Special Assistant on media to the minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Nosike Ogbuenyi, in this interview with Stanley Onyekwere, explains why the FCT administration is bent on repackaging the suspended Park and Pay’ policy, that was declared illegal by an FCT high court, on April 14. However, the minister’s aidereveals that among other things, the FCTA plans to meet the legal requirements needed to reintroduce the policy before the end of the year.Excerpts:
Considering the wide jubilation among residents that greeted the suspension of Abuja Park and Pay scheme, why the move to reintroduce the policy?
First, let me explain the motive behind the Park and Pay scheme. Andthey are many and can also be referred to as the advantages of thepolicy. They include: to ensure sanity on the highways and other roadsin the FCT; to protect public infrastructure like flower belt, roadsignages, electric poles etc from being damaged by motorists who parkindiscriminately. Then again, it is to enhance the city’s aesthetics;and of course the policy contributes to security in a way. At leastwhile even the criminal minded individuals will now know that somebodyhas come to see and identify the person that parked a given vehicle. So that ensures minimal security. However that does not mean that thatpark and pay system is a guarantee for security but it minimizes cartheft. Also, it was source of employment for young graduates, as weall know that one of the greatest problems in this country today isunemployment. So thousands of youths were employed through the scheme;and they were having salaries with which they were sustainingthemselves and possibly caring for one or two dependents. In that way,social vices were minimized. Then lastly, it was a source of revenue;even though that was not the major consideration for the scheme. Sothese were the positive gestures behind the setting up of the system.
And those clear advantages are still very much alive. Even the judgeof the FCT High court, Justice Peter Affen, who delivered the judgmentnever grouse over those advantages, because he described the policy asa good one, but that the only weak link was that there was no enablinglaw backing it up. And he actually advised the FCTA to do the needful,by making sure that it provides the necessary enabling law for the programme to operate legally. So the question whether it would returnor be brought back should not be there, because it’s coming back in abetter way, as a repackage policy.
Specifically, how soon should residents expect the scheme to make a return?
Very soon, because what the FCT Administration is doing now is to putin place the necessary bye law for the programme to come on. So we arebusy working closely with the area councils and the National Assembly,to make sure that it happens. It is a two-way kind of thing- theNational Assembly can legislate on it for us, and the legislative armof the area councils can also make necessary by-law.
How is the FCTA addressing some obvious pitfalls associated with the initial implementation of the Policy, so as to ensure a wide acceptability for the repackaged system when re-launched?
Yes, I cannot deny that there were no pitfalls associated with theinitial implementation of the policy. Those were problems associatedwith its implementation, but not with the concept itself. So theseproblems were related to human factors-what I may call abuses by somepeople. Because there were some cases of arbitrary charges, which werebeyond the limit; and there were cases of intimidation and harassmentof innocent people; and there were some tilting problems due to lack of practical experience before now. So, all these things have been taken into consideration as the administration is repackaging this policy for a re-launch. First and foremost, it is important to note that adequate measures have been taken to ensure that arbitrary charges will no longer be there. It is not just for operators to charge anything they like. So the penalties based on recommendations are going to be more affordable. For instance, a situation whereby some operators were charging as much as N25, 000 when they tow vehicle would not arise, except in a case where there is physical assault. But ordinarily towing offence should not exceed N15, 000; and in most cases it could be around N5, 000 and as low as N3, 000. So all these are possibilities depending on the place where the offence was committed.
There is also a recommendation that the time for the billing should be reviewed. It was discovered that 30 minutes was just rarely inadequate for people complete any meaningful transaction. Like the way that our banks operate, it is not possible for one to entre a bank hall, process a cheque and then come out within 30 minutes. And we all know our nature as Nigerians, many people would willfully go and pay N30 even though within their inner minds they know that they may spend nothing less than one hour at such a place. So all those were ingredients for chaos or disagreement and so on, and we don’t want them to exist. Hence there was a recommendation that the minimum time permitted for billing should be one hour for N100. All these are some of the things that the Hon. Minister has considered and he is going to come out with very clear cut guidelines for the policy; so it is coming.
And again, the administration is going to re-procure the scheme. First, to make sure that even the operators must be people that are technically competent – people that really know the job. So there may be more operators coming in. There is no guarantee that all the former operators will come back. And the administration also wants to make sure that the workers are paid living wages- that’s they are paid wages that can sustain them. We want to make sure that whatever they are to be paid must be above the national minimum wage of N18, 000. This is because when they have good wage, the temptation to do the extra thing will go. Then, the issue of kitting and training of the workers- they should be trained to be courteous to people and appear decent. They should also be more visible, so that a situation whereby people would come and there are not easily seen should not arise. Above all, there have been a lot of collaborations, meetings and committees sitting to fine tune the programme. So it is coming back and very soon- that’s the assurance that I can give to the residents. This is because there is no mega city in the world that does not have a park and pay system. People don’t just park any how in the city. You can see what is happening now in Abuja- there is chaos in many places, with people parking their vehicles anyhow and do anyhow.
Talking about the having the enabling legal backing for the scheme, when are you expecting it to be ready?
The enabling laws are almost there now. Honestly, everything would be concluded latest before September. That’s between now and before September, we should be able to say if the scheme is not yet returned, but we should be able to know the actual date for its re-launch, because the honourable minister has said that it is very soon. People have confronted him severally on the issue, and he made it categorically clear that they are almost set for it. But certainly it would not get to next year.
What would be your advice to the residents of the FCTregarding the revised policy?
There is nowhere where you just behave anyhow on the road. This is about life. Because by their operation they also help to minimize accidents on the road, as a situation whereby people are parking and positioning their vehicles anyhow, it increases the accident rate. And since they stopped operating, accident rate in some places are now on the up surge, and we don’t want it to continue. Above all, Park and pay system enhances aesthetics, minimizes car theft in FCT. So, residents should cooperate with the operators, because the idea is for the good of all of us, as we would be working in tandem with what is happening in other parts of the world.