second which speed depends on the size of registered prints, adding that the system can match 500,000 pictures per minute if you have a registered database of 150 million; the likely match time for facial recognition is about five hours.

We believe strongly that rather than go for a new data, the police can synergise with other agencies of government that have conducted biometrics for Nigerians. For example there is the new Unified Drivers’ Licencing Scheme, UDLS, a tripartite arrangement among the Motor Vehicle Administration Agency, MVAA, the Vehicle Inspection Service, VIS and the Federal Road Safety Corps, FRSC. While MVAA processes information of the applicants, the VIS conducts proficiency tests on them after which they are referred to the FRSC for physical photo capture and bio-metrics. It is after this that the driver’s licence, which is printed by the FRSC, is issued by the MVAA at the various designated drivers’ licence centres.

If the police go ahead with this, we submit that it will be an extension of their unbridled rivalry with FRSC on the production of driver’s licence and vehicle number plate. FRSC had to refer to its Establishment Act 2007, Part 2, specifically, Part 3 (D) stating: “The Commission has the responsibility for designing and producing of driver’s licence to be used by all categories of vehicle operators in Nigeria” and that Part 3 (F) states that the Commission “has the responsibility to design and produce vehicle number plate.”

Moreover, there have been other avenues through which the Police can get their biometric data. Recently, the Nigerian National Identity Management Commission and MasterCard announced the introduction of 13 million MasterCard-branded National Identity Smart Cards, which include electronic payment capabilities, as well as unique National Identification Numbers based on biometrics. In January of this year, the National Population Commission announced it had started a comprehensive biometric capture exercise.

Biometric exercise conducted by mobile phone service providers is another pool of data that the police can use. In the next two years, the Central Bank of Nigeria will introduce biometric authentication for point-of-sale and ATM transactions.

How this matter came to be revived beats the imagination of right thinking Nigerians since it was put to rest by the Senate in July 2012 as an unnecessary duplication. The Senate had asked the police to suspend the exercise seven months after the BCMR system was launched in December 2011 and that the police should stop collecting the N3,500 fees charged for the service. The Senate had argued that the BCMR was the same as the vehicle owner’s biometric data scheme administered by the FRSC.

Everything must be done to stop the police from putting the Nigerian motoring public through another unnecessary, harrowing vehicle registration in the guise of fighting terrorism. This is an illegal act taken too far. The authority of the Senate should not be undermined under any guise. If the police are allowed to have their way, another government agency will come up tomorrow with another spurious reason to milk the motoring public, which is already paying through its nose for the new vehicle number plate and driver’s licence.