LAW Abrogation of Abuja’s ‘Park and Pay’ policy
Suntrust Savings and Loans Ltd vs. Hon. Minister, Federal Capital Territory (Unreported Suit No: FCT/HC/CV/1116/2012 decided on Thursday, the 17th April, 2014 by the FCT High Court, CORAM Peter O. Affen)
The renowned political philosopher, Harold Laski, had stated that a legal system is surrounded by the penumbra of an attainable ideal which it must reach as the price of its preservation. In this pursuit of attainable ideal for the preservation of the society, a key tool is the judiciary as a jealous maid in the intricate affair of doctrine of separation of power and rule of law as entrenched attribute governance in a civilized society. It is the judiciary that steps in as bulwark of refuge for aggrieved persons and entities for the purpose of ventilating their grievances in contradistinction to resort to self help with its attendant likelihood of erosion of public order and public peace.
Thus, Suntrust Savings and Loans Limited aggrieved that her moveable assets were clamped and fine of N20, 000.00 imposed sometime in 2012 by agents of the first and second defendants (Hon. Minister, Federal Capital Territory and Federal Capital Territory Administration) approached the court for redress. Suntrust Savings and Loans Limited as plaintiff sought inter alia declaratory reliefs and restraining order of perpetual injunction against the defendants on ground the Park and Pay Scheme introduced by the defendants within Abuja Metropolis were not legal for failure of requisite legislative backing.
On the other hand, the defendants, particularly the Hon. Minister, Federal Capital Territory and the Federal Capital Territory Administration argued that the extant provisions of the Federal Capital Territory Act, LFN 2004 particularly sections 10 and 11 (1)(e) & (m) of the Road Traffic Act, they have the competence to make bye-laws and/or regulation with regard to road transport and allied matters within Abuja Municipality. The defendants further argued that the Park and Pay scheme is subsumed under the ‘Park and Ride’ policy as provided under sections 118 and 119 of the FCT Road Transport Regulation, 2005.
The learned trial judge was therefore faced with the task of interpreting the latitude of section 11 (i) (e) of the FCT Road Transport Regulation, 2005 which empowers the Hon. Minister, Federal Capital Territory and the Federal Capital Territory Administration to do among other things “the specification of parking places, and the days and hours during which and maximum period they may be used and fees, if any to be imposed.”
In discharging this duty the jurist reached the conclusion that by the letters and spirit of the FCT Road Transport Regulation, 2005, the Federal Capital Territory Administration has the competence to make regulations or bye-laws in general or specific terms such as parking spaces and fees thereto. He however stated and rightly too, that the FCT Road Transport stopped with immediate effect. The learned trial judge observed that being vested with power to make a bye-law or regulation as provided under section 11 (i) (e) of the FCT Road Transport Regulation, 2005 (for the specification of parking spaces and fees if any, to be imposed) is one thing, but failure to have validly exercised and/or acted pursuant to such power before are rolling out the Park and Pay scheme is another thing.
The court distinguished the “Park and Ride” policy as provided under the FCT Transport Regulation, 2005, from the illegal “Park and Pay” scheme which was destitute of any known law authority of WILLIAMS vs. LSDPC (1978) 3 SC, where the apex court of the land held that “no pecuniary burden can be imposed upon the citizen of this country by whatever name it may be called, whether tax, due, rate or toll except upon the clear and district legal authority established by those who seek to impose them.” He admonished that there can be no crime without law and no one can be punished for on offence unless the offence is defined and the penalty thereof prescribed in a written law. That according to Hon. Justice Peter Oyin Affen is the trite position of the law as codified under section 36 (12) of the 1999 Constitution as amended.
On a parting shot, the jurist underscoring the utilitarian nature of the Park and Pay scheme declared that, “My understanding of the import and implication of the principle of supremacy of the law, and the wider concept of the Rule of Law prohibits the introduction of even an excellent policy otherwise than by due process of law.”
This author can agree less as anything to the contrary will be a slide to the ‘hobbesian state of nature.’
A salient revelation in the decision of the court is the usual condemnable tendency and act of impunity by most public office holders in our clime. Whereas the operators of the purported Park and Pay scheme signed agreement with the Federal Capital Territory Administration for “INSTALLATION, OPERATION AND MAINTENANCE OF ON-STREET PARKING METRES” on designated highways and streets, they failed
Wand/or ignored to install any metres. Rather they quickly let loose ‘ thug- like’ agents on Abuja residents who resorted to subjective and arbitrary issuance of dockets manually. hile the Abuja residents wait for the next step to be taken by the authorities that be, one thing is certain, that citizens of the country have been fleeced of their hard earned money over the period the illegal Park and Pay policy was implemented. But then a Daniel has come to judgment. Better late than never.
The commendable courage and sense of patriotic zeal exhibited by the trial judge is an elegant reminder of the timeless words of Oputa JSC in ENGINEERING ENTERPRISE VS. AG. KADUNA STATE (1987) 2 NWLR (PT. 57) 381 at 417 that “the courts have a duty to investigate and discover what in any particular case will satisfy the interest and demands of justice. And the interest of and demands of justice will certainly be dictated by the peculiar facts and the surrounding circumstances of each case.”
The refreshing decision of the court in the case under review just like the equally soothing decision of the courts restraining the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) and Lagos State Government from implementing the notorious vehicle plate numbers registration and tolling of the new Ikoyi bridge respectively reassures us that the judiciary remains the last hope of the common man.
Soni Ajala, Ph.D, FCI. Arb (UK) is an Abuja based legal practitioner