The Directorate of Road Traffic Services (DRTS) recently clamped down on the activities of illegal automobile dealers in the Federal Capital City (FCC). CHIKA OKEKE writes that the renewed enforcement was in a bid to retain the Abuja master plan.
Standing aloof and watching the desolated carport was Mr Stephen Ogundiran (not real name) an automobile dealer at Utako. The 40 years old man with three children started the business as far as 2009 in Lagos, but relocated to Abuja in search of better business opportunities.
Fate however, dealt a terrible blow on him when the four cars that he displayed in front of one of the residential buildings in Utako was apprehended by the enforcement team of VIO for allegedly displaying them in green areas without permission.
He tells LEADERSHIP SUNDAY his story, "I am a graduate of Business Administration and Management from the prestigious University of Lagos, but due to the threatening unemployment problem in Nigeria, I obtained loan from a bank in 2010 to enable me start off car business. At first, the business was growing but suddenly it collapsed as a result of high competition from other dealers. With the change, I hardly sold one car in three weeks compared to during the initial start off of the business.
'The only alternative was to relocate and seek better business opportunities in other states and that was how the idea of moving down to Abuja struck my mind. I came to Abuja and was squatting with an old school mate that even assisted me get the empty carport where I started life again.
Ogundiran added, "Due to the high cost of living in Abuja, I could not afford to rent a showroom because the processes and monetary commitment was cumbersome. With this development, I and my friend were able to secure the carport though we paid for the space monthly.
I have not regretted that decision until the day enforcement team from VIO stormed the area and towed the cars without even listening to my pleas. As I am talking to you now, the cars are in their custody and they insisted that I must be prosecuted in the court before retrieving them.
'They said that we should relocate to the designated automobile village, but the area is far from the city and I cannot even afford to pay for such places that are yet to be developed. I am appealing to the FCT administration and other agencies involved to rethink on their decision by considering the plight of poor people in Abuja.
Government Policies Hardly Favour Underprivileged
Another car dealer at Garki, Mr Ozo Nwanna frowned at the inability of government policies and programme to accommodate the interest of the underprivileged in the society and urged the FCTA to devise better ways of addressing the issue rather than arresting Nigerians who were determined to reduce the growth of unemployment.
According to him, "My 2 cars were apprehended at VIO office because they said that we had been advised to relocate to automobile village approved by the FCT for car mart. Honestly, it will be a very difficult decision because the place is located in the outskirt of the city and every reasonable person will prefer to do business in the city where their safety can at least be guaranteed.
"I am not against the FCTA retaining the master plan but of what good will it be for the common man who sacrificed everything just to make sure that he does not constitute nuisance to society by engaging in self employment. It is time; our governments consider the plight of the poor people living in Abuja and change certain stringent policies to favour them.
VIO Vows Intensified Enforcement On Illegal Car Dealers
The Deputy Director Operation of Directorate of Road Traffic Services (VIO), Dr Yusuf Jack has reiterated the resolve of the directorate towards ensuring that all illegal car dealers were apprehended in a bid to prevent illegality in the FCC.
"The exercise is still ongoing and we started well and so far, many vehicles have been apprehended from illegal car mart dealers.
The car sellers have refused to heed to government instructions to leave the city and establish their car mart at Tunga Maje where it had been designated as part of the master plan of FCT for them to sell cars. There is an automobile village there, and that is where everything that has to do with automobile is supposed to be done.
"They have refused to go there but rather prefer to carry out their businesses in the Federal Capital City (FCC). The government cannot continue to fold its arms and allow this nature of illegality to continually to thrive at the FCC by the car dealers. We will do everything possible to ensure that the FCC is protected from such activities.
... Insists On Approval Of Car Mart Showroom
Dr Jack advised the car mart dealers on the need to obtain approval from all the agencies involved in the implementation of the master plan before establishing car mart showroom noting that the defaulters had destroyed the green areas built by government resources.
"Every business is supposed to be registered especially for car mart. For the car mart showroom, the place is supposed to be inspected by the Directorate of Road Traffic Services; Development Control, AEPB, Fire Services and other agencies that are connected towards the maintenance of the master plan to make sure that it was safe for sale of cars. After that, permission will be given and they are expected to operate based on the guidelines of the practice.
"Most of the people apprehended were not given permission to sale cars and they just do it illegally. They come out and display their vehicles on the green areas by destroying such areas that government struggled to build. They park on pedestrian walkways thereby obstructing the pedestrians from using the safe walk ways and pushing them back on the carriage way where vehicles are passing thereby causing traffic obstruction, so that will no longer be tolerated.
He added, "They do that without any form of approval from anybody, so government frowns at that and that has been the major reasons why we intensified efforts in removing them out of the city and also making sure that they leave those places. They should seek permission and go to the right place where the master plan has admitted them to carry out such business.
Tunga Maje Designated As Automobile Village
He further disclosed that the only officially designated place for sales of automobile in FCT was at Tunga Maje, Gwagwalada Area Council not in the FCC.
Tunga Maje is the only place recognized officially by FCT master plan. Any other place that they are displaying cars might just be a temporary place and even to operate in the temporary place, they also require some level of permission probably before the full development of Tunga Maje, but it must be outside FCC.
On whether defaulters had indicated interest to reclaim the seized cars, he stressed, "They have been coming and they have to be prosecuted first by the customary court. That will make it possible for them to collect their vehicles after having been prosecuted by a competent court of jurisdiction. It is the court that will determine the fines payable and after they must have paid their fines in the court, we will release the vehicles to them.