By Kevwe Ebireri
The Federal Capital Territory Administration, FCTA, has for over a year been generating revenue by forcing an illegal and dubious electronic parking policy on residents of Abuja.
The administration registered four companies last year and authorized them to generate revenue through the enforcement of an electronic parking system which is not backed by any law.
One of the companies involved in the illegal revenue generation scheme, Automaten Technik Haumann Nigeria Limited, registration documents at the Corporate Affairs Commission show, is partly owned by Sanusi Lamido, governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria.
Other directors of the company are Yazib Mohammed, Suleima Onuche Adejoh, Abubakar Nuhu, David Momoh, Amina Akpakuru and Ayuba Tadamari.
The other companies include Safe Parking Limited and Integrated Parking Services limited. While Safe Parking is owned by Nebolisa Igboka and Igwe Isu, Integrated Parking’s directors are Iliyasu Abdu, Iliyasu Esther and Emmanuel Idoko.
None of the companies has any experience or track record in e ticketing or electronic parking. The registered nature of business for all are general merchants, trading or manufacturing.
Investigations by www.icirnigeria.org revealed that each of the companies generates between N750, 000 and a million naira daily from issuing parking tickets to motorists in the metropolis.
However, the issue of revenue made from this parking scheme is shrouded in so much secrecy that not much is known about details of how much is really generated.
Neither the companies nor the FCT ministry was ready to provide detailed information on how much revenue the electronic parking policy generates and how much really goes into the coffers of the government.
In an interview, the managing director of Safe Parking Limited, Nebolisa Igboka, only told our reporter that the company pays 40 per cent of the revenue it generates to the coffers of the FCTA. He declined giving any breakdown.
The other companies insisted that it is not in their place to tell the public how much they make or pay to government, while the FCT administration too is not willing to divulge any information on the matter.
What is certain, however, that no law has been passed by the National Assembly sanctioning the ticketing regime. When our reporter phoned the chairman of the Senate committee on the FCT, Smart Adeyemi, he said he did not know of any law setting up the e parking system but he would not speak further on the matter. He pleaded that he was busy with legislative assignments and asked to be called another time. But we were subsequently unable to reach him on by phone.
However, it was gathered that the system came about after some private sector businessmen approached the FCTA with a proposal to help it increase its internally generated revenue, IGR.
The proposal was that by structuring the parking of cars in Abuja and issuing tickets to parked cars, a lot of money could be generated. The proposal also indicated that knowing how lawless Nigerians could be, a great deal of money would be generated by clamping the cars of offenders and fining them.
Without any legal backing, the FCTA approved the proposal and went ahead to register four companies to execute the parking policy. Our findings show that huge sums were expended by the administration in demarcating parking areas and erecting toll information signs in several parts of the metropolis.
The companies have made virtually no investments but are taking 60 per cent of revenue generated. Investigations show that they are expected to have installed e -ticketing machines that would issue tickets as well as parking signs with instructions to motorists but none has so far done so.
The new parking policy has caused many a motorist anguish and heartache as operators of the scheme go about clamping people’s vehicles even without any enlightenment campaigns to educate the public.
What is worrisome is that, from observing the activities of the parking and ticketing marshals, it is obvious that there is more focus on clamping people’s vehicles and slamming them with N5,000 fine than issuing tickets to motorists for parking their cars for short periods of time.
The clamping of the tyres of residents who park their vehicles in the wrong place has generated squabbles and even physical fights between motorists who feel cheated and the electronic parking enforcement teams.
Jide Onabole, was a victim about two weeks ago. His Mercedes Benz car had been clamped by traffic management marshals. The young man, a medical doctor, explained that he had parked along the road in Wuse 2 area of Abuja and stepped into the bank briefly when he did not see any ticketing officer to issue him a ticket. He came out to discover that his car tyre had been clamped.
The visibly angry man wondered why he should be punished for not obtaining a ticket when there was no ticketing officer anywhere to be found when he parked his car and refused to pay the N5,000 imposed on him.
