Mr. Kalu Emetu is the head of public relations and enlightenment, Directorate of Road Traffic Services (DRTS) of the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA), also known as the Vehicle Inspection Officers (VIO). In this interview with PAUL OKAH, he speaks on the Park and Pay Policy in the FCT, the reasons for the past failure and the re-introduction of the policy.
What should Nigerians know about the park and pay policy?
The park and pay policy is an issue being handled by the Transport Secretariat of the FCTA. Of course, our Directorate is part of the Secretariat. Though we have a Public Relations Officer, my colleague at the Secretariat level, Mr. Ifeanyi Uwammadu, since the Directorate can’t be excluded from what is being talked about, that’s the park and pay policy, there’s still the need for me to add my voice based on what I know and the way it’s being discussed.
The reason the park and pay policy seems to have had problems in the past was basically the attitude of the operators; that is the consultants that were engaged. It was through Public Private Partnership (PPP) that the programme was anchored on and the public were complaining on the ground that the operators would not be there when you park your vehicle. However, once they came, they will only clamp the vehicle. Sometimes, they would charge more than what they were supposed to pay.
Of course, it was really explained. In fact, they were meant at a time to put up the cost of each hour in different locations. Despite all these things, the complaints were still coming up until somebody went to court a little above seven years now and the court passed the judgement banning the policy. The judgement wasn’t that the FCT Administration shouldn’t go into or shouldn’t handle the policy. Rather, the court frowned at the attitude of the implementers; that’s the consultants that were handling it.
Therefore, the FCTA had to cool down for all these number of years; to re-plan and have everything perfected. The judgement had it that the consultants didn’t have the power to do certain things they were doing, which included clamping of vehicles.
However, this time around, all the complaints and lapses have been taken care of by the new regulations that have been put in place. Those areas of enforcement will now be handled by the Directorate of Road Traffic Services.
What specific roles will the consultant and the DRTS play this time?
What these people will only concentrate on is collecting the fees people are supposed to pay when they park. If there’s any need for the vehicle to be clamped, the Directorate will be called. If there’s any need for the vehicle to be towed, the Directorate will be contacted.
The FCTA, being in a government that understands human feelings and cares for the residents, are looking at it in such a way that human angle will be adequately taken care of. It wouldn’t be a question of force. What we are doing now is enlightenment, making sure that the public understands what it is all about. The advantages of the park and pay policy are so enormous.
One, it brings sanity to the city. Unlike when you see people parking any place they like, on the verge, on the green area or on the walk way. The policy will take care of that.
When there’s no need for you to drive your car to the city, you imbibe the culture of those living together. You can arrange, come with one vehicle as far as you are going to the same area. In the evening, you go back with the vehicle, thereby reducing the number of vehicles that will be used inside the city center. When you don’t have a place you will park, you join your neighbour or your friend and come to work.
But what you see is that people will park on the road and either go either to the office or go to their business from morning till evening. Some will even park it in such a way that pedestrians will not see where to pass; that’s parking on top of the walk way and at the same time, on the verge, beneath it are lines, utility lines. People park on top of it all these things are not supposed to be done.
When people understand all these things, they will know that the government is not out to punish them, but to protect some of the infrastructure that have been provided.
When you complain that you don’t have water and it happens that based on the way somebody has been parking his vehicle the pipe was broken, many will not realise that or even the person who parked the vehicle will not realise that he was the cause. It is the government that will be blamed.
When lines, electricity lines, are disrupted somewhere people may not understand. You know, in some places in Abuja, electricity lines are buried underground. People may not understand who caused it, but the government will be blamed.
If every FCT resident understands all these things, we will know that what the government is planning is in the interest of the general public. Of course, when you talk about general public, it is you and I. We reap whatever benefit that comes from it. We suffer together if there’s anything that comes to it.
All these things are to tell you that the government is truly planning for the good of all of us. So, when we realise all these things, if you are coming to the town and you don’t have where you are supposed to park your vehicle, you leave it at home.
What else should people know about the policy?
Of course, efforts are being made to provide an alternative transportation system like the rail line, high-capacity buses. When there are in place, it will reduce the idea of every individual or one family coming out with three or four cars at a time.
