More than a year after the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) introduced its e-hailing service, travelers in and out of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) have been confronted with terrible transport experiences while commercial drivers battle rougher business conditions.
April 2023 was the first time in two years that Tofunmi Odelade would be visiting Abuja.
Upon arriving at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA) – also referred to as Abuja Airport – in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), she requested a ride on the popular e-hailing app Bolt, and the trip was estimated to cost N4,600. However, she was surprised when she learned from the driver that her fee was N8,000.
“He told me that getting to Garki would cost me N8,000. I’d never heard of such a thing before that time. I called my cousin whom I was visiting with, and she said that was a new style and I should partner with any other passenger at the airport going into town so we could share the bill,” she said.
Odelade was not comfortable sharing a ride with a stranger, and although she did not understand why the trip cost more than the Bolt app requested, she paid.
Garba Bello, a businessman, also suffered the same unsavory experience in January. Returning from a trip abroad, he used his Bolt app to request a ride to Asokoro a highbrow area of Abuja. The Bolt driver directed him to the car park. Upon locating the driver, he had settled in with his bags in the trunk before he was told that he would pay N7,000 instead of the N4,100 the app charged him.
Bello flared up, querying the driver for allowing him to settle down for the ride before telling him about the price, but the driver pleaded that it was not his fault as the airport authorities no longer allow Bolt to operate at the airport. He added that all drivers now had to use a FAAN app, which charges N7,000 for a trip to town.
“So, why would Bolt connect me with you? As long as Bolt connects me to a driver, I don’t have any business with the driver. I go with what Bolt tells me,” he said to the driver.
At the end of the day, in spite of his protest, Bello was forced to pay N7,000 for the trip.
Many travelers at the Abuja airport have found themselves in the same situation as Odelade and Bello. When FAAN launched its e-hailing application FAANTAXI, in May 2022, the aim was to eliminate touting and outdated cab-hailing methods at international airports.
The app was first introduced at the Abuja airport in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) with the intention of extending it to other international airports in Nigeria.
The FAAN’s Director of Commercial and Business Development, Sadiku Abdulkadir Rafindadi, said during the launch that the app would improve the safety, security, and comfort of travelers.
“The app will enhance seamless passengers’ facilitation, comfort, safety, and security of Nigerians using it,” Rafindadi said.
The FAAN Managing Director Rabiu Yadudu also assured drivers that the development was for the better.
“This is a good development. We fear changes naturally. Sometimes, when change occurs, we will be proud of it. I am assuring taxi and commercial drivers that this will actually lead to laudable development,” Yadudu said.
Based on the promises made at the event, Nigerians had high expectations of the app. But one year after the launch, the latest innovation is leaving visitors with sour transport experiences and frustrating commercial drivers who operate at the airport.
Following the launch of the FAANTAXI app, other e-hailing companies were required to register under the platform.
According to FAAN Director, Public Affairs and Consumer Protection Yakubu Funtua, there are at least 13 companies registered under FAANTAXI as of July 2023. By implication, drivers who ply the airport route under various e-hailing platforms had to register under FAANTAXI, as those not registered were denied entry into the airport car park.
While registration is free on Bolt, Uber, and many other e-hailing apps, the sum of N25,000 is demanded from drivers who intend to register with FAANTAXI. However, many drivers confirmed to The ICIR that registration was free under the app in the first few months after it was introduced.
Drivers are also required to remit a service charge of N2,000 daily, in a few cases N1,000, depending on the transport company they work with, before gaining access to the FAAN loading base.
For every trip out of the airport, the sum of N500 is demanded by the airport authorities as a commission, which is usually paid through the driver’s app.
FAAN Taxi app incomplete
Despite these fees, there are relatively few requests from customers through FAANTAXI, as there is no provision for travelers to book trips online like other e-hailing apps.
A search through the Google play store on May 25, 2023, showed that the only FAANTAXI app available online for download allows users the sole option of registering as drivers.
Commercial drivers at the airport confirmed to The ICIR that there is no functioning online application for passengers to connect with drivers.
To book a ride via the platform, therefore, customers have to approach designated FAANTAXI desks at the airport to be manually paired with drivers.
