Leadership (Abuja)

28 April 2014

Nigeria: Motorists Paid N128.7 Billion Under Park and Pay Policy - Investigation

Barely two weeks after Justice Peter Affen of an Abuja High Court declared as illegal the operation of the "Park and Pay" policy in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), LEADERSHIP investigations have revealed that motorists in Abuja paid an estimated N128.7 billion in the more than two years that the policy was in operation.

The N128.7billion, which is considered a very conservative estimate, excludes the N5,000 penalty paid for clamping of cars or the N1,000 paid by motorists for bulk purchase of the parking tickets.

Some lawyers and motorists have demanded the refund all the moneys collected by the operators under the illegal scheme.

But the FCT Administration has claimed that it did not generate revenue from the scheme in spite of the estimated amount of money generated from the controversial scheme.

LEADERSHIP investigations further reveal that the motorists whose cars were clamped and taken to the offices of any of the four companies that operated the scheme were asked to pay N15,000 before their cars were released and those who could not afford to pay the money immediately were further fined N1,000 for each night that the car remained with the operators. All the funds realised from these activities were not captured in the estimated N128.7 billion revenue due to lack of data.

Investigations reveal that, on the average, a total of 500,000 cars were parked each day at all the areas designated as parking bays in the streets of Abuja, which have been estimated to be as much as 5,000 street locations.

At the rate of N50 for 30 minutes, any motorist parking a vehicle for a whole day would pay N800 for between 8am and 4pm.

However, using an average of N450 per car multiplied by 22 working days a month and spanning the 26 months that the Park and Pay scheme remained, LEADERSHIP gathered that the four companies which operated the scheme on behalf of the FCTA raked in revenue of not less than N128.7 billion.

When contacted over the matter, the Vehicle Inspection Office (VIO) also confirmed to LEADERSHIP that more than 5 million private vehicles are currently registered in Abuja out of which over 500,000 ply the city daily.

According to a source in the VIO in Abuja, who would not want his name on paper because he was not authorised to speak on the matter, "the VIO registers and provides drivers' licence to motorists on a daily basis and the number of the applications we receive is enormous as more and more people are always buying new cars".

Despite the estimated amount of money generated from the controversial scheme, the FCT Administration said it did not generate revenue from the scheme.

The position however runs contrary to earlier claims by the FCT minister, Bala Mohammed, at the inception of the scheme in 2012 that the administration would generate money from the scheme to be used for road maintenance and provision of other infrastructure.

The minister had, during the inauguration, said the project would apart from reducing traffic congestion in the centre create jobs, enhance revenue generation and improve city aesthetics. "The commissioning of the facility in zones A and B marks the commencement of 'pay and park' in the city, as parking in those areas will no longer be free. This will reduce the influx of vehicles into the city centre, create employment for our teeming youths, encourage efficiency in public transport and improve revenue generation," the minister said, noting that haphazard parking contributes to road traffic accidents and deprives pedestrians of their right of way.

When asked how much revenue the administration generated under the scheme, the special assistant, media, to the FCT minister, Nosike Ogbuenyi, told LEADERSHIP during a telephone chat that the "primary aim of the policy was not revenue generation".

This was just as he referred our correspondent to the FCT secretary of legal services, Imaobong Okpongete, who he said was in a better position to comment on the matter.

According to him, the policy was aimed at traffic management control, to encourage organised parking, ensure security of vehicles parked on the streets and protect infrastructure on the roads such as kerbs, flowers and street-lighting installations.

Ogbuenyi further stated that the scheme which had been ongoing for two years and two months was still being test-run at the time of its suspension last week.

In an interview with a national newspaper in 2012, the CEO of Platinum Parking Management Services (PPMS), Otunba Olusegun Olarewaju, said a high percentage of the money generated from the scheme went to the administration.

Also, the FCT regulation of the Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) Schedule 9, Regulation 151, lists motor offences to include penalties for such traffic infractions. In the MVA regulation, at page D331, with the heading, "Improper Parking", improperly parked position of vehicles attracts a surcharge of N500, contrary to the N5,000 fined by the Park 'n' Pay operators while they held sway. Parking where signs prohibit parking also attracts a penalty of N1,000 as against the N5,000 to N10,000 charged by the operators, just as disregard for lane control signals or markings attracts a fine of N1,000 for which the operators charged N25,000.

Meanwhile, one of the operators of the scheme, , Platinum Parking Management Services Ltd (PPMS), has expressed worry that over 4,000 staff working under the scheme will soon lose their jobs following the court judgement. Speaking with LEADERSHIP in Abuja, Otunba Olarewaju explained that staff to be affected by the court judgement include various categories of graduates under the payrolls of the operators, mechanics and other artisans.

Why we mark cars in undesignated areas

Meanwhile, the development control department of the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) has said they marked cars, which were parked in undesignated areas in Utako, as part of its activities to checkmate illegal activities and businesses being carried out outside designated areas.

In a chat with LEADERSHIP, the public relations officer of the department, Mr Kalu Emetu, said the exercise had nothing to do with "park and pay", which is under the auspices of the Transport

Secretariat of the FCTA, but was aimed at forcing people who are running illegal businesses along the road corridors to relocate to designated areas for their business.

