interviewBy Ben Atonko
Iliyasu Abdul is Managing Director of Integrated Parking Services, an on street parking management company concessioned by the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) to manage zone A of Abuja parking concession area. He says the transport secretary and soldiers constitute stumbling block to the street parking business. Excerpts:
So far, how has it been in the street parking business?
We started in 2003 when a proposal was sent to the then minster of FCT. Government intended to do it as a contract. Later on, it said let it be PPP--that is public private partnership.
Finally, in 2010, after all the rigorous bidding process, two companies were conssioned to manage zones A and B of the city. The other company, Platinum Parking Management Services, manages zone B. the concession was for five years and all the terms were agreed on and we signed. We started on January 27, 2011.
There were a lot of things government was to have done which weren't done. But because we wanted to contribute our own quota to the development of this city, we went ahead without those things promised us. Government needed to give us pioneer status so we can easily get finances to do the project. It needed to help us with tax too--there are a lot of taxes paid in Nigeria that a baby company like ours can be overwhelmed.
Then the issue of farm yard were vehicles that default are supposed to be taken to, government couldn't do that--what it provided for us is far away in Gosa. Taking a vehicle there takes an hour. To fuel a truck, you spend N10,000 to go to and fro. We brought this to attention of government, they said they're looking at it. We hope they'll see reason one day and come down and do the right thing.
One day, we woke up and saw some people who had taken over some areas given to us.
In the agreement, I had with government, Awolowo road--from Berger roundabout down to Life Camp, I have all the right because in the agreement, we have what is called the linear right corridors--these corridors are both left and right. The essence of the agreement is if motorists leave the main street to go hide in the corridors, we trace them. Over night, they said there was nothing like corridors whereas the agreement had not been reviewed.
Common sense shows that if you leave this street, you move to another, you meet a different company it doesn't make sense. If you park here, maybe you parked for 30 minutes and you still have time left, why would you go to another place to meet another company telling you to pay afresh?
Moreover, government needed to synchronise our payment system--we have the parking card, some company doesn't accept it. Government would have said let's sit down and get this thing right before introducing another company.
And if you want to introduce new companies, why not take them to places that have not been cultivated? When we spent our resources, our time to enlighten people on the parking rules then you ask us to leave, you give it to a new company that nobody knows how it came? We appealed to the minister but you know what Nigeria is, up till now, we can't see the minister. We that are handling this important project in the city have no access to the minister.
I suppose you deal directly with the transport secretariat.
Exactly, it's the transport secretariat we deal with but because of this Nigerian factor, people telling you to something that is wrong and because we're not ready to dance their tune, they're dealing with us.
Haven't you direct contact with the transport secretary?
We do. The transport secretary is the major problem. The way the man runs his organization, he doesn't carry the civil servants along. Most of these letters he writes to us, he does it by himself. These letters collecting these places are done by him!
How many companies are into this service with you?
Two companies were registered initially. Then later, they brought in two companies. We want due process to be followed--how these companies came about? Where did they bid for it? Who are behind these companies?
The way this thing is going, it's not encouraging entrepreneurs. Like London we copied this thing from, the whole London borough, it's only one company that's handling it so there's no rancor--I paid here, you clamp my car here, look at what we're passing through, people fighting everyday in the street! Because somebody is not getting things right because of greed, because of selfishness!
If parking business is properly managed, it can generate more than 30,000 employments in one year in Nigeria. It's a very big business--in the US, in the UK--in all these advanced countries, everybody knows what parking is. Many Nigerians that travel to the UK, this is the first thing they do--they work in the parking industry because it is easier to be employed there without much stress.
If government properly keys into this, it will go a long way in reducing unemployment. Because you can do parking in universities, in hospitals, in shopping complexes, in hotels. Vehicles are not supposed to be parked free. Most times, a vehicle is parked for like 16 hours a day. In 24 hours, a vehicle is parked more than half of it--in one place!
You have operated for a whole year. How much have you been able to generate for government and yourself?
For this one year, we generated almost N300million. There was a time we generated up to N27million a month before this issue started coming. This problem started in November  then the revenue fell because in December we got N4million, we couldn't even pay our staff because of this sudden change of policy by government.
What exactly would you want the FCT minister to do if you have his audience now?
The minister should look properly into the agreement signed by the administration. If he allows the secretary go out [like this], it will be very bad to the businesses. I want the minister to call us and look at this agreement we signed.
Let's look at your mode of payment. You use PoS. How does it work?
Ours is a parking PoS. Other companies use ordinary bank PoS. Our own is intelligence parking management system. That's why we have our own payment card.
The advantage of this payment card is you come to park your car and the agent is busy somewhere and you can't wait for him; if you drop our card on your dashboard or windscreen, our machine can read it. So that issue of "he was not there when I parked my car" has been eliminated. If you have that card, nobody clamps your car.
This is what government should have looked into. We have done a year, the secretariat has not come to say how far have these people gone. They are looking at what money is coming into private pockets.
Some motorists accuse your agents of hiding so when one parks, they quickly come to clamp the vehicle.
If you have our parking card, you put it where our attendant didn't see it and your vehicle is clamped, immediately you show us, we unclamp your vehicle. That's the benefit of having our parking card. But if you don't have the parking card, you have to wait...he might be busy attending to other person and you want to park, you don't have the patience to wait. We advise motorists, before you park, please go get this ticket. Collect the ticket and put it on your dash board before you leave.
If you don't have that patience, buy the card and put on your dashboard before you leave so that when the guy comes around, he just debits the card.
What bothers motorists is when one buys a card in Utako, goes to Wuse, the card is rejected. How many cards would one buy?
That's the essence of we wanting to see the minister so that if the secretariat is not capable of resolving this kind of issue...this goes to the supervisors that is transport secretariat. We the initial companies have similar system. But these new companies that write manual tickets, where is accountability? If somebody writes tickets, they can even print their own and put in the pocket.
Have you ever got any ugly incident between your worker and maybe a motorist you would like to share?
Yes, a lot of them. Especially soldiers, they will bundle my staff, put them in the booth and take them away. They'll say they're fighting Boko Haram so the military people are exempted from paying for parking. The military men have that mentally.
Well, for other organizations like the police, the SSS, we have liaison officers with them who call us if there is an issue. If an officer is on surveillance or on patrol, we do release these kind of people. But the soldiers are crude. There are many things we want to tell the minister that can help him run this city better.