At about 7:00pm, after a prolonged and heated argument, the medical practitioner decided to seize tools belonging to the company which led to another round of argument.
The enforcement team on their part insisted that he had parked in a controlled area and insisted too that he must pay the mandatory N5,000 for breaking the law.
Such scenes of tyres being clamped by traffic management marshals are becoming a common site in Abuja. In some cases, arguments arising from the clamping of motorists’ cars have often degenerated into fisticuffs and violent exchanges.
In some cases, the parking enforcement officials have been beaten up by victims, particularly when they unknowingly clamp the tyres of vehicles of persons who turn out to be uniformed or security men.
But the FCTA insists that it will continue with the strict enforcement of regulated parking in designated parts of the Abuja metropolis to bring about some order in traffic and transport management in the capital city.
It is understandable to many residents that the government wants to bring some order into the chaos that is gradually taking over the nation’s capital. Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city is reputed as one of the fastest growing cities in the world, in spite of its transportation challenges among other deficiencies that make it fall short of the definition of a world class city.
With new structures spring out almost by the second and a population of 1.5million in 2006 which is believed to have tripled, Abuja is hardly able to provide the infrastructure and social services to support its ever bloating population.
The FCT is one of the few cities in Nigeria with a Masterplan but over the years, it has been so badly distorted and the government is only trying to restore it.
In the Masterplan, Abuja was designed to have the light rail and bus mass transit systems that would constitute the major land transportation modes, apparently to deal with the population that the city would attract.
Sadly however, this aspect of the plan was neglected until recently leading to an explosion of vehicular traffic growth with the attendant congestion on the roads dominated by private cars.
The present administration under Bala Muhammed as minister is battling to activate the city’s original transportation plan. In September, last year, Muhammed and Ngozi Okonjo – Iweala, minister of finance, in China signed a $500million loan to finance the Abuja light rail project. The loan is to be provided by the Chinese Exim Bank.
Two weeks ago, a team of 40 Canadian investors, led by the Canadian minister of international trade, Edward Fast, visited Nigeria to discuss opportunities for investment in the Abuja city, especially the rail project.
The FCT administration has also embarked on an ambitious bus mass transit, congestion management and legal framework for the regulation of the sector which it believes are necessary to reduce the social, economic and environmental impact of the transportation chaos in the capital city.
Last month, the administration announced restriction of route for commercial bus operators within the city central as part of intervention for congestion management. But many have criticized the policy observing that it has made the roads freer for the rich and affluent, while the average civil servant bears the brunt.
The FCTA said that the electronic parking system it has introduced is also part of strategies to manage traffic in the city and that it is meant to bring about international road use standard.
However, Nigerians have faulted many things about the new policy. Isiaka Yero, security personnel who lives in Abuja, blames the government for approving the building of houses and other structures in the FCT without consideration for parking space.
“As is usual government is making us pay for its defective policies and lack of foresight. Look at all the mighty buildings in Abuja, only very few have provision for parking space yet they were approved. So why turn round to punish us or extort money from us when we find space where we can to park,” Yero queried.
Some motorists allege that some of the ticketing officers deliberately disappear from their duty posts to lurk in corners, only to appear when the owner of a parked vehicle has left to clamp their car tyres and accuse them of breaking a law.
Sometimes too, parking officials go beyond their bounds and go as far as removing the plate numbers of their victims when they have run out of clamps.
Parking slots within designated territories in the city attract certain charges, the lowest being N50 for 30minutes. There is also a card sold at the price of N1,000, which a motorist can buy and use over a period until it is exhausted and some corporate organizations secure their parking space for year’s period, which is the maximum time before renewal.
However, when a car’s tyre is clamped, it attracts an instant fee of N5,000. If the owner is unable to redeem his vehicle before the 5:00pm closing time, the enforcement team of the company is called upon to tow the vehicle and that attracts an additional N10, 000.
After the car is towed to the company’s office, the owner would pay N1000 for every day the car remains parked in the compound.
