Return of park n pay: FCTA’s prescription of pain, corruption

The return of the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA’s) park and pay policy in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) is seen by informed residents and others as legalising corrupt tendencies and pain visited on them by the officials of the Administration. PAUL OKAH takes a look at this once-condemned policy.

The park and pay system introduced in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) has been a controversial issue. In 2012, the policy mandated motorists to pay amounts ranging from N50 to N650 to the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) coffers when they park their cars beside or on the roads in the city centre. However, in the event that cars are clamped for ‘violation,’ the guilty motorist is forced to pay between N5, 000 and N10, 000.

Charges/fines

An old notice sighted by Blueprint Weekend somewhere in Maitama on June 10, this year, has the following information for motorists: Zone B parking charges: Up to 30 minutes – N50; up to 1 hour – N100; 2 hours -N150; 3 hours – N200; 4 hours – N250; 5 hours – N300; 6 hours – N350; 7 hours – N400; 8 hours – N450; 9 hours – N500; 10 hours – N550; 11 hours – N600; 12 hours – N650

Penalties

Exceeding actual time paid for attracts a fine of N5, 000; removal of clamps on parking bay – N5,000; release of vehicle from pound yard – N10,000; demurrage (per night) – N1,000.

However, this policy became a controversial issue about five years ago before a court judgement stopped the FCTA from further collecting fees from residents for on and off the street parking within the metropolis.

How it all started

In an interview with Premium Times, the managing director, Platinum Parking Management (PPMS), Segun Olanrewaju, said he proposed the idea of parking control management in Abuja Metropolis to then FCT Minister in 2003. He said his idea was to help generate revenue, maintain sensible parking and create at least 12, 000 jobs.

Olanrewaju said in 2010, he signed a five-year binding contract with the city’s authorities for the installation, operation and maintenance of on-street parking. The service took off in May, 2012, with two companies, Platinum Parking Management (PPMS) and Integrated Parking Service (IPS). They were to remit ten per cent of the generated revenue and pay the sum of N5 million annually, which he said both companies accepted and kept paying until it was suspended in 2014.

“I spent four hundred million naira in order to actualise the safe and sensible parking in FCT,” he said.

However, shortly after the project took off, the city’s authorities, in 2012, registered two more companies – Automaten Technik Haumann Nigeria and Safe Parking Limited – and assigned each of them to different areas of Abuja, where the companies would enforce parking laws and punish errant drivers.

Suspension

Unfortunately, the four companies hired by FCTA to collect parking fees from motorists around the city centre allegedly engaged in high-handedness and abused car owners shortly before they were suspended.

Motorists in Abuja had complained of extortion and fraud by the officials of these companies, who clamped vehicle tyres several times on dubious reasons, forcing motorists to part with thousands of naira in fines.

Therefore, in 2014, following a suit brought by a private savings and loan firm in the Nigerian capital, Sun Trust Savings and Loans Ltd, barely two years of their operations, Justice Peter Affen of the FCT High Court suspended the park and pay policy in the city centre, declaring the policy as illegal.

Service providers disagree

However, in May, 2015, following rumours of proposed re-introduction of the policy, two providers of the park and pay policy, PPM and IPS, dragged the FCTA to court “for exclusion, ahead of its planned comeback.”

The companies sought an order of an Abuja High Court to halt the scheme, “because the city authorities allegedly ignored a contract which would have seen them collect parking tolls on behalf of the city for five years, to search for new toll collectors in the planned comeback.”

The aggrieved companies accused the then Minister of the FCT, Bala Mohammed, FCDA and the then FCT transportation secretary, Jonathan Ivoke, of “unjustly knocking them off the job to make room for new companies.”

The Abuja authorities were to appear before the High Court of the FCT judiciary division on May 21, as the aggrieved toll collectors demanded a N1 billion pay-off “as damages for putting them off business and jeopardising their investments.”

Also, the Managing Director of IPS, Iliyasu Adu, said that, barely two years in the contract, the FCT Transport Secretary, Ivoke, accused both companies of making excess money from the process.

“I and Olanrewaju received a memo, saying that the contract has been reviewed and the money has been increased from 10 per cent to 40 per cent,” he said.

While Olanrewaju opposed that review and refused to pay the 40per cent demanded by the transport secretary, his counterpart at IPS agreed to pay the increase.

The aggrieved contractors claimed that the termination of the service by the court, one-year before the contract was planned to expire, hurt their business and asked to, at least, complete their contract.

Null and void

Interestingly, the FCT transport secretary, Jonathan Ivoke, argued that contract with the aggrieved toll collectors was invalidated by the court’s declaration that the entire scheme was illegal.

“Once the court declared the policy as illegal, it simply means that every transaction, deeds done while the policy existed, is also illegal,” he said.

