Mr Udom Emmanuel, Governor, Akwa Ibom State.

By Benjamin Jimmy and Abasifreke Effiong

Akwa Ibom state government now has a database and the bio-data of every tricycle and minibus operator providing commercial transport services to the public in the state. They operators can be tracked with ease using a unique four digits Alpha-Numeric Biometric Number assigned to the vehicles by the Ministry of Transport and Solid Minerals. The number printed on a reflective sticker, comes with a scan code. The sticker is pasted on the windshield of all commercial vehicles (minibuses and tricycles) operating in the state. The scan code has a back-end payment platform which gives passengers the option of paying their fare online by scanning the sticker. Next time you board a tricycle or minibus in Uyo, check the top right corner of the windshield and memorize the four digits number, it will help you track your ‘keke’ rider or bus driver in case there is need to do so.

This beautiful innovation was silently introduced 14 months by the state government to bring commercial transport business in the state capital up to speed with modern, digital trends, with a focus to improve safety and security of both the operators and commuters who use these means of transportation. The Alpha-Numeric Biometric Numbering (AnBN) has redefined intra-city commercial transport operations. The AnBN is a-4 digit combination of alphabets and numbers assigned to each commercial vehicle. The digits are embossed on a sticker and pasted strategically on the windshield of the vehicle for easy sighting by passengers. It is a mandatory operational permit in the state. On each sticker is a scan code; embedded in it is the bio-data of the driver or rider. With this numbering, anyone who is given access to the state’s commercial vehicles and operators’ portal can track any vehicle, driver, or both.

Beyond tracking, the alpha-numeric number can serve as a payment platform. However, this service option is not effectively utilized yet.

READ ALSO: How Akwa Ibom State Government is easing access to secondary healthcare

This tech-driven, intra-city commercial transport management system is one of the phenomenal efforts at digitising public transport services by the Udom Emmanuel-led administration; and its aim is to upscale organisation, coordination, management, security and safety of providers and users of intra-state commercial transport services in the state in-line with global best practices. Akwa Ibom State, according to available information, is one of the leading states in Nigeria that has digitized its intra-state transportation sub-sector. With the construction of more roads in the State capital, including the second and third ring roads, linking the highways to residential areas, some tricycle riders are leaving the highway to ply specific routes and streets of their choice. This has made the highways free and freer from the moderately long hold-ups particularly at Oron road-Udo Udoma traffic light-Osongama intersection; and IBB-Aka road-Nsikak Eduok roundabout, during early morning and late afternoon rush hours.

The Alpha -Numeric Biometric Numbering has also reduced the hackneyed tales of tricycle snatching by hooligans and criminals who often masqueraded as passengers of innocence. There were reported cases of criminal-minded Keke riders who used to dispossess their passengers of the belongings, and would push them out of their moving vehicles thereafter. Such sad experiences threw up security concerns, agitated many commuters who started shunning this means of transportation. The business is now more organised and regulated. The operators have a self-awareness that the government and the public are watching them, and that they can easily be tracked by a click on the phone buttons. This awareness has made the operators more organised, coordinated and their services safer. The Alpha-Numeric Biometric numbering has drastically reduced the hitherto rampant reports of theft and conversion of passengers items lost or forgotten in transit to use by commercial transport service operators.

Beyond checkmating vices, this innovation has created a means of employment for youths. Many youths have been engaged in the bio-data registration of vehicles. This has helped them eke a living for themselves and families. During a visit to a facility of the State Ministry of Transport and Solid Minerals on Ikot Ekpene road, Uyo, young boys and girls were busy scouting for and wooing drivers seeking to do the biometric capturing for their vehicles to their registration booths. This process has created indirect jobs.

The state government’s consultant in-charge of the biometric registration system, Mr. Nkereuwem Eniang, who spoke through one of his staff, Mr. Sylvester Asuquo, said the programme was introduced by the Akwa Ibom State Government in February, 2022, to solve problems that often impeded the smooth operations of the tricycle and minibus operators in the state. “The Akwa Ibom State Government, through the Ministry of Transport, contracted us in February last year to provide solutions to the problems that were confronting the sector, particularly the ‘keke’ and minibus operations.

“I can tell you that since we introduced this Alpha-Numeric Biometric Numbering – meaning a combination of alphabets and numbers for the purpose of enabling passengers to memorize when they enter these vehicles, we have solved so many problems. For example, the problem of snatching ‘keke’ from their owners has stopped. This is because now, if you snatch, we will simply track that keke and arrest you. Even the problem of passengers forgetting their bags or other items in a keke has been solved. With the biometric number of the keke, it is simple to identify the keke and the owner.

“Another thing I want to tell you is that we now have a digital database of all the keke and minibuses operating in the state. This registration is compulsory and it costs N4500.

“My advice to passengers is that they should make sure that once they enter a keke or minibus, they should memorize the four digits first. If a keke or minibus does not have it pasted on the windscreen, they shouldn’t enter. They should take advantage of this number and save themselves from trouble. That’s the essence of the system”.

Given the importance of the Alpha-Numeric Biometric Numbering to all the stakeholders in the intra-state transportation sub-sector, public transport operators have already embraced the system. A tricycle rider who simply gave his name as Mr. Ndianabasi said he registered and obtained his number last year. He affirmed that since the Akwa Ibom State Government introduced the tracking system, cases of stealing or snatching of tricycles have disappeared, because the hoodlums are now aware that they can be tracked and arrested almost immediately.

“Since the Akwa Ibom State Government introduced the biometric number to us, I have not heard of those stories that we used to hear everyday that criminals have snatched someone’s keke. They know that there is no way the will sell or use the keke without being tracked by the office.

“I want to thank Governor Udom Emmanuel for the tracking system which now gives our passengers confidence when they see our number on our windscreen, they know that we are not fraudster or criminals. We are genuine because we are registered and the government has our details”.

From interactions with tricycle and minibus operators in Uyo metropolis, the realization that they can, through their biometric digits, be reported to the security agencies or the Ministry of Transport for prosecution in for misdemeanors on the road, has instilled discipline, orderliness and a sense of caution in them, complementing the serene and peaceful atmosphere prevalent in the state.