This is contrary to FAAN’s promise of “seamless facilitation” for travelers, who would rather book trips via e-hailing platforms readily available on their phones. Drivers also expressed dissatisfaction with the app.
“If you use that FAANTAXI app, you can be here till night without getting a passenger. We cannot rely on them because they don’t have customers,” a driver, Rahama Abdul, told The ICIR.
The lack of an adequate customer base has also been attributed to other factors, including the difference in prices of Bolt and FAANTAXI rides.
As of April 2023, Bolt prices for trips out of the airport cost about N4,600, while FAANTAXI charged an average of N8,000 for the same location.
Who bears the brunt?
To make up for these financial investments, commercial drivers who receive requests via Bolt, Uber, or other apps bill customers according to FAANTAXI prices, which explains why travelers like Odelade and Bello pay higher prices for trips into town.
This has frustrated many travelers, including a Twitter user, Otoide A., who described the situation as institutionalized extortion in a May 3, 2023 post.
“So I arrived at Abuja airport this morning, and as usual, I ordered a bolt. The driver says I have to meet him at a Bolt car park. Getting there, I see it’s heavily branded FAANTaxi. The driver finds me and says sorry, they won’t allow him to leave using the Bolt app, that he has to book me on their FAANTAXI app.
“Same trip there was about N2,000 more expensive. Lo and behold, at the exit gate of the car park, there are FAANTAXI ‘enforcers’ demanding to see the trip commencing on their app. I thought this institutionalized extortion was only a Lagos thing,” Otoide A. tweeted.
Airport officials are strategically positioned at the exit of the car park to enforce the N500 payment, which is the FAANTAXI commission per trip.
As a result of multiple remittances, most drivers, who get passengers via other apps, proceed to carry out the rides offline to avoid running the same trip on both platforms and paying commission to the two apps.
“If you don’t go offline on Bolt, you’ll be working for nothing. For some of us, the car is not our own. You pay remittance, you pay for fuel, at the end of the day, how much will remain for you? Will you die being a driver? Will you do driving work till your old age?” Abdul asked.
However, frequent offline trips attract sanctions from Bolt and other apps, which sometimes include suspension from the app, a situation that blocks drivers’ access to passengers and can keep them out of work for a while.
“If I cancel three times today, tomorrow I will be blocked. Then there will be no app to work with,” another driver, Eneji Salami, said.
However, with the removal of fuel subsidy in Nigeria, the cost of transportation from the airport surged to about N9,500 per trip on the Bolt app, while FAANTAXI fares were increased to N10,000, leaving a negligible difference between both fares.
During a visit by The ICIR to the airport in July, it was observed that drivers did not charge more than the N9,500 fee demanded by Bolt for the trip.
“It was when the difference was much that drivers chose to go with FAANTAXI price. Now it is almost the same. The N500 is not that much, so there is no need,” Salami told The ICIR.
Ease of doing business
Nigeria is one of the countries ranking poorly on the Ease of Doing Business Index.
Ranking 131st on the Ease of Doing Business (EDB) index out of 190 global economies rated by the World Bank in 2020, several unfavorable factors affect entrepreneurship in Nigeria.
Many business owners and analysts have cited government policies, multiple taxation, among others, as some of the factors increasing the difficulty in conducting business in Nigeria.
For commercial drivers in the Abuja airport, excessive payments associated with driving under the FAANTAXI are frustrating businesses.
“The way they put it now, you must get that FAANTAXI app if you want to pick up a passenger from the airport, even if you are with Bolt or Uber. Meanwhile, it is not necessary, I’m driving with Bolt; I don’t see the reason why I will be paying Bolt a percentage and paying another person a percentage again,” Abdul said.
Another driver, Akinwale Rabiu, described the process as tiring during an interview with The ICIR.
“The pressure is too much. You cannot even enter the loading base without that app. And if they catch you picking passengers outside, they’ll arrest you, and you must pay N25,000. I will be paying N1,000 daily, even after paying N25,000 to register. Meanwhile, under Bolt, I registered for free.
