MAIDUGURI, NIGERIA: One evening in July 2019, Musa Abdullahi boarded a tricycle from Damboa Road in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State, to the city’s post office area.
A few meters to his destination, the rider was joined by two other male collaborators who ordered Abdullahi to alight even when he had not reached his destination. Fearing that they could hurt, he obeyed.
Minutes after the tricycle had zoomed off, he noticed his phone was gone. He had it in his breast pocket while in the tricycle. He suspects they had taken it without him noticing. Because there was no way he could trace the tricycle, he could do nothing. He lost the phone!
A few days later, he bought a new phone and retrieved his sim card, then discovered that N30,000 had been deducted from his bank account. He suspects the phone snatchers had managed to access sensitive banking details they used to sanction a transfer from his account.
“I think those people who snatched my phone inside the tricycle did all these things to me. They went away with my phone and even removed the money from my bank account. That experience left me afraid of boarding a tricycle again,” he said.
Response to spiked crime rate
Since the Boko Haram insurgency that began in 2009 in the northeast region, Maiduguri has been plagued by a series of crimes committed using tricycles, including phone snatching and kidnapping.
Seeing all the happenings around him, 30-year-old Yusuf Hayatuddeen thought of how to help reduce crime in the city and, at the same time, help the government collect revenue.
In May 2018, Hayatuddeen, through a start-up technology company, Bexil Computers Solutions, developed SecureN, a software application that helps verify tricycles.
After developing the app, Hayatuddeen visited the Borno State Ministry of Transportation and presented the product to officers at the state vehicle inspection office and later to the Borno State Internal Revenue Service. Later when the governor learned about the application in 2020, he approved it for identifying tricycles and collecting taxes.
How the app works
To use the SecureN app, Bexil Computers designed a centralised database where operators/riders and owners of tricycles in the state are registered and vetted by the Borno State Tricycle Association.
Because operators sometimes differ from owners (they rent their tricycles to riders and get daily returns), each registered operator is given a secured identity card, and the owner receives a certificate of ownership.
A body number and QR code are placed on the body of the registered tricycle. Boarders scan the code to verify if a tricycle is registered with the government before they board.
“As long as you can grab the identity number of the tricycle on which you were robbed, kindly head to our office, and we can help you track it in due time. We designed the system to be a comprehensive solution for better security,” said Hayatuddeen.
The right time
Since the app went live, the government has successfully registered about 25,000 tricycles across the state. Each driver goes through the vetting process and gets their identity code.
“This intervention came at the right time,” Baba Goni, a passenger, told Prime Progress, “if you forget your properties inside the tricycle but have alreadycaptured its identification number and forward it to the Borno Tricycle Association, they can collaborate with the Bexil Computers Solutions to ensure you regain your lost property. If it was before, you just have to let it go; there’s nothing you can do about it.”
Each operator is charged N150+10 charges as tax daily. They could insert their debit cards into SecureN’s dedicated point-of-sale machines to make the payment. Those who might not have their debit cards could get a transaction code to pay using non-dedicated devices.
The money automatically goes into two accounts; N150 into the Borno State Board Internal Revenue account and N10 into the wallet account of the vendors collecting the tax on different Maiduguri roads.
From efforts to minimise crime committed in Maiduguri, the app has progressed into job creation, with over 1,000 benefiting as tax vendors.
The digital tax collection process generates between N600 and N700 million annually from the tricycle transportation sector for the state government, according to Hayatuddeen.
“It is a huge growth, having known that before the invention of the application, the sector generated zero revenue for the Borno State Government,” Hayatuddeen said.
Abubakar Tijjani, the state commissioner of transport, said at a stakeholder’s meeting in Maiduguri that the innovation has given the state data for planning and security mapping. Plus, it has helped to sanitise the process of acquiring and operating tricycles in the state.
He promised that the state would continue to work to “improve it by making the tricycle profession a dignified one.”
But it has not always been a smooth sail. At the beginning of the project, for example, its acceptance and deployment were deliberately delayed by top civil servants at the government’s tax office who felt such technological interventions could take away their jobs as tax collectors and vendors.
It took the revenue office two years to present the application to the governor for approval, with painful bureaucratic procedures in between.
Poor digital literacy in the region is another issue limiting the project, as most operators and users have limited knowledge of digital tools.
Despite these challenges, Hayatuddeen said he has plans to expand and create biometric data verification for travellers at commercial bus stations and develop a facial recognition tool for the drivers. He is currently studying to measure the idea’s potential for acceptance.
This story was produced with the support of Nigeria Health Watch through the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit organisation dedicated to rigorous and compelling reporting about responses to social problems.