The operations of Uber drivers have come under attack at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, NAIA, Abuja, following resistance from the resident car hire service providers.
Uber drivers have been harassed continuously by the task force of resident car hire services at the NAIA for operating "illegally". Uber, the U.S. based global taxi service, is not officially registered with the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria, FAAN, in Abuja.
"The task force impounds the cars and hands over the drivers to the Police who 'fine the driver' the sum of N25,000 against the charge of picking passengers illegally from the airport", a Uber driver, Temitope Ayoola, told PREMIUM TIMES.
"They told us that we are illegal and that we are not expected to come and pick up any passengers or carry out our operations at the airport.
"It has been on for sometimes so we just manoeuvre our way to pick up our passengers but in the last two months or let me say early July it became something else as they started arresting my colleagues.
"The issue is that they are doing it in connivance with the police. They would hold our cars and also hand the driver over to the police standing on the grounds that according to FAAN (Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria) if we are not making money for them we cannot work at the airport", Mr. Ayoola said.
Aside not being registered with FAAN, Saka Abdulahi, a task force official of one of the car hire services, Airport Car Hire Association ACHAN, told PREMIUM TIMES that they impound the cars and arrest UBER drivers because "they are depriving them of customers."
According to him, there are two official car hire services, VIKO Nigeria Car hire and ACHAN, whose members pay N65,000 to FAAN annually: N40,000 as a concession fee, and N20,000 for gate access and N5000 for form.
"We are more than 1000 registered car hire drivers and as a result, we carry passengers from the airport twice a week each. A ride is N5,000 naira and from that money, we will have to buy fuel and meet other expenses within the airport including car hire tickets and remittance for the annual due", he said.
Mr. Abdulahi alleged that UBER drivers park within the airport premises waiting for requests from customers and that they carry out car hire operations at the airport up to four times in a day.
A leader of one of the groups of UBER drivers who pleaded anonymity for fear of victimisation said the controversy has been on since late last year and it got serious in June.
He admitted that after interactions with the FAAN authorities in Abuja, the agency has indicated its willingness to let Uber operate at the airport.
"Before now there was this wrong belief or wrong view that FAAN didn't want Uber drivers to operate. The issue we are facing right now is with Uber," he said.
"Uber claims they are just an application, which consumers download to request, the drivers download and put their cars, and the Internet merges both of them.
"We've been in touch with the top people here in Abuja and I know what their position is. The position and the problem now is to get Uber down to the airport to do the needful. We've been trying to get Uber (to do this); all FAAN wants is, 'tell what you do, how you do it, how you make your money and then how you also intend to make money for us.' It is not like FAAN is requesting that they pay a particular sum.
"FAAN is saying come for dialogue; everything in business it's negotiable. Whatever comes to the table, we know how we would negotiate and share. That's what they are all asking for."
On the issue of depriving the other car hire services some of their dues, he said: "We take about a minimum of half a million from these people daily. How do we you expect them to remit to FAAN? This is affecting FAAN's revenue one way or the other whether we like it or not but they are given a level playing ground.
"This is an open market where anyone can come and compete, there's no monopoly; that we have ascertained with them", he said.
Speaking on the controversy, the Acting General Manager Public Affairs of FAAN, Henrietta Yakubu, said she was not aware of the situation at the airport.
"Although I've not heard about this, but I am not sure they have the right to harass the Uber drivers whether registered or not because every passenger has the right to go back home by whatever means they desire and most times these passengers prefer Uber drivers to the other taxi drivers.
"Indeed Uber drivers are not registered with FAAN yet; but the truth is, if as a passenger, I prefer to go with Uber, I should be allowed to do so without being harassed.
"We are concerned about the safety of our passengers and so we encourage car-hire operators to register with FAAN so as to have their records and make it easy for us to trace in case anything goes south."
She promised to speak with the commercial department concerning the issue and expressed hopes that they will come out with the policy to ensure that the problem is resolved and that passengers always go with registered taxis for their own safety.