Abuja motorists face daily harassment in the hands of parking ticket operators
After his car rolled to a halt along Gimbiya Street in the Garki District of Abuja one afternoon last November, Brendy Ndukwe followed a routine now common with motorists in the capital city. He remained seated for a parking ticket vendor to show up, and paid before exiting for business.
For the 30 minutes he guessed would be enough to retrieve a package from a nearby store, Mr. Ndukwe paid N50. But he spent additional 25 minutes- an intolerable offence under Abuja’s notorious “park and pay” policy, introduced by federal capital administration in 2012.
Instead of an extra N50 as one might speculate, Mr. Ndukwe was coerced to pay N5, 000 fine to have a vendor unclamp his tyre.
“I was so sick that day that I just left the hospital to go to the store to pick up something and then head back to the hospital, when I got out of the store and realized my car was clamped, it broke my heart,” Mr. Ndukwe, a pastor, said. He recalled how “rude” the hawkers were to him.
In Abuja’s chaotic car parking order, the rules are not outlined, and often-confused motorists have become easy targets of brazen extortion and harassment.
Despite a myriad of complaints, the government has refused to rein in the ruthless ticket levy enforcers who, backed by no federal or local law, target drivers in encounters that are sometimes brutal.
In all, the narratives are similar. The most recurring tale of woes is that of drivers paying for a duration, and then getting outrageously overcharged once they overstay. Another scenario is where vendors refuse to provide change for big bills for tickets, and when the drivers step off, their tyres are clamped. There is also another case: drivers arrive with no vendor in sight, only to return to be charged several thousand of naira as penalty.
Linda Okechukwu’s experience fits into the last, and hers is not in an isolated case. When she parked around her children’s nursery/primary school at Zone 2, Wuse, there were no ticket vendors nearby. She emerged from the school to see her car clamped.
“In the blink of an eye, a guy just showed up at my car with a receipt asking me to pay N15, 000 before my car would be unlocked,” Ms. Okechukwu narrated. Her argument that she looked around ready to pay, but found no ticker dealer, did not impress the enforcement officials.
When PREMIUM TIMES spoke to the vendor, Festus Agada, a patrol official for Safe Parking, one of the four companies registered by the Abuja administration to operate the parking policy, he explained that Mrs. Okechukwu’s car was not in a “park and pay” zone.
“To start with, where she parked was not a park and pay zone that’s why she did not see anybody to pay to and her car was clamped immediately. I and my unit were doing our usual routine of going around when we found her car and clamped it. She will pay N15, 000 before her car is returned to her,” Mr. Agada said.
Her experience is common in Abuja where hundreds of other motorists face the same treatment daily. But despite heaps of complaints to the FCT authorities daily, amongst them, court cases, and criticism by lawmakers that the parking policy is not backed by any law, the government has failed to take action.
The Federal Capital Territory Administration, FCTA, in 2012, registered four different companies – Automaten Technik Haumann Nigeria, ATB; Safe Parking Limited, SPL; Integrated Parking Services limited, IPS; and Platinum Parking Management Services, PPMS – and assigned each of them to different areas of Abuja where the companies would enforce parking laws and punish errant drivers.
However, the policy has largely been undermined by allegations extortion and forced illegal and dubious electronic parking fees on motorists and harassment.
Park and pay zones
Abdul Lawal, the Executive Director Operations, Dan Maikarfi Construction Company, an allied company of Integrated Parking, explained to PREMIUM TIMES that the N5, 000 to N15, 000 that motorists pay was not for the extra time but as penalty and towing fee.
He said according to the law, a 30-minute parking cost N50. “In a situation where the motorist does not know how long he or she is going to stay after purchasing 30 minutes, he or she should tell the vendor to charge them for every extra 30 minutes spent. In that case, if you overstay, your car will not be clamped and it will save the stress of paying thousands,” he advised.
The law Mr. Lawal referred to was not enacted by any arm of government. It was unilaterally drafted by the contracted firms.
Notwithstanding, the implementation of the policy continues to stir controversy.
Gbenga Daniel’s story was slightly different from that of the other victims. He said he had dropped his wife off at work at the Federal Secretariat on February 3 and got out of the car in search for change for his wife’s transport fare home. Although he was a few metres away from his car, his wife was standing by it when the car was clamped.
“But they did not just listen to me. Rather, they told me that where I parked was not a “pay and park zone” and asked me to go to the Integrated Parking office to pay the fine. I tried to stop them from clamping the car but when I realized that they were becoming violent, I just stopped, left them there and went to their office as directed,” Mr. Daniel said.
At the Integrated Parking office, he pleaded with the officials there, explaining to them that he worked with the Pensions Board and had no money. Eventually, his car was released without his paying the fine.
Mr. Lawal, the Integrated Parking allied officer who spoke to PREMIUM TIMES, conceded that most motorists do not know the “park and pay” areas in Abuja. He said that around the federal secretariat, there was a general parking lot where motorists could park their cars without fear of it being towed.
In Frederick Adetiba’s case, he bought a N1, 000 parking sticker from Integrated Parking which he placed on his windscreen. However, when he parked at Wuse, he was told by the vendors that the card was not valid in that area and was asked to buy a N50 ticket.
Mr. Lawal explained that the four companies registered by the FCTA operate in different areas within Abuja, hence a ticket could become invalid from one area to the next.
“I agree that the vendors do not tell most motorists where the cards can be used, but we try as much as possible to train (vendors) now so that they tell car owners where their tickets or stickers can be used,” he said.
The Integrated Parking tickets Mr. Adetiba purchased, are valid only in Utako and certain areas in Wuse 2 including Aminu Kano Crescent, the firm’s representative said.
Such explanations are hard to come by for a policy that is very secretive and designed clearly for maximum extortion from the people. Part of the FCDA’s well-kept secrets is how much the companies raise daily from the park and pay. Independent estimates put the amount raised at an average of a million naira per day.
Three of the parking firms, ATB, PPP and Safe Parking, declined to comment for this story.
Nosike Ogbuenyi, the Special Assistant (Media) to the minister of the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, told PREMIUM TIMES he had no detailed information about the policy and referred our reporter to the secretary (Transportation), FCT, Jonathan Achara.
Mr. Achara, promised to respond to our enquiries, but failed to do so after repeated prodding by our reporter.