Lagos airport users lament unfair car towing

What the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) intended to be an enforcement of its regulation against illegal parking of vehicles within the Lagos airport precincts is progressively becoming a money-making enterprise, according to some airport users who spoke to BusinessDay.

“Rather than the pursuit of the goal to ensure safety and sanity around the airport, the enforcement is now being carried out with the sole aim to extort vehicles owners.

“No day passes by without unsuspecting motorists falling prey to vehicle towing operators who lurk around the airport to milk their victims,” said Joy Oge, who recently fell a victim.

Findings by BusinessDay show that the vehicle towing agents hide at strategic places for their target, many who have no idea where to park or drop off travellers, as there are no clear signs showing restricted areas for parking or waiting.

The target is immediately surrounded by people who look more like ‘thugs’ and his or her car towed to a secluded area where they are forced to pay between N10,000 and N40,000 for what is termed ‘wrong parking.’ The same treatment is meted out on drivers whose vehicles breakdown within the airport.

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Aviation stakeholders told BusinessDay that the modus operandi of the towing vehicle operators contravenes airport regulations, as they are not properly kitted.

Checks by BusinessDay show that the agents operate with dilapidated vehicles not befitting of an airport environment.

Some of the vehicles used to carry out these operations do not have tracking numbers or owner contact details. They also do not have logos that distinguish one towing vehicle from another.

According to Oge, on Friday, October 1, 2021, she drove to MMA2, Lagos local terminal to pick her husband. As she approached the terminal, there was traffic as a result of those picking up and dropping off passengers.

She said her husband sighted her vehicle which was already close to him and he entered the vehicle while in traffic.

Oge said she was shocked to see people who looked like ‘thugs’ forcefully entering her car, while the others locked the tyres of the car to stop her from moving.

When asked what her offence was, the tow operators said she was not supposed to pick a passenger at the spot, despite the obvious gridlock.

“They towed my car and told us to pay N40,000 to have it released to us. We eventually asked for a point-of-sale (POS) machine to make payment but they insisted on cash.

“After much contention, they reluctantly brought out the POS machine and we made payment. We later asked other people who had their vehicles towed the same day and they told us they paid lower. Some people paid N10,000, some N15,000 and some N25,000. They insisted they would collect cash from almost everyone, which means the money won’t be remitted to the airport authority,” Oge said.

Seyi Adewale, another frequent airport user, also narrated his ordeal:

“On a specific day, I had an urgent telephone call and I needed time, so I parked in front of ASL Catering. They swooped on me, jumped around my vehicle tyre and if I had moved the car, I would have crushed the intruder.

“However, the other team members around six of them asked why I parked. I explained that I needed to pick an urgent call and besides I’m not on the road but parked within the entrance access area of ASL Catering.

“They insisted I must pay since I had no plans to drive into the ASL compound. I was too upset to argue or protest and I agreed to pay especially when I suspected that some of them were high on a ‘substance’ or liquor,” Adewale explained.

Tayo Ojuri, an aviation consultant and managing partner, Aglow Aviation Support Services Limited told BusinessDay that every day, he gets calls from people complaining that their vehicles were towed.

“The airport authority has given tow operators target to remit a certain amount of money monthly. It has become a money-making venture for them as everyone is trying to take advantage of the system,” Ojuri said.

Also, Olumide Ohunayo, an aviation analyst said there has been an issue of high-handedness on the part of towing vehicle operators both at the local and international airport and the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, (FAAN) ought to have acted concerning these tow operators.

Ohunayo, who described the operators as ‘motor park thugs’ said their activities needed to be reviewed. “Also the quality of vehicles being used and paraded by these concessionaires for the airport vicinity is not up to standard,” he added.

He said that there was a law that allows people to park if you need to make a phone call.

“Rather than operate according to the ethos of road safety, airport tow operators are only interested in squeezing money from passengers. Hence, any little breakdown or stop, they just jump at the vehicle. It is not professional. They need to read out the dos and don’ts for airport users and tow operators. There should be appropriate rules and regulations,” he added.

Henrietta Yakubu, the general manager, corporate communications FAAN, said the authority has had various complaints concerning these people and recently invited the owners of the towing companies for a discussion.

“The MD of FAAN spoke to them on the need to deploy a different approach in carrying out their duties. Customer service has also brought them in for training, yet we still get complaints,” Yakubu said.

She assured that FAAN will look into the various complaints received and address the issue once and for all.