Emetu said, "We marked some cars which were parked in designated areas in Utako yesterday. What we did in Utako had nothing to do with Park and Pay... Our aim was to move back all businesses operating outside the market back into the market, or make them go back to designated areas for whatever business they're doing.

"Some people turned the road corridors to car mart or car wash. So, what we needed to do was to ask them to leave and some of them that were not moving the cars immediately were marked.

The cars were marked on the windscreen and not on the body as a warning to the owners to move it."

Lawyers, motorists demand refund

In a related development, some lawyers and residents have demanded that the moneys realised from the illegal scheme should be refunded to the people.

Lagos-based lawyer Mr Festus Keyamo said, "Ordinarily, they should refund all the moneys they have collected so far since their activities have been declared illegal. But since there is no proper

record, who would they refund the moneys to and to where?"

Another lawyer, Dr Tunji Abayomi, shared the same views expressed by Keyamo. "The issue is a very simple one and straightforward. If the court has declared their activities illegal, they should refund the moneys they collected. But I must add that, in practical terms, it is not possible", Abayomi said.

In his own comment, Dr Awa Kalu (SAN) said, "If the company is to pay back money, to whom would they pay?". He said that since the suit filed against the park and pay operators was not a class action, there is no one to make refund to. "They cannot make refund since it was not a class action. If it was a class action we can be talking about refund," he added.

For Malam Yusuf Ali (SAN), "Since the operators of the park and pay policy have said that they are going to appeal the judgement, I think it is wise if we wait for higher courts to make pronouncements before we begin to comment on it."

The Abuja High Court had abolished the park and pay policy, describing it as illegal.

Delivering the judgment that lasted over three hours, Justice Affen held that though the park and pay policy might be described as an excellent policy, it lacked the backing of the law.

The plaintiff, Suntrust Savings and Loans Ltd, had filed the suit and asked the court to determine whether the park and pay policy of the FCT is in pursuant of any act of the National Assembly as provided by the 1999 Constitution and whether the defendants can exercise the powers to collect taxes, rates and fees without the act of the National Assembly.

Justice Affen in determining the suit held that though the first defendant can make laws to collect taxes, fees and rates in the FCT, the 2005 by-law of the FCT did not contemplate the park and pay scheme and rather made provision for park and ride, "which is not being implemented".

He further held that the FCT Road Transport Regulation though made elaborate provisions, "but I was not fortunate enough to find the park and pay scheme in the 2005 FCT by law. What it provided for under section 118 and 119 is the park and ride scheme.

In granting the reliefs sought by the plaintiff, the judge declared the scheme illegal, ultra vires, null and void.

Residents react

Reacting to the court verdict, Mrs Agatha Daniels who works at Garki II say she cannot but heave a sigh of relief, because the activities of the park and pay agents could be frustrating. She said that there was a time she went to Wuse market to buy something; she looked around for the operatives but found nobody to pay to for her to park.

"I then decided to park and enter the market. Upon returning, I found my car clamped and I was left with just N200, having spent all I had with me in the market. I was delayed for over 20 minutes before the agents accepted my plea that my new-born baby needed attention at home. Now I am so glad that this broad daylight corruption and stealing has been stopped," she said.

Joshua Chukwuemeka, a civil servant, who commended the suspension of the policy, said that it would have been a good policy if it was well managed, but the way it was practised in the FCT was different from how it is done in the developed world.

"We have been to foreign countries; their agents are friendly, and there is no way you cannot pay. Instead of clamping your vehicles as done in Nigeria, you will have the tickets attached to your windshield, regardless of the hours you spent. The most painful thing was that park and pay agents hid from the motorist in order to clamp my vehicle some time ago. I had to pay N5,000 to an unfriendly agent in Garki.

One of the motorists, Ikenna Ugwu, narrated how the park and pay staff dealt with him at the Federal Secretariat and clamped his car even when he was standing right beside his car.

" I was beside my car when they clamped my car. I was waiting for a friend to come out from the Ministry of Youth Development's building. I was standing beside my car making a call when I heard a noise, I turned back and saw my car already clamped. I pleaded and pleaded; they refused to unclamp it until I had gone to pay the fine," he said.

Grace Iwu, a business woman at Garki Modern Market, who also supported the suspension, stated that she had stepped out of her car to buy fruit along the road when her car was clamped, adding that it took the intervention of angry passers-by for them to unclamp her car.

Augustine Isuku, a resident of Wuse II, said, "I think the park and pay around Wuse II was the worst. After I heard the news of the court declaring them illegal, I was also wondering if they would return the money they have collected from us because it means they were extorting innocent motorists in Abuja."

Okechuwku Ifeanyi, a businessman who lamented the high-handedness of the park and pay operators, said he was happy with the court which declared the park and pay illegal.

"I was happy when I heard last week that a court had declared the park and pay illegal. You don't understand why I was happy. These people became some sort of law enforcement officers. They could do anything they want and get away with it. I understand that the park and pay policy was a good idea that was conceived to bring sanity in Abuja, but the operators were just not adequately trained to handle it."

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