Apprehension over return of toll gates on highways
• Security Checkpoints, Bad Roads Already A Big Headache, Drivers Lament • Vow To Pass
Burden To Passengers • Experts Endorse Move, Urge Transparency In Management Of Proceeds
Nigerians have expressed concerns over the Federal Government’s plan to reintroduce toll collections on designated dual carriageways across the country. While some Nigerians support the move, others were quick to condemn it, alleging that the government was looking for another opportunity to further impoverish ordinary Nigerians.
This is even as some stakeholders questioned the exemption of certain categories of people from paying the approved tolls when the plan takes off, saying the exemption clause should be reviewed. They also urged the government to leverage on technology to ensure transparency and accountability in the exercise and also free flow of traffic at toll points.
The Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, had after last Wednesday’s Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting in Abuja, announced that the council had approved the ministry’s request to reintroduce tollgates on selected dual carriageways across the country.
Although he disclosed that only 5,005 kilometres of dual carriageways, out of the 35,000 kilometres of federal roads in the country (that is 14.3 per cent), would be eligible for tolling, even as diplomatic, military, paramilitary vehicles as well as tricycles and motorcycles would be exempted from the toll fees, many Nigerians vehemently kicked against it.
According to the minister, cars would pay N200, SUVs and Jeeps N300, private buses N300, commercial buses N150, luxury buses and trucks N500.
The planned reintroduction of tollgates is coming 18 years after the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo dismantled all toll plazas on federal roads throughout the country in 2003.
Commenting on the development, some drivers who ply interstate highways told The Guardian that in as much as the policy was laudable, it was anti-development following the existence of many toll collecting checkpoints mounted by the police, military and paramilitary security agencies in the country.
A driver, Steve Nwannetanya, who plies the Lagos-Onitsha route, said the return of tollgates would further increase the sufferings of Nigerians.
He noted that the checkpoints mounted by the security agencies on the highway were many and already a burden on motorists, saying they were always forced to part with ‘something’ by the security operatives at the checkpoints.
“I don’t know who is advising this government. The policy will certainty increase the sufferings of the people. From Sagamu interchange to Onitsha, the gateway to the East, you can count nothing less than 60 toll collecting checkpoints of both the military and paramilitary security agencies that include the Police, Customs, NDLEA, FRSC and even Quarantine.
“The cost of maintaining vehicles now is on the high side. So, if the government returns tollgates to add to what we are paying on the road now, then the passengers should get ready to bear the brunt because the add-on will fall back on them. A journey of N1000 will definitely jerk up,” he said.
Corroborating Nwannetanya’s position, another driver that plies Ibadan from the Oshodi Terminal, who simply gave his name as Suraju, said the policy was a welcome development, as long as certain palliative measures would be put in place.
He said: “It is a welcome development if it is certain that once they start collecting toll fees, the revenue generated will be used to provide social amenities, especially repairing the roads. Although the government is fixing roads now, some routes are still bad.
“So, if the government will be sincere with toll fees collected, by using it to maintain the roads, build more infrastructure, it is a welcome development.”
A luxury bus driver with a leading transport company, Collins Nwakaibe, also told The Guardian: “Government should first of all make the country better and the roads safe for ordinary Nigerians. Will the return of tollgates make the highway safe for us as Nigerians, especially those of that cannot afford flight tickets?”
“There is the need for the government to declare a state of emergency on the highways; our roads are bushy. Will the return of tollgates solve the problem of insecurity in the country?
“Let’s stop deceiving ourselves, and I stand to be corrected; it is another means of settlement for some people. We pay multiple taxes without any value for the money being paid. Transporters will not bear the cost; rather it will fall back on the passengers. They will pay for it indirectly, as it will be an add-on to the fares.”
A driver at the Iyana-Ipaja terminus of a transport company in Lagos, who identified himself as Ifeanyi, welcomes the policy was if it would impact on the common man positively.
“But if it’s going to be the usual ‘collect and pocket’, then they should have a rethink because it is also going to affect the common man, as the transport fares will increase.
“Our roads are bad and they need utmost attention. The bad roads are the cause of damages that we record in the vehicles. Passengers will be affected because if, for instance, we are charging N7,000 as fare to Onitsha, and the tollgates are returned, it will reflect in the transport fare because the driver cannot use his personal money to pay the tolls.
“Don’t forget that they are already over burdened with the numerous toll collection checkpoints set up by the security agencies. So, for the passengers, it going to be what I call now your suffering continues.
“The tollgates will further increase the travel time spent on the road. For instance now, from Lagos to Onitsha, we spend between seven and eight hours depending on how the vehicle moves due to the various checkpoints mounted by the security agents.