FCTA hints at re-introduction

On Friday, January 4, this year, while speaking with newsmen in Abuja, the FCT Transport Secretary, Mr. Kayode Opeifa, said arrangements are being put in place to re-introduce ‘park and pay’ on some major streets of the territory “to restore sanity on major roads in the FCT.”

He stated that the enabling laws were being fine-tuned by the administration to make way for the return of the policy, adding that the intention of the policy was to generate revenue, even as he said the administration would ensure the roads were not used for parking.

He further said as soon as the street parking policy takes off, there would be no pedestrian enforcement and that the secretariat would, as much as possible, use technology to ensure the people park and pay freely.

“For example, if you go to Aminu Kano Crescent and see what is happening there, it is quite unfortunate because of the way people park their vehicles indiscriminately. If you don’t want to park, you can move into the inner city as our focus now is solely on revenue. It is going to strictly based on traffic management, safety and security of pedestrians,” he said.

NASS on bill

Also, on Thursday, May 23, this year, the Senate concurred with the House of Representatives to pass a bill seeking to establish the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) traffic management service. The adoption followed the presentation of the bill entitled, “Directorate of Road Traffic Administration Service Bill, 2019” by former Leader of the 8th Senate, Ahmad Lawan.

The proposed agency, if the bill is signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari, will, among others, review the parking fees and enforce the parking laws in the FCT. It would also regulate and enforce the use of bus stops and bus terminals, accredit driving schools while enforcing ban on the use of motorcycles as a means of public transport in the FCT among others.

The new bill, which was already passed by the House of Representatives, empowers the FCTA, in collaboration with the FCT Internal Revenue Service, to embark on the overall enforcement of parking rules. The bill also saddles the proposed agency with the responsibilities of producing and administering vehicle and drivers’ licences in collaboration with relevant federal agencies.

Proposed functions 

The specific functions of the FCT traffic management service, as contained in the bill, are: regulating road traffic management, motor vehicle administration within the FCT, regulate, register, revoke, license and renew motor vehicle documents and issuance of vehicle identification number plates in the FCT.

It will also conduct road-worthiness tests and issue road-worthiness certificates to all categories of vehicles; for the purposes of ridding the FCT of non-road worthy vehicles, even as the agency would also be responsible for the training and testing of drivers to ensure competence for issuance of driver’s licence in the FCT.

Clash with VIO/FRSC

Some of the duties above are already being carried out by the Vehicle Inspection Officers (VIO) and the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) in their mandates, thereby raising the question of whether or not it will lead to duplication of duties among agencies of government.

 Nigerians react

In separate interviews with Blueprint Weekend, motorists in the FCT kicked against the policy and its proposed return, citing past experience of extortion, high-handedness and human rights abuses on the part of the service providers.

Mr Charles Nduka, a civil servant, said the policy may be introduced on the condition that the authorities will charge less, as the situation of the economy will not allow civil servants to afford the exorbitant rates charged by the authorities in the past.

“That part of re-introducing the policy is sick and crazy. If you work around any area marked for tolls on parking, it will cost you N450 for a day. Add fuel and other expenses, what becomes of you salary? I really think it’s costly. In the past, people tried to avoid such areas now due to this cost. So, my advice to them would have been for motorist parking to pay a fixed rate of say N100.

“If you leave such parking area to another, then you should pay again. Otherwise, a ticket in a zone should be okay for a day. Guess what, if it is introduced, vehicle owners will be expected to pay them N450 for eight hours in an area. When you move to another area, where the collectors are not from the same company, you are forced to pay again within this your exhausted time. This is wrongfully done and makes it difficult for the motorist always,” he said.

For Aisha Mohammed, the policy is out to exploit Nigerians. She said despite its being an avenue to make money for the FCTA, it should not be re-introduced, as the last outing was not funny for motorists in Abuja.

She said, “Our lawmakers seem to have a knack for making life difficult for citizens. Instead of making laws that will uphold the general interest of citizens, they seek to promulgate policies that will add burden to the commoners, while they feed fat on our sweat. The money made from the venture years ago went into private pockets, yet they were not satisfied.

“Now, they want to return with the same policy that caused everyday quarrels between motorists and the authorities. Do you know how many people that went to court or police station for fighting over this policy? In Nigeria, once a tout feels empowered by the law, he will become a law unto himself. The policy should not be re-introduced, because of the experiences of the past.”

 For Peter Adebayo, the return of the policy may be positive or negative, but he expects the authorities to take a critical look at situations before mulling the reintroduction of the policy.

“For those of us who live in Abuja, we noticed a new trend years ago: park and pay or get your vehicle clamped. Many didn’t know about the policy until they fell victim to the authorities and overzealous touts acting as task force. The policy, in its prime many years ago, had a lot of negatives and controversies trailing it. It was just another way for the FCDA to generate funds, many of us were told.

