Numerous motorists in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, have described the park and pay policy recently introduced by the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) as a form of extortion. “It’s as if the government wants to rob average motorists of their hard-earned income and to further impoverish them,” one critic said.
Under the policy, an average motorist in Abuja is to pay parking fees of N14, 300 each month, and ultimately N171, 600 in a year as parking fees.
The policy, which took off early last year, makes it mandatory for all vehicle owners to pay a fee of N50 for every 30 minutes their cars remain parked along the road. The parking policy is in effect from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. from Monday to Friday. Any motorist who parks beyond the stipulated time purchased on a ticket will have his/her car clamped, and forced to pay N5000 into the account of the enforcement company at a commercial bank before the car is unlocked.
At the rate of N50 for 30 minutes, any motorist parks a vehicle for a day within any of the 5,000 marked parking bays on the streets of Abuja will pay N650. If a motorist parks regularly for 22 working days in a month, the parking charges will amount to N14, 300. In a 12-month period, the parking fees will total N171, 600.
One critic of the exorbitant fees said he works for a private company that does not have enough parking lots. “Myself and other employees have no choice but to park on the streets from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. We then become subscribers to the mandatory park and pay policy.” He added that many Abuja-based companies are like his own, with few private parking spots.
Many vehicles are frequently impounded as a result of the inability of motorists to pay the outrageous fines that start at N5000 and then increase at the rate of N1, 000 for each additional night a vehicle is kept at the Pound Yard. “Some people end up accumulating fines that exceed N50, 000 and have to borrow money to get their cars out,” said an angry motorist. He told SaharaReporters that gun-toting mobile police officers are used to intimidate motorists and implement the parking policy.
A correspondent of Saharareporters visited the premises of Integrated Parking Services and Platinum Parking Management Services where impounded cars are kept. A staff at the latter company told the correspondent that many cars have been abandoned and that some car owners have instituted legal actions against the company.
Numerous motorists in Abuja blamed the FCTA for failing to put adequate infrastructure in place before it forced the parking policy on the people. “It’s an anti-people policy,” one of them said.
On its part, an official of the FCTA defended the policy. She said it was meant to help decongest the city, adding that Abuja was getting more congested and crowded everyday both in human and vehicular movement. But some motorists argued that the government should have addressed the absence of a rail transport system and the inadequacy of mass transport facilities, including public buses and car parks.
One motorist accused the government of being in a haste to introduce the policy. “The lite rail system should have been completed first before they introduced such a policy,” he said. He bemoaned that the policy had further increased the cost of living within the FCT.
A civil servant, Adeoye Lukman, echoed the same point. He said Abuja has always been so costly but was now getting more costly and expensive. “Don't be surprised that the government will soon be collecting money for the air we breathe,” he said. A woman who had fallen victim to paying the high fine after her car was impounded described the policy as “hell on earth.”
The monetized parking spaces were initially concessioned to Integrated Parking System and Platinum Parking Management Service through public private partnership. But less than a year after the inception of the policy, many other companies have been accommodated to operate the parking policy. “Some of these new companies have uncultured or untrained staff,” said one motorist. He claimed that some of the new companies use thugs as their parking control officers to harass, molest and embarrass motorists in Abuja.
A recharge card vendor told Saharareporters that he had seen the staff of these companies engage car owners in a physical brawl on several occasions while clamping vehicles.
Some motorists accused such operators as Platinum Parking Management Service, Integrated Parking System, and Najec/Safe Parking Limited of grossly violating the rules and regulations guiding the operation of the policy. SaharaReporters learnt that hundreds of car owners had petitioned the FCTA Authority over the operators’ excesses. However, some motorists stated that the FCT Minister, Bala Mohammed, had failed to do anything to checkmate the operators. “The minister has allowed these operators to continue to milk motorists dry,” said one motorist.
Some motorists stated that those who are responsible for clamping vehicles often hide in a corner and watch to see if their unsuspecting victims (motorists) will stay even a minute beyond the time stipulated on the ticket. Sometimes, motorists who pull over by a street to ease themselves have their vehicles quickly clamped in a commando-style operation by armed mobile policemen.
“Any attempt by the vehicle owner to explain or to challenge their action often results in the owner being beaten black-and-blue,” said one source. One victim, Imoh Akpan, told SaharaReporters that he was charged for parking on the Green Verge in Wuse Zone 5 and was asked to pay N15, 000. “When I questioned their action, one of the policemen pulled out his gun and threatened to shoot me if I dared to make any further comment. He described what happened to him as “daylight robbery by the FCT authority, which is in partnership on this parking fee project.” Mr. Akpan added: “The president should please intervene and stop this policy that is a huge punishment against people.”
One upset motorist remarked that the total outlawing of free parking on Abuja streets was a justification of a statement credited to former FCT Minister, Nasir El-Rufai, to the effect that Abuja is not for the poor.