Inside MC Oluomo’s hazy plan to digitize danfo buses in Lagos with QR codes

Ejike Kanife
…this isn’t the first time that MC Oluomo’s association would be looking to brand itself as a technology-driven body.
Akinsanya (left) and Lagos State Parks and Garages Deputy Chairman Alhaji Sulyman B. Ojora displaying the bar code
Musliu Akinsanya (left) and Lagos State Parks and Garages Deputy Chairman Alhaji Sulyman B. Ojora displaying the QR code. Source: Vanguard Newspaper

Just close your eyes and imagine a technology-enabled danfo bus. Pretty difficult to imagine, right? Well, the truth is that it can be as simple as pasting a QR Code on each danfo and this is what the chairman of Lagos state parks and garages, Alhaji Musiliu Akinsanya whom you all know as MC Oluomo appears to have cracked.

Simply called the Bar Code, MC Oluomo claims that the technology solution would help reduce kidnapping and other crimes perpetrated by either danfo drivers or criminals carrying out their nefarious activities with public transportation in the state.

“Our goal is to leverage technology to detect some criminal elements using our parks and garages to perpetrate crimes. We want to make our parks and garages as safe as possible. We will make them hell for anyone with criminal intention”

– he said as reported by Vanguard.

While the giddiness of having tech-enabled danfo buses coasting the roads of Lagos in rickety splendour might be driving the current buzz (at least with MC Oluomo and his people), eventually the excitement would simmer down and the core issues surrounding this move would come into question.

Inside MC Oluomo’s hazy plan to digitize danfo buses in Lagos with QR codes
MC Oluomo flanked by some key officers during the launch of the new Lagos Parks and Garages uniform Credit: Eagle Online

Over the years, the crime rate has risen very sharply in the country. In Lagos, the blame was put mainly on the presence of motorbikes popularly called okadas. This led to the ban on commuter motorbikes in February 2020, a move that ultimately heralded the demise of bike-hailing companies like Gokada, Oride and Max in the state.

Following another wave of clampdowns across the state in early 2022, the Lagos state Commissioner for Transportation, Dr Frederic Oladeinde claimed in August, that the overall crime rate has dropped by a colossal 86% as a direct result of the okada ban.

Despite this claim, however, Lagosians don’t feel 86% safer than they did before the ban.

Indeed, according to Numbeo, the largest database of user-contributed data about cities and countries worldwide on living conditions, crime rate and other indices, 63% of sources say that crime in the state has increased in the last 3 years. 

As a matter of fact, 74% of Lagosians say they are very worried about being assaulted and robbed, a category of crime which the typical one-chance scheme perpetrated with commuter buses falls under. The only crime category which recorded a higher percentage of worry for Lagosians is the worry of being forced to pay a bribe/corruption (88%).

In March, news broke of how a 22-year-old Ogun-state-based woman, Bamise Ayanwole, was assaulted in a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) vehicle before being abducted and murdered. The story was shocking because while it was common to hear of passengers being attacked in regular danfo buses, it was unheard of about BRT vehicles until then.

While the driver of the bus had been accosted, Bamise’s killers are yet to be identified until today.

So, how would MC Oluomo’s QR code have made a difference in such a situation?

MC Oluomo’s QR Code: What we discovered

While launching the barcode, the secretary of the Lagos State Parks and Garages, Comrade Olayiwola Lemboye explained how it works.

Apparently, every bus registered to the association would be assigned a unique QR code which would be pasted on the body of the bus as a sticker. Commuters would be required to download a yet-to-be-named app with which they could scan the QR code before boarding.

Interestingly, the information that will be revealed in the scan does not include details like the name of the bus driver, the conductor, or its real owner seeing as many drivers do not own the vehicles they drive, etc.

Rather, as reported by Vanguard, what will be revealed include the vehicle number plate and the secretary of the park/garage where the vehicle took off from.

This, therefore, begs the question; if the name of the driver or bus owner wouldn’t be declared in the barcode, what then is its purpose? If the driver had committed a crime but no one could identify him except his garage secretary, what stops the association from deciding to protect its members from the full weight of the law as against protecting the passenger who had been so wrong?

Dotmatech or CallnPay? Confusing details about the technology partners

I tried to reach out to the technical partners, Dotmatech Technologies with the queries I have regarding the development. The first thing I discovered when searching for this organisation was a red notice on its Google business page stating that the company is ‘temporarily closed‘.

Inside MC Oluomo’s hazy plan to digitize danfo buses in Lagos with QR codes
Screenshot of Dotmatech technologies on Google reviews indicating that the company is temporarily closed. Note the address and phone number provided

While the “temporarily closed” feature was introduced by Google during the Covid-19 lockdown of 2020 to help identify businesses that weren’t active, it is strange that such an active business hasn’t taken its time to update its Google status.

Google explains that it relies on authorities to inform them of closures in their area. Google also uses data from many sources including national, regional, provincial, and local administrations, non-profit organisations, educational institutions and businesses.