“As you are coming inside before you get any request, you’ll pay the N1000 for the service charge. After that, you give them N500 commission on any request you get. You cannot pick passengers on Bolt price, that is their rule. Even if you decide to use Bolt, the expenses are much; you cannot get anything from it,” Rabiu said.
The NAIA – Abuja airport – is mostly managed by FAAN.
In 2016, the federal government announced its intention to concession the Abuja and Kano airports for 20 and 30 years, which sparked protests from aviation workers in both states.
The concession was aimed at inviting private practitioners into the sector for investments and partnerships. In November 2022, the government declared Corporacìon America Airports Consortium as the preferred bidder for the NAIA, and the process was approved in May 2023.
The Consortium consists of Corporacìon America Airports (CAAP) and Mota Engil Group, a company with partners in Nigeria.
However, aviation workers kicked against the concession, accusing the federal government of not being transparent enough with the process.
In an interview with The ICIR, Secretary-General of the National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE), Ocheme Abah, said the lack of transparency makes it difficult to determine what part of the airport is still under the control of FAAN.
“What we are told is that the concession is supposed to apply only to the terminal. But part of why we are telling you that it is not transparent is that, at this moment, nobody knows exactly what sections of the airport have been concessioned. Nobody can tell you specifically now what has been concessioned,” Abah said.
The Nigerian Senate also ordered a probe into the concession in July 2023, saying the process was shrouded in secrecy, which was not in the public interest.
However, payments on the FAANTAXI app are still being made directly into the FAAN account through the app as of the time of filing this report.
“You pay them through the app. If you want to drive out of the airport, you will use the FAANTAXI app to send the money directly to FAAN. If you pay with the app, it goes direct to the airport account. They don’t collect cash,” Rabiu told The ICIR.
However, on July 17, 2023, The ICIR observed as a driver made payment manually, remitting N700 instead of the usual N500.
“The FAANTAXI app is down. They are using the opportunity to make an extra N200 from us,” the driver said.
Customers were unable to book rides via the FAANTAXI desk due to the problem with the app, and a group of drivers gathered at the stand in what appeared to be a rowdy meeting.
Some drivers confirmed to The ICIR that the glitch being experienced was not an isolated case, as there have been similar occurrences in the past.
But passengers suffered the most from the technical problems with the app, as those without other alternatives had to wait for up to 30 minutes before they could be connected to a driver.
For many passengers who were used to other e – hailing taxis in the past that they had to wait for only a couple of minutes, the FAANTAXI is terribly inconvenient.
Speaking with The ICIR on some of the concerns raised, FAAN Director, Public Affairs and Consumer Protection, Yakubu Funtua, noted that the challenges with the app will be resolved as it is still in its infant stage.
Funtua said the app is meeting FAAN’s expectations as there were 1,826 drivers registered on the platform.
He also noted that higher prices demanded compared to internationally-owned e-hailing platforms were not a cause for worry to the authorities as they are part of measures to make the NAIA one of the best airports globally.
“The aim is to be among the best Airports in the world,” Funtua said. He noted that by airport records, drivers are required to only pay N500 commission per trip and a one-off fee of N25,000 for registration.
Although he promised to provide clarification on the daily service charge of N1,000 or N2,000 demanded of drivers at the airport daily, Funtua had not disclosed this information at the time of filing this report.
However, some drivers who spoke with The ICIR said the service charge was demanded by the various other companies registered under FAAN apart from Bolt, as Bolt’s service fees were already deducted per trip.
“It is not demanded by FAAN or Bolt, but if you drive under other companies registered with FAAN, then you pay the money to them. Bolt is not supposed to pay because if you are using Bolt, they are charging you the percentage you are supposed to pay on trips already.
“We that are under Bolt pay the N1000/N2000 daily because we sometimes register under other companies who do not take 25 percent off our trips. So since we register with them, we have to pay that money so that any ride we get first, whether from Bolt or other companies, we take it,” a driver Ezekiel Baiye told The ICIR.
Meanwhile, earlier this month FAAN announced a temporary suspension of the service, which it stated was due to unresolved factional disputes among the car hire operators, affecting airport car hire service operations. However, the suspension has been lifted.