By Rogers Edor Ochela
Since it was introduced in 2012 by the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA), the Park & Pay policy, in spite of its laudable objectives, has unfortunately been trailed by avoidablecontroversy by residents of Abuja.The policy, which was introduced by the FCTA, licensed four companies namely AutomatenTechnikHaumann Nigeria, Safe Parking Ltd, Integrated Parking Services Ltd and Platinum Parking Management Services to be collecting parking fee.
According to the authorities, the fee was meant to be used in maintaining the roads and other services in line with global best practices. The ‘Park & Pay’ policy was also introduced to check road abuses and indiscriminate parking by motorists.
Prior to been declared illegal recently by Justice Peter Affen of an Abuja High Court due to lack of legal framework, the policy has succeeded to a considerable extent in restoring orderliness to hitherto chaotic parking by motorists; reduced significantly the rate of car theft in Abuja city centre and provided employment to over 1000 youths.
Justice Affen, who based his ruling on the fact that there was no law made either by the National Assembly or the Abuja Municipal Councilto support the policy, however commended the policy as an excellent government policy.Judging from the foregoing, it is highly imperative to emphasize on the wider implication of this judgment withseveral residents waiting anxiously whether the FCT Administration will obey the court order or flout it. The concern is that if the administration had opted to flout it, then confusion and anarchy would have reigned supreme on FCT roads where the Park and Pay scheme hitherto operated. But the Minister, Senator Bala Mohammed took the path of honour by opting to abide by the court judgment and subsequently directed the Transportation Secretariat of FCT Administration to affect a suspension of the scheme forthwith.
The minister’s fidelity to the rule of law in a nation whacked silly by reckless impunity and disobedience to court rulings is an exemplary conduct worth emulating and should be commended by all and sundry. It is indeed a hallmark of good leadership for any leader to stand up and accept a court judgment which on its face valueappears quite unfavourable. Little wonder, several people have been commending the Minister for taking that democratic action.
It is indeed heartwarming that the Bala Mohammed Administration has put in place mechanism for a review of the Park and Pay scheme in FCT with a view to addressing all the areas of serious public complaints to wit: fines usually slammed on offenders, which not a few residents consider as too hefty,and in some cases, too draconian, in that people were not actually given enough period of grace after the expiration of their tickets.
While efforts are being made to work out the modalities that will give the policy legal teeth preparatory to its e-introduction, fears are mounting that incidences of car-theft and disorderliness in parking by motorists will once again creep in with all its attendant consequences.
Because despite the irregularities and illegalities that surround the operation of the policy, its effort in maintaining orderliness in the city centre cannot be overlooked. With this ruling, there is the tendency that the city centre would return to what it was before the introduction of the park & pay policy.
The question to ask is: what is the way forward? The FCT Administration should hasten action on providing legal framework for the policy and to ensure that its activities are people-centred and not harmful to the residents. Such legislation should include how the operators, usually butt of criticisms, should carry out their duties and ensure that there is an avenue to seek redress if maltreated.
Like what is obtainable abroad, operators should be learn to be friendly so that instead of clamping vehicles, tickets should be attached to the windshield, regardless of hours spent by the vehicle owners.
Regardless of what its critics might say, the park and pay scheme has lots of advantages. One of such is that for the first time, people were parking their vehicles orderly on designated places. By that system, the beauty of the city was enhanced. Equally, security of lives and properties became better guaranteed. Also, the scheme offered employment opportunities to over 1000 young people, including women and youths.Moreover, some of the companies had also procured very sophisticated equipment for towing and handling of impounded vehicles. All these are actually some of the measures and mechanisms that are necessary in any city that realistically prides itself as a mega city. The truth is that in all mega cities of the civilized world, park and pay systems are operated and nobody has ever come out to dispute the fact that the scheme has brought about sanity in those cities. So the efforts of the FCTA to sanitize the city centre through the Park & Pay policy should be supported by all well-meaning Nigerians in order for its laudable objectives to be realized.
Rogers Ochela is an Abuja based public affairs analyst.