“However, many of us were glad when the policy was banned and declared illegal by an FCT court. Unfortunately, it is now being rumoured in some quarters that the policy may be re-introduced. Whether this proposed return in the park and pay policy will lead to increased order in the streets is yet to be seen. It becomes worrisome when motorists have their vehicles clamped for overstaying their allotted parking time,” he said.

For Charles Benjamin, Nigeria has not developed to a stage to copy western policies. He said the return of the policy will only lead to the same troubles witnessed years ago, as “overzealous touts will use the opportunity to exploit motorists and prepare for trouble.”

He said: “I see this as another way of extorting the people. Initially, when those parking lines were drawn years ago, people were parking their vehicles in them and the officials confronted those who didn’t park properly. The orderliness was already obvious, because it grew to the stage of paying per every 30 minutes, which was unfair to vehicle owners. It brought so much controversy because we are not ripe for this sort of thing.

“In fact, the idea of park and pay should be jettisoned, because it is not a Nigerian thing. Why must we always copy what the western world does, when we are not ready? Over there, they have other comfortable means of transportation like trains, but we are stuck with buses and cars. People would rather buy their own cars over there, because cabs are expensive to hire. Still, in Nigeria, where things are cheap, we can’t even enjoy using our personal cars because of overzealous touts.”

Arguments galore

Also, in an article to Blueprint Weekend on June 24, 2014, titled “Revisiting Park & Pay scheme in Abuja,” a resident, Rogers Edor Ochela, said the proposed return of the policy “will restore beauty and sanity in the FCT, as the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages.”

He said, “When it was first introduced in 2012, it was trailed by hues and cries by a segment of the Abuja society, which described the policy as punitive and irksome, while a high preponderance of residents applauded it as highly necessary, at least for ensuring orderliness, sanity, beauty and reduction in auto crashes on the roads in the nation’s capital.

“The laudable scheme, a brain-child of the Federal Capital Territory Administration under Senator Bala Abdulkadir Mohammed’s ministerial superintendence, was inaugurated to ensure effective traffic management and control in FCT.

“But before this wonderful scheme was axed by Justice Peter Affen of Abuja High Court, on the grounds that it was not backed by law, it assisted significantly in creating employment opportunities to Nigeria’s teaming unemployed youths; reduced indiscriminate parking of vehicles in the city centre; reduced traffic congestion on roads as well as helped to achieve adequate security of vehicles, viz-a-viz reduction in car theft.”

Continuing, he said, “The learned judge, who ruled on a suit brought before him by a private firm, Sun Trust Savings and Loans Ltd, had appropriately affirmed that the scheme introduced by the affable FCT Minister, Bala Mohammed, was an excellent one that was geared towards sanitising the nation’s capital city.

“It is worthy of note that before the judgement outlawing the scheme, the FCTA had begun its comprehensive repackaging and a report produced containing some guidelines that will enhance the operations of the scheme when it begins again.”

“Another fundamental advantage of the scheme is the in the area of helping to preserve critical infrastructure such as pedestrian walkways, electric poles etcetera, as well as sewage/drainage covers. It is also noteworthy that some of the operators and their employees did not implement the scheme the way it was supposed to be. Many of them turned it into an avenue for extortion of innocent motorists. Some of the penalties appeared draconian. For instance, the fine usually imposed on offenders, which ranged from N5, 000 to as high as N15,000, was considered high.

“Also, it is expected that the FCTA would use this opportunity to ensure that only operators with necessary technical and manpower capability are licensed to operate the scheme. That will ensure that there is efficiency in operation and also guarantee the welfare of employees. As it were under the previous system, some of the workers were paid peanuts, far below the national minimum wage.

“Therefore, it is expected that, apart from the legal issues, the reform should also cover minimum wage ceiling, which must not be less than the national minimum wage. Truly, some of the operators were exploitative and the minister should not hesitate to discard any company that was found incompetent or exploitative of its workers.

“As residents of Abuja wait patiently for the re-introduction of this laudable policy, the point must be orchestrated that, like what is obtainable in other climes, operators should learn to be friendly; so that, instead of clamping vehicles, tickets should be attached to the windshield; regardless of the hours spent.”

Furthermore, he said, “Contrary opinion of critics notwithstanding, the scheme, during its first phase of operation ensured that motorists, for the first time parked their vehicles orderly in designated places. This enhanced the beauty of the city, guaranteed lives and property of residents, in addition to creating employment for over a thousand young people, including women and youths.

“Moreover, the companies involved had procured very sophisticated equipment for towing and handling of impounded vehicles. All these are some of the measures and mechanisms that are necessary in any city that realistically prides itself as a mega city. The truth is that in civilised cities of the world, park and pay systems are in operation, which have brought about sanity in those cities.

“So, as the FCTA gears up to re-launch this wonderful scheme, after giving it a legal teeth, thoughts should be spared for its redeeming features that have all the potentials of bringing the nation’s capital city at par with its counterparts in other parts of the world.”

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