It is no longer news that Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) is repackaging the suspended Park and Pay’ policy, which was declared illegal by an FCT high court on April 14, in order to re-launch it before the end of the year. But Stanley Onyekwere, in this interview with the Managing Director of Najec limited, one of the licensed operators of the scheme, Nebolisa Igboka, reveals stakeholders are working with payment system managers to design a central payment system for all the licensed operators. He says the plan, which is 80% ready would lead to the provision of a card that will serve all the motorists in FCT. Excerpts:
Tell us more about the concept of “Park and Pay” policy in FCT?
Point of correction, there is nothing anywhere in the world called “park and pay”, but what we have in the developed cities of the world is on-street parking. In parking system, there are several types of parking. There’s Park and Kiss, Park and Ride, there is Off and On Street parking. Park and Ride is when you park your car at a designated place and board a bus to the city. Park and Kiss is parking in a designated area very closely to each other (bumper to bumper), off-street parking connote parking your car in a particular where you do your business and paying a flat fee for that, while On-street parking is when parked car are charged hourly. It’s a global practice. The new resolution in the world currently is that the ticketing officers assume the position of Civil Enforcement Officers (CEOs). Apart from issuing tickets to motorists, they render other essential services to school children, the aged and pregnant women in crossing the road. They have also assisted in averting car theft and other security challenges especially the ones that we have over time experienced in Abuja. Ultimately, the concept of the policy was for no other reason than to instill sanity, discipline and orderliness among motorists. Among the intention of establishing on-street parking is to protect the pedestrians who are the original king of the road. There is no doubt that at the little time we spent implementing the policy, we achieved not only the sanity and orderliness, got to the extent of foiling car theft on several occasions. For instance, if that policy was still on as at the time of that terrorist attack at Emab Plaza, Wuse II; I don’t have the full detail but there’s no way ticketing officers at that place wouldn’t have either identified the persons and cars that were used or foil it totally. You can bear me witness that since we left the road, reckless parking and indiscipline had return to the street and most painful of it all is the frustration, the “king of the road” (pedestrian) have been subjected to. Go out there now, you will be amazed to see that motorists have taken over the pedestrian walkways, parking cars with reckless abandoned.
There is no doubt that there was sanity and orderliness in parking system when the policy took off in Abuja some years ago, but there were issues of abusesarising from poor implementation by both the FCT authorities and the private operators, what is your take?
There are four operators of on-street parking system in Abuja, and Najec is just one of them. But I can’t hold brief for the other 3 operators. So, I will narrow down to my company. I have heard of complaints and counter complaints in various media regarding the “so called” abuse of the policy. But I can assure you that we in Najec have a very vibrant customer relations desk where every case of abuse is properly and timely thrashed out. In fact, what many people don’t know is that we deployed ICT and CCTV cameras in all the locations within our jurisdiction; Asokoro, Utako, Wuse, Gudu and some streets in Maitama. Immediately you park your car, the small gadgets that look like POS devices that you see with our ticketing officers have cameras that send signals to our data base, every seconds and minute to the desk officers monitoring everything going on. Apart from the desk officers, I can access it anywhere in the world. Most of the people you see complaining of abuse gets disappointed when they come to our office and we play the video or show them the pictures of how they either parked wrongly or over stayed their parking limit. I must remind you that we are the only company operating on-street parking in Abuja that didn’t face any litigation despite that we are the last to come on board. The training and retraining of our staff is of great importance to us. We don’t hesitate to punish any staff that goes contrary to our discipline standard. The records are out there. Also, part of the problem is thatwe have observed that the people that complain the most are the people that feel that are untouchable in this country. These are people, who do things with impunity and think they can get away with it. Some of them are people who ordinarily should follow the lay down laws made by the FCT.
How about cases where ticketing officers hid for reasons best known to them, only to jump out from their hiding to clamp people’s cars?
I totally disagree with that allegation, because we have carried out investigation and found out that it is totally false. Our officers cannot leave their areas to go to another to operate because it will show when you print the ticket. What people don’t also know is that there are roads that are designated as “No Parking Zone and No Ticketing Zone” but what you see there are people parking without checking the road signs. What we do in that case outright clampdown on the car, because the instruction is clearly written on the signpost.
You have said so much on discipline and training, how often do you do any of these for your staff?
Training is a continuous thing here (Najec), I always insist that every staff undergo both initial orientation and subsequent training to be acquainted with the necessary knowledge on how to address minor issues. From our field staff to administrative staff, we have a training calendar every year for them. But one very important thing for every of our staff is the right approach to issues since we interface with customers on a daily basis. We train them to be courteous, respectful, discipline, clean and have the right attitude to interface with people every day. We always ensure that we get professional facilitators, VIOs and our supervisor, the FCT Transport Secretariat who gives us the standard of operations. For instance, we are a member of international parking institute. We attend lectures, workshops and conference every year where opportunity is provided for capacity building and interactions to get acquainted with the modern global trend.
What has been the fate of your workers since the suspension of the policy?
Sadly, the ban on the policy had unfortunately led to lost over 1000 jobs. In my company alone, over 500 jobs were lost; ranging from field officers, administrative staff, enforcement and supervision officers, and so many other supporting staff. Most of the people that lost their job had become desperate, especially with the growing security challenge. Since the directive for the suspension of the policy, you can see for yourself that the sanity and orderliness we started experiencing hitherto have now disappeared. So, it’s very unfortunate but you know that the court is the hope of common man, and anytime judgment delivered by any judge of competent jurisdiction stands until said otherwise by another court. Recall that before thecourt judgment, there had been other several judgments in favour of on-street parking. Note also that Abuja was designed to have on-street parking because it is very conspicuous in the Abuja Road Traffic Act.
But part of the pitfalls of the policy was lack of motivation especially in terms of salary and welfare for ticketing officials…
Our pay roll is not hidden. At least we pay above national minimum wage, which is N18, 000. I always ensure that I take care of the health bills of my staff even when we don’t have enough money for that, we go extra miles to ensure proper care and welfare of our staff. In fact we have made arrangement for comprehensive insurance policy with Zenith Insurance for our staff even though some of them prefer to take their money and sort it out themselves. On their arrival to the office, we give them free food, which is not billed on them rather on the senior officers’ salaries offered as sacrifice.
The court ordered a stop to the policy to provide opportunity for a law to back up the policy. As a major stakeholder, what contributions are you making towards the repackaging of policy for effective implementation?
As a stakeholder, Najechas always been in the forefront of making sure that we create a good and efficient payment channel for motorists within our jurisdiction and across the city. We have invested heavily in ICT infrastructure. Just before we left the field, we had commenced a plan with payment system managers to design a central payment card for all the operators in city. The success of the plan would lead to the provision of a card that will serve all the motorists in FCT. It’s now left for us to harmonize and reconcile the account (revenue) amongst us. We are 80 percent ready with the plan, and I’m assuring you that we are coming back with abetter and strongerrepackaged parking system.
How informed are residents (motorists) about modern parking system?
On-street parking is not alien to Nigerian. It has been introduced in several forms from the ages, but just that it has not been formalized over the year. For example, all local motor park operators collect money from people for that sake of either parking in their motor park or for loading passengers. Major cities in Nigeria had been familiar with the system since 70s. But sensitization is an on-going process. We have done it in the past using various means and people have come to assimilate the need for the modern parking system.