The traffic build up, the loss of man hour, all these things will be taken care of when all these arrangements are put in place and people understand them. Even the charge is also being looked at. It is not going to be the type that the people will suffer when they are paying, but at least you will pay a little money. The time you are going to spend where you are, you will now look at it. If you are going to spend one hour or you are sure you are going to spend one hour, you pay for one hour. You can pay for two hours if you are not sure you will spend below one hour.
The problem normally comes when people pay for one hour, then they will stay for three hours. That is when those people, as it was practised in the past, will clamp their tyres. But this time around, it is the law enforcement officers that will clamp the tyres. If it gets to where they will tow it, they will tow it, not the people who don’t have that power to do it. So, that is to tell you that the government has looked at it to know where they faulted at that time.
What they are going to do now is that they are going to bring human feelings to all of it. At the moment, the stipulated amount has not been fixed. It is what is waiting for approval.
All of us in the transport sector of FCTA, like we told ourselves, are public relations officers now. What it means is talk to your friends, talk to your neighbours, and talk to anybody that you know what government is doing. The plan of government is not to inflict hardship on the people rather to make our city in such a way that when you come in, you will know it is an organised environment. When you are going out, you dream and plan to come back to the FCT. When you are inside the FCT, you don’t suffer rather you enjoy it the way a normal human being is supposed to enjoy an organised environment.
Have the sanctions for defaulters been stipulated?
At the moment, the sanctions haven’t been stipulated. When it takes off on May 1, those who fail to abide by the regulations will be sanctioned. Just like we said, vehicles will be clamped. Vehicles will be towed to different destinations and when such happens, you will be expected to pay a certain amount of money to take it back. That will be the sanction. Before May 1, the designated areas will be specified.
Remember, it is not all the roads that the policy will be effective. There are roads that are to be used. Such roads are wide enough. The last lane on the right is normally designated for park and pay. Other three or four lanes will still serve for moving vehicles. So, before the time, the amount each person will pay will be installed at strategic places so that even before you park, you will see it, know the number of hours you yourself is going to spend and know what to pay.
You know, even a ministerial pronouncement is a law, but in this case, there’s a regulation that has been amended to cover all the areas the court mentioned. Like I mentioned, the consultants were the ones who were clamping people’s vehicles.
As an individual, such an organisation didn’t have the pre-requisite power to clamp people’s vehicles. As it is, the Directorate of Road Traffic Services has the power to do that. So, it’s being arranged in such a way that what you are known to do, you do it. What another person is known to do, he will do it. It wouldn’t be a question of when you go to court; somebody will say you were not supposed to have done what you did.
Lastly, what advice would you give to motorists?
My advice is for Nigerians to understand that the park and pay policy plan is in line with the dreams of the founding fathers of the FCT. Not only being the dream of the founding fathers, all of us should make Abuja what we want it to be; a city we will be proud of.
As a motorist, when you block the road, it doesn’t affect you as a person, it affects every road user. It is called public road. When you cause traffic congestion on that road, think of the man hour that has been lost; think of how it affects the economy. You will know that it has a lot of effect. The effect is such that the nation itself will suffer, because of an action taken by one man. So, when you hear the government saying let the right thing be done, we should all support the government. We should understand that the amount you are asked to pay is not the amount that will kill you. Such an amount is not supposed to begin to maltreat or fight anybody, but think of the advantages that you will get from such an arrangement.
When you have a city that is well organised, you will say yes, I am a Nigerian, I’m happy to be a Nigerian. There’s nothing like it. You will be proud to say that Nigeria, your country, has a capital like this than when only you will go home and say you parked your car at the verge and you drove out. You are the only one who is praising yourself. But when people commend your action by parking properly where you are supposed to park you will be happy. Not in somebody’s plot because the person you are parking in his plot also has the right to take the government to court because that plot you are parking on has been designated for another thing.
Perhaps, the person will want to begin the development at that time. If you park your vehicle there, definitely, the person will not be happy. It is the government that will be blamed. We call Abuja city of law. Being a city of law is that it is guided by law. Any single plot of land you see is designated for one thing or the other. When you fail or start doing another thing on that plot, it affects somebody somewhere and that person in reaction may decide to fight the government because of your action. So, these are the things we look at.