I don’t have to spell this out, even to non-residents to whom this city is only understood as just the headquarters of political thievery: Abuja is a cheap fraud. It’s a city built upside down, and recklessly so, perfect for several poorly orchestrated federal crimes against common-sense. On a distant view, Abuja is Nigeria’s ape of London or Washington DC. “It’s a small London,” they’ll say in Potiskum. But that is just what it is – distant!
On a close shot, you may discover a pretend city not actually struggling to be true. My grouse today is specific, my anger on a target whose operations are the metaphor of an anarchy called Nigeria. This is the “Park N Pay” policy of the FCT, meant to check traffic congestions and violations. The irony of being frustrated by a system that sets out to save you from the same frustration has stirred up uncontrolled hatred towards the notorious traffic management marshals!
I don’t like Lagos, this you need to know, which is why I endorse timely traffic regulation systems that may protect us from disorganised population growth likely to decongest Abuja roads. But this ‘Park N Pay’ policy is not meant to be true. It’s exactly built to extort, and harass – an inhumane business organisation. The areas marked for this scam are not even understood, and there was no attempt at sensitising, no signposts bearing instructions where such are much needed, turning their operations into a lotto that favours just them. Inhumane is what I call paying fines for what isn’t actually one’s fault, and making the penalty fees so exorbitant, one has no more doubt on the insensitivity of our government.
The government has been unfair to the poor in its reconstruction of this madhouse, and I’m sure this does not need any more rant from a marked populist. We have also built a beautiful city with expansive roads and dysfunctional streetlights, ever tempting you to run into the bumper of another car, a feeble pedestrian or even death itself. Once I wasted almost an hour on Aminu Kano Crescent waiting for the traffic light permanently set to Red to blink Green. It was late in the night. It didn’t. We all had to contravene that rule. This is what Nigeria does to us: it creates a mess in which obedience is not always possible. And the faulty light remained so for days, perhaps it’s still so till now, it’s their pride to not fix mess of viral impacts!
I was a victim of the “Park N Pay” scam this week, my third experience in two months. My first experience was on a visit to a posh district of Maitama where, for parking in the front-yard of my host’s house, I found a wheel clamped when I returned. I parked so because the road was too narrow, and because the design of the house had no space for cars – and the fact that the building plan was even approved by the city planners is criminalising. The second encounter is one all residents have either experienced or witnessed – the absence of ticketing agents. I parked and waited for the agents, even walked far in search of them but couldn’t find any, and realising that the cars parked around there weren’t bearing parking tickets on the windscreen, I took my chance and left. Again my car had been locked, and again I had to pay another fortune as penalty. The third, my experience this week, left me mortally upset and being charged fifteen thousand naira of which the fraudsters eventually settled for ten for “wrong parking” – that the tyres were on pavements, an extension of Jabi Lake that was obviously not a pedestrian walkway. In all the times I was there park, cars were always parked that way, and because there was no notice forbidding that, having one so mercilessly fined is despicable!
That the government actually partnered with these corporate racketeers in this organised crime still beats me. First, residents don’t even know where exactly are the controlled areas, places marked as legal for parking on payment in Abuja. The indicators are the signposts bearing “Park N Pay”, which are not reliable because ticketing agents are not found in many areas where the same signposts are planted. These irregular presences of the elusive ticketing agents and the supervising traffic marshals turned the system into a cat-and-mouse race, with all unsuspecting motorists, residents and visitors, vulnerable. One, from these, sees a city desperate to keep the system less understandable, all for the cash flow.
The worst modes of their operation is having a car towed to their office for contravening traffic rules while the owner is still away, without any notification that one has even flouted a law. Some victims even went on to declaring their cars as missing. Visitors and expatriates have been worst hit by this. An expatriate friend told me a story of how he parked his car to attend a meeting only to discover that his car was gone. He was new in Abuja and there was no signpost telling him that he had flouted a law. Another friend, also an expatriate, has similar story: he couldn’t find ticketing agents, and he also returned to find his car clamped. And for a visiting friend whose car was towed away for “wrong parking” only to finally find out, after a frantic search and several phone calls, that he was a victim of the marshals, his misery was multiplied by his lack of money to pay. This is a story for another day!
Having testified that the parking ticket management system is a trap that reveals the pretence of Abuja, many questions bug my mind: is it fair to charge citizens for breaking a law they didn’t know? What does it take to have signposts serving as cautions planted in areas controlled by the marshals? Unless such are done, this system remains just a deliberate ploy to extort. It’s a cheap fraud, a fraud taken too far. May God save us from us!
By Gimba Kakanda
@gimbakakanda (On Twitter)