Before reintroducing tollgates
Federal Government’s move to re-introduce tollgates 16 years after they were demolished by former president Olusegun Obasanjo, has received widespread negative responses because virtually all the road networks across the country are dilapidated and are constituting death traps. Urgent action is required to rehabilitate the roads first before tolling.
Although the Minister of Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola has clarified that the State House Correspondents who reported the development as a Federal Government new revenue policy failed to put it in the right context, the announcement would still not go down well with the people, who daily face the ordeal of bad roads all over the place. The Minister just clarified that reference to a tollgate in a recent briefing after a Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting, which set the tone for criticism of the Federal Government, was in response to a question that was not related to any FEC decisions that week. Specifically, the Minister said the terse reference to a tollgate at the briefing was neither a FEC decision nor a new policy on revenue mobilisation. He said government hadn’t taken any decision on any tollgate policy.
The Minister of Works and Housing was reported as disclosing that the Federal Government would reintroduce toll plazas, presumably, to raise funds for road maintenance.
President Obasanjo had in 2003, ordered the demolition of the tollgates, saying that roads should be maintained through revenue from the increase in fuel pump price then.
He argued that the N63 million collected daily was insignificant and that the facilities constituted inconvenience to motorists and encouraged corruption.
But Fashola was reported to have told reporters after a Federal Executive Council Meeting in Abuja that there was ‘no reason why we can’t toll’.
His words at issue: “There was a policy of government to abolish tolls or, as it were, dismantle toll plazas but there was no law that prohibits tolling in Nigeria today,” he said.
“We expect to return toll plazas. We have concluded the designs of what they will look like, what materials they will be rebuilt with and what new considerations must go into them,” he stated.
As would be expected, there is a groundswell of opposition by Nigerians to the plan since it was announced.
The National Chairman, Nigerian Institution of Highway and Transportation Engineers, Oludayo Olufemi, faulted the move saying there is no good road anywhere; no interstate highway in this country is good.
He said the Federal Government has no choice but to do the road sector reform, adding that the introduction of toll will not solve any problem.
Also, president of Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE), Kunle Mokuolu, said while tolling appears to be a good option because roads need funds, a permanent solution would be engaging the private sector with government acting as the regulator.
The opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) criticised the idea in a statement, saying toll plazas in the midst of economic hardship and high cost of living occasioned by the harsh policies of the Buhari administration are ill-conceived and anti-people.
Once again, any proposal to reintroduce tollgates advertises government’s policy somersaults, which is the bane of national development. There is no enduring policy framework to guide governance. Every new administration comes up with new policies that are discarded no sooner than a new administration takes over. Every facet of national life is affected by this cankerworm, which is most unfortunate.
Whereas, toll gates are part and parcel of standard road infrastructure all over the world, in Nigeria, they are seen, merely, as disposable instruments for raking in ad-hoc revenue supposedly meant for road maintenance, even though, the roads are hardly maintained from the collected toll. Tolls ought to be used for regular road maintenance.
Otherwise, it is incomprehensible why the Obasanjo administration, by executive fiat, decided to demolish the tollgates without any thorough debate.
Besides, expending millions on the demolition, the cost of rebuilding the 31 tollgates alone would be enormous. That raises the question as to why the structures were destroyed and not left in place even if