Many of the critics of the policy also believe that all these are indications that it is just a revenue generating scheme for the FCT government. And, from observation, it appears that it pays operators far more to clamp tyres than to collect the stipulated parking fee and these road marshals earn a lot of commission from the business, depending on what they remit at the end of the month, so they employ whatever means to ensure that they meet their monthly targets.
From observation also, it is easily apparent that the FCT administration rushed into implementing the motor parking policy without embarking on adequate public enlightenment to sensitise motorists as to areas where they are no longer allowed to park.
That was the dilemma of a woman who parked her car on a narrow road in Area 2, Garki district in Abuja recently. Because of the narrow street, she decided to park her car on the pedestrian side walk, to avoid damage to her car and congestion to other motorists.
For her and many motorists who had parked like that for years, there was nothing wrong with parking on the sidewalk. After a few hours when she came back from the library where she had gone to read, she found out that her car had been clamped.
An enforcement team from Automaten Technik Baumann told her that she was wrong to have parked on the pedestrian walk way and she had to part with N5,000 as fee for the offence. They added that having stayed beyond 5.00 pm, they had called a towing vehicle and that she would have to pay an extra N10, 000 if her car was towed to their office.
The furious lady wondered how the team could go about clamping people’s cars when there had been no previous public enlightenment on the issue to warn motorists.
After arguing for a while without making any impact, she started pleading and had cough out N7, 000 – N5, 000 fine and N2, 000 for fueling the towing vehicle – both indicated on the receipt.
At the office of Automaten Technik Baumann Nigeria, the head of media and publicity, Andrew Steven Ojomini, defended the actions of the task team. He explained that motorists were not permitted to park on streets designated as controlled areas and that is why there are no ticketing marshals assigned there in the first place.
But the problem is that most motorists do not know this because there are no signs indicating that these are no parking zones. So many people still park in these areas only for members of the task force team assigned to such areas to clamp their vehicles.
Ojomini could not also state the laws guiding the operations of his company, neither could he show evidence that his company has sufficiently sensitised road users on the new road use policy, even though he claimed to have engaged the media in briefings and other relevant publicity programmes.
No matter how he tried to defend his company, the truth played out eventually. This company recruits just about anybody for the job and lacks one important attribute – organization.
The staff unreservedly discussed in unrefined English at the reception their displeasure in working for the company not minding who was listening; some even alleged that they had not been paid for months since joining the company, but Ojomini refuted this claim.
In an interview with Igboka, CEO of Safe Parking Limited, he said his company employs more than 100 persons but he could not say which law backs up its electronic parking operation.
““I cannot hold brief on behalf of the FCT, but i can also tell you that before we were concessioned, i am sure that the honourable minister and his team wouldn’t have done it in isolation. I’m aware that there is a law, a regulation that was put in place by the Malam el-Rufai’ administration, in 2005,’ he said, however, failing to mention the law.
The public relation officer of the FCT administration transport department, Stella Ojeme, condemned the attitude of those road marshals who seize plate numbers of motorists as a way of compelling them to pay the camp fee, saying the policy was put in place to ensure sanity and ease congestion in the sector, not to harass motorists
“It is wrong to remove the plate numbers of vehicles. Some people complain that their plate numbers were removed, it is wrong…parking on pedestrian walk way is also wrong and attracts a fee of N25, 000 to be collected by the VIO,” she said.
This statement makes it illegal for the enforcement team of any of the licensed companies to collect monies from motorists who park in such places, but in practice, these operators, especially the ATB, demand monies from offenders in such areas without remitting same to the appropriate agency.
Ojeme advised motorists to be patient when they do not see ticketing officers, explaining that sometimes a whole street is assigned to one or two persons, adding that they can also call the numbers usually displayed on their park and pay sign for faster attendance.
Abuja motorists are asking the FCT administration to engage in more sensitisation programmes that would enlighten them on the new road use policy, especially how to avoid these extra payments which is making boring deep holes into their pockets.
While this is yet to be, it appears that pays more to join public transportation in the Abuja city than to ride in one’s personal car. That way, motorists will worry less about running afoul of new parking regulations that do not have the force of law.