By Chinelo Obogo, Lagos
There have been controversies in regards to the rate at which vehicles stopping at the arrival lounge of the Murtala Muhammed Aiport (MM1), also known as the General Aviation Terminal, are impounded by Turas Towing Services, the towing company responsible for enforcing sanctions to violators of airport traffic rules.
Turas Services have been accused by many airport users of being high handed and indiscriminately impounding vehicles without following due process. Daily Sun witnessed how the vehicle of an Uber driver, who gave his name as Muniru, was impounded as soon as he dropped off a female passenger at the departure lounge of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport. His vehicle was immediately impounded but was later released after he paid an undisclosed sum to the towing company that operates at the international airport. The supervising officer of Turas Services, Olawale Abdulazeez, however, told Daily Sun that his company only operates at the local terminal.
When Daily Sun visited the GAT at the weekend, an airport user who preferred anonymity told the paper that the original objective of the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) hiring the towing company was to ensure non-obstruction of traffic, but that the activities of the concessionaire have made the airport environment hostile to airport users.
‘The officials of the towing company have become a law unto themselves,’ the source said.
‘When they see someone park at the arrival for a few seconds, instead of politely warning the person to park properly, they immediately pounce on the vehicle and clamp the tires and that most often, such confrontation results into chaos and violence. Their mode of operation is not refined at all. What people expect of them is that if someone parks indiscriminately, they should walk up to the person and politely tell the person to move away but they don’t do that. What they do is that the moment someone comes, they just come immediately and clamp the tire and the person will be shocked and sometimes it results in a violent confrontation. But if you warn the offender to move away and the second time, the person does it, then if you are doing anything afterwards, it would be justified. But sometimes, you see someone park for a few seconds and maybe the person is making a call before the person even picks up the phone, they have clamped the person’s tire.
‘You know Nigerians generally don’t always adhere to road signs especially when such signs are not very conspicuous. Sometimes, you see these Taxify and Uber drivers loitering around the airport, waiting to pick passengers even when they do not have the right to do so. The best thing to solve the problem is for more very visible signposts to be set up around the arrival lounge of the airport. Yes, there are some posts there, but some are not very visible, so most often, people can’t easily see them. More signs should be placed all over the airport, especially the arrival lounge so that no one would have any excuse not to see them,’ the source said.
Daily Sun spoke to GAT terminal manager Adekunle Aderibigbe, who confirmed that FAAN has received complaints about the activities of the towing company and that a monitoring team has been set up to monitor their activities and any errant official would be sanctioned.
‘The managing director of FAAN has directed that the towing companies should be given training and it started last week and they will be trained and re-trained. They have been told to change their rickety vehicles because some of the vehicles end up causing more damage to the cars that they impound. These are the issues that our MD observed and we are working on it and I’m very sure that they will improve.
‘We have told them that anytime they see any vehicle parked indiscriminately, they should speak calmly to the driver because it may just be that the driver parked briefly to receive a call or there is an urgent reason for the person to park. If they don’t want a person to park there, you tell the person to move and show the person where he is supposed to park.
‘If it is to drop and pick passengers, there is a sign that shows that to pick passengers should be done at the car park. That is where we have the physical distancing marking for each vehicle to park, so no vehicle should be picking passengers in front of the arrival hall and we have drop-off for the departure. We also have signs there that say you should drop off and not wait. We have set up a monitoring team to monitor the activities of the towing company from GAT down to MMIA and they are already working. If anyone of them flouts any rules, the towing company will be sanctioned because that is one of the agreements of the concession,’ Aderibigbe said.
But Abdulazeez, who is the supervisor for GAT disputed Aderibigbe’s statement, told Daily Sun that no official of Turas would impound any vehicle without valid reasons. He said that many drivers park illegally because they are trying to avoid paying the parking fee of N400.
‘Look at the sign at the entrance of the arrival; it says ‘No waiting, No stopping, No parking’, yet people keep stopping right in front of the signpost to pick passengers. If we stop you, it is your approach to us that will determine how we would handle the issue. I’m in charge of the GAT and its environs up to the Air Force base. At the international airport, there are two towing companies that work there and I can’t say much about their job. No one is required to stop in front of the arrival lounge to pick passengers because it obstructs vehicular movement. There is a car park that has been provided where passengers who come from the arrival lounge are meant to wait for the vehicles that would pick them up. When such vehicles come, they are to drive straight to the car park and wait for the passengers they are meant to keep and the fee for the car park is just N400. It is because many of them don’t want to pay that N400, that is why they always resort to parking in front of the arrival lounge to pick up passengers.
‘You can drop off people at departure but we don’t allow them to loiter there. When we see some taxi drivers waiting there for long, that is when we would impound the vehicles. When we meet them with the passenger, we don’t tow their vehicles, it is when they keep waiting there for long even after the first warning, that we now tow their vehicles. Even at the arrival lounge, we don’t tow immediately; we usually give warnings first and tell them to go to the car park but most of them usually refuse to park there because they don’t want to pay the parking fees. What they do is to go and turn and still come back to the front of the arrival to wait for their passengers. When we see such defaulters, it is then that we impound their vehicles.
‘None of our officials have ever impounded the vehicle of anyone who doesn’t commit an offence. Just look at this man that has just parked in from of the sign that says ‘No parking’. He is now calling the person he wants to pick and someone has gone to warn him. If we arrest him now, he won’t tell the truth about why he was arrested. FAAN instructed us to fine defaulters N15, 000 even though what is written on the signpost is N50, 000 but sometimes, defaulters can plead for the amount to be reduced and we would do it depending on the approach and how valid his reasons are,’ Abdulazeez said.