“Government should reduce the number of these checkpoints, and if possible limit them to the tollgates when they become operational. Already, the checkpoints are causing heavy traffic on the road and thus increasing the travel time.
“If you decide to count the checkpoints, at some point you may lose count because they are too many on the road. From Sagamu bypass to Onitsha Head Bridge or Upper Iweka, you will count nothing less than 70. So, much as tollgates may be good, the policy will increase the suffering of passengers, who ultimately bear the cost.”
Also reacting to the development, an economist and former Director-General of Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industries (LCCI), Dr. Muda Yusuf, supported the move, saying that country needs funds outside budgetary allocations to keep its roads in good shape.
His words: “If the country must have good roads, then the creation of funding sources outside the budgetary allocations is inevitable.
“The best practice in most parts of the developing world is to create frameworks to generate revenue outside of the normal budgetary allocations for the development of road infrastructure. The tolling proposition is therefore a welcome idea. However, the idea of exempting some categories of road users such as military and paramilitary and other MDAs may create implementation, compliance and enforcement challenges.
“We have multitudes of these agencies and institutions across the country and at all levels of government. The exemption clause should be reviewed. The risk of abuse is high. Besides, we should also move away from the culture of government agencies or their personnel not paying for public utilities.
“One of the biggest challenges facing the power sector today is the huge indebtedness by the military, paramilitary and other government agencies who do not feel obligated to pay for electricity. We should put an end to this culture.”
Yusuf added that the creation of a Road Fund as earlier contemplated in the National Road Fund (NRF) and Federal Highway Authority (FHA) Bill was a more sustainable solution to the funding challenge for our roads.
“This is the practice in most parts of the world. It is a principle, which sets aside a percentage of fuel price for the purpose of financing road maintenance, rehabilitation and construction. And this would be utilised to cover all roads, not just the federal roads.
“We currently have an estimated 34,000km of federal roads, over 30,000km of state roads and over 85,000km of local council roads. The approach should be holistic.
“Although it may be politically difficult to push at this time, it offers a more enduring and sustainable solution to road financing in the country. The cost of collection is much lower, the potential revenue yield is much higher and monitoring will be much easier,” he added.
He, however, noted that these complementary funding options would demand some sacrifice from citizens.
“But the potential outcome is worth the sacrifice. There should be transparency and accountability in the implementation process.
“Good roads would boost productivity in the economy, reduce travel time, reduce transportation costs, reduce cost push inflation, improve domestic connectivity of economic players and ultimately improve the living standards of the people. The policy deserves to be given every support to make it succeed.”
Speaking in the same vein, a lawyer, Toye Sobande, said the return of tollgates was a welcome idea, adding that, “the standard requirement is that the money will be ploughed back into maintaining the road infrastructure, constructing and opening more road networks.”
He added: “I remember that in the U.S., people have options. If you go through the toll, it’s shorter while you pay. But if you don’t, you go through the longer route.
“However, everything introduced into Nigeria generates a lot of controversy, which is not about the project, but about our revenue culture. We have a culture of distrust. The average Nigerian does not trust the people in government. They believe any government policy is to create hardship in people’s lives.”
Sobande also submitted that tollgates would create a lot of traffic on the highways, saying the only way to surmount the challenge was to leverage on technology.
“The government can create an app that helps motorists know all the tollgates they will encounter on their way to their destination; where they can pay online on all the tollgates they will pass through to their destination with their plate number. This should then generate a barcode they can use to travel. So, it can be scanned as you access toll points; that way, we can reduce high level of corruption that comes with toll activities.
“What I see is a noble plan from the government to generate resources to fund and maintain its infrastructure. My concern also is: What timetable has the government put in place to sample people’s opinions on this project? It’s not enough to say they have reached out to stakeholders. The rich and mighty will not use these tolls; they will fly to avert traffic. It is the poor who will use it more. So, it is important that they keep the roads in shape before getting the tolls started.
“Also, all those road blocks that are on the roads created by policemen should be removed to prevent multiple payments and hardship. In all, we want the government not to create untold hardship for citizens more than we are facing already.”
On his part, a public affairs analyst, Jackson Iwuanorue, said: It’s not a bad idea to reintroduce tollgates. But, across the country, we still have bad roads that require attention and maintenance. So, are the toll fees going to be collected from the same bad roads?
“Also there has to be a system to ensure that fees that will be collected from the tollgates are well accounted for and remitted if possible to the Treasury Single Account (TSA). The government needs to look into deploying technological platforms that would ensure transparency and accountability in the process.”
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