Dotmatech also doesn’t have a presence on LinkedIn, nor does it seem to have a website or an email to forward my queries to. The company’s General Manager, Olusakin Isaiah Arowolo has a presence on LinkedIn, however, there hasn’t been any activity on his profile. His company, Dotmatech, doesn’t have any digital footprint on LinkedIn.

There was, however, a phone number attached to the company’s Google profile so I called but there wasn’t an answer. I decided to send a WhatsApp message only to discover that the phone number was registered to another company called Call and Pay Network Limited.

This company describes itself as a payment and virtual card company. Furthermore, while this one is located in Immam Dauda Street, Iganmu, Dotmatech has its address in Ikorodu Road, Anthony.

Inside MC Oluomo’s hazy plan to digitize danfo buses in Lagos with QR codes
Screenshot of CallnPay, a fintech company sharing the same phone number as Dotmatech

I sent my query despite these discrepancies, but I’m yet to get any useful response as of the time of publishing this post.

The only feedback I got was: Thank you for contacting Callnpay Networks. We’re unavailable right now but will respond as soon as possible. Visit our site (sic) for more information

Nigeria’s poor smartphone adoption and issues surrounding safety and security

As MC Oluomo looks to digitize danfo buses with the use of QR codes to help curb crime in Lagos, one important question that requires answers is the efficacy of the project given the very low smartphone adoption rate in the country.

As of 2021, Nigeria’s smartphone adoption stands at about 20% with only about 40 million of its more than 200 million population using smartphones. Admittedly the penetration for Lagos would be much higher.

But even at double the national penetration rate (40%), MC Oluomo’s project still runs the risk of excluding the majority of the people. 

Apart from smartphone penetration, there’s also a problem with security. According to the secretary of the Lagos Parks and Garages, passengers will be required to download “an app” to be able to scan the QR codes.

It is yet unclear which app this refers to, hopefully, it refers to a simple QR scanning app, and not any app to be introduced by the Parks and Garages. If it is then it poses questions about the handling of user information.

But the QR code itself presents a unique opportunity for scammers to have a field day. Just as it is easy to click a malicious link, it is also easy to scan a malicious QR code and find yourself caught in a scammer’s trap.

A very resourceful scammer (and there are many of them about) could easily social-engineer the codes and lead unsuspecting scanners to their malicious space.

Furthermore, scammers could replace legit barcode stickers with theirs in a bid to trick users into their trap. Is there really any guarantee that this wouldn’t end up being the case?

These are some of the queries posed to the technical partners and I’m yet to get any useful feedback. 

Not the first time

It will be important to note that this isn’t the first time that MC Oluomo’s association would be looking to brand itself as a technology-driven body. As far back as June 2019, the association, then under the cloak of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) launched the digital Passenger Manifest Scheme (PAMS).

Launched in collaboration with Universal Insurance and a healthcare partner, Silvernest Healthcare, the PAMS project is expected to guarantee the safety and healthcare of drivers and passengers of Inter-state bus services in case of an accident.

Inside MC Oluomo’s hazy plan to digitize danfo buses in Lagos with QR codes
Screenshot of the digital Passenger Manifest launched in 2019

Internet-enabled mobile manifest-capturing devices were said to be distributed to NURTW motor parks across the country (excluding the southeast and south-south regions). This new manifest has the PAMS Serial Number and before starting a journey, drivers are expected to send this along with their vehicle number plates to a dedicated USSD Code for activation.

While it appears such a laudable scheme when launched, the reality on the ground was that it was non-existent. As of December 2019, when this reporter took a trip around interstate parks and garages around Lagos to enquire about the application and enforcement of the schemes, it sounded to the park operators and drivers like I was asking them about something totally foreign.

You can read my full report on the digital passenger manifest here.

It remains to be seen if this new barcode scheme wouldn’t go the way of the digital manifest scheme before it. The coming days will tell as eyes will be on the lookout for one of the 20,000 buses reportedly already carrying the QR stickers as well as the opinions of people who have the patience to try them out.

Lagos popular Yellow buses (Danfo)

In conclusion…

MC Oluomo’s barcode doesn’t seem like such a bad idea except that it does not control what happens beyond the garages and parks his organisation was named after. As such, the QR codes would only be implementable to the extent that it was made compulsory in the parks and garages and for buses looking to load fully before departure. 

Since the aim of the barcode is to check kidnapping and other crimes perpetrated with buses, it is important to note that most one-chance or other crimes involving buses do not happen in buses that are loaded fully in garages or bus parks.

Most crimes of this nature happen when buses pick up passengers at bus stops. And it’s difficult to imagine someone who wants to board a bus at the bus stop pausing to capture a bar code.

Furthermore, most crimes perpetrated by bus operators occur in the dark; usually in the mornings before daybreak or at night after it is dark. A case in point is the shocking story of Miss Bamise already captured above. These are usually during the rush hours and only the most patient people would pause to scan QR codes before boarding a danfo in Lagos.

To the extent that it can be implemented and sustained in parks and garages, the idea might not be a bad one. However, issues surrounding the identity of the technical partner, the security of the user against scammers, and why the identities of bus drivers and owners appear to be protected in the scheme draw some serious concerns to it. 

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