Why We Automate Payments in Abuja Markets – Yakubu

The Abuja Markets Management Limited (AMML) is responsible for managing markets in Abuja and some satellite towns. In this interview, the agency’s Acting Director General, Abbas Yakubu, an engineer, spoke on issues surrounding the functioning and security of the markets.

OWhat are the functions of the AMML and what markets are you responsible for in Abuja?

AMML was established in 2004 by Abuja Investment Company, the investment arm of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) administration. The main objective was to manage the markets belonging to the FCTA. These markets are Wuse, Garki Model Market, Gudu Market, Kado Fish Market, Dei-Dei Building Materials Market and other neighborhood centers like Zone 1, 2, 3, 7, UTC and Wuse Zone Shopping and Neighborhood Center 3.

Our function is essentially to ensure that these markets are safe, secure and clean for businesses. To do this, we engage specialists such as cleaning companies and security companies. They do these jobs for us and we collect revenue from traders to pay them.

We also ensure that human and vehicular movement is free through gates, as well as inside markets and ensure that facilities such as roads and drainages are well maintained to prevent flooding or congestion in the markets.

There have been discussions in the recent past of plans to start tolling Abuja markets, is this still on the table?

Yes, we do indeed want to take off in the Wuse and Garki markets at the same time. I can tell you that in the next two months there will be toll gates there. The question was on the table. The expert engagement process takes a while, but we are getting close; and God willing, we will launch the toll gates soon.

You’ve been running the business for six months, what strategies do you have? How far have you come and what are the stumbling blocks you face?

When I came on board in February of this year, I set out a four-point agenda. I want to improve our accountability, develop a solid revenue growth process, and provide extraordinary service delivery in our markets.

We have also developed a strategy to ensure that we have the necessary resources at all times to take care of the markets. We have what we call mutual respect between us and the traders. And we have to have a response time – within five minutes we have to respond to issues.

We have also developed a strategic growth plan, which we have presented on a two-year roadmap, which indicates at each stage where we are heading. We audit ourselves quarterly and ultimately expect growth.

We have three objectives: that our stakeholders are happy, that we consolidate the activities that we carry out and develop, and that we diversify because the existing activities alone will not be enough to support the company.

Speaking of service delivery and increased revenue, how are you leveraging technology?

Well, in terms of the process of doing business, we’ve mostly come across an analog system in place and we can’t go on like this. We need to digitize, so currently we have SAGE 50 accounting software in progress, so we will have a digitized revenue collection process.

We also have CCTV cameras in the Garki market, which digitizes our operation monitoring system.

We go beyond that in drones, especially in the Dei Dei market. And we will mechanize our cleaning process instead of manual methods, as well as reduce the cost of waste disposal through biodigestion technology.

Speaking of revenue improvement, yes, previously you would get, say, 57% recovery, but now our goal is to get between 80% and 100%. It is not easy to collect payment from merchants. We have exceeded what we have collected so far with the new method.

There is a marked improvement in the service delivery process, merchants are now encouraged to pay when due.

Is the AMML really a facility management company?

AMML is a 100% facility management company. Usually it is understood that we are an agency created for the collection and distribution of revenue for the government. Let’s call what we’re doing entry income because it’s not money that goes to the government. This society was created without any subsidies, so the money we collect goes to make the markets work. So we’re purely a facility management company, it’s just that we rely on the government, which put us in place.

What are you doing to improve the company’s strengths?

Well, these assets are actually in the custody of Abuja Investments Company Limited Ltd. We only manage them for them, but to ensure that after many years the value improves through maintenance. If you are given an asset to keep, don’t let it rot.

What is your forecast turnover?

The amount varies; it is not fixed. When we come and say we want to clean the market, we and the traders sit down to agree on the cost and we collect the money and pay the people.

There is an ongoing problem between UTC traders and your agency, what’s the latest?

Abuja is almost 40 years old, so the city has grown and UTC has become relatively small for the growing population of traders; therefore, you see congestion, attachments and all that you have. So the owners of the market have said to redevelop it by tearing down the old structures and building a better market, but the traders don’t think so. Abuja Investments wants Abuja to be a world class city. The problem is therefore whether to develop or not.

Lots of effort has been made to enlighten traders through town hall meetings etc. but they probably don’t trust the government. Perhaps they fear that the government will redevelop and allocate to the wealthy. But they were assured that if there were 100 stores and we redeveloped 200 or 300, the 100 would be theirs, even at reduced rates.

Would you say the AMML is aligned with the Financial Reporting Council?

Yes, at the time I came on board, income reporting was done by phone call, but now we have basic technology like WhatsApp, so we have it set up and see the income collected in the markets. Anyone can see it, so it’s transparent. And to go beyond that, we decided to use the SAGE 50 accounting system, which allows obtaining income and using digital receipts. If you make a payment in your bank, this is reflected directly in our accounts. Very soon we will have an application where even without internet you will receive a notification that your rent is due, you have paid it and the balance is next.

What striking strategy have you implemented since arriving on board?

I congratulate those who started this enterprise; they worked very hard and should be applauded. What I bring is simply technology to improve processes. In terms of infrastructure, we have introduced community effort through corporate social responsibility. At Dei-Dei, we had the place fenced off by a developer and converted the spaces into paid parking and granted it to this developer who can then recover his money. We are also introducing solar lights as part of this same corporate social responsibility. This way we can relieve the government, as well as the traders.

What are you doing to solve the problem of inadequate power supply?

We are considering an alternative power supply – solar. On Garki Model Market, we are talking to an interested technical company that deals with this. Our role is to mediate. This aims to have a sustained power supply rather than relying on the Abuja Electricity Distribution Company (AEDC). It is about 65% complete, especially in the Wuse market.

The problem of the traffic situation around the Wuse market has become a recurring decimal, what are you doing to solve this problem?

We are looking at three things we can do. The first is to find out what causes it.

We introduce the automation system, which does not require you to pay at the door. When driving, you choose a map, then drive in and do your business. You will go to a point and pay. And when exiting, you declare the card and get the pass. Thus, by this automation, we reduce the entry time.

As for on-road parking, we are talking with the FCT Transportation Secretariat about an initiative they have proposed called off-street parking. All unused areas around the market will be used for off-street parking.

And during peak hours, in addition to the two entrances, you want to focus on the rear. When you enter you can access the back. In addition to the existing exits, there is a rear garden with a pedestrian walkway; if we get approval, we can get an exit there so you don’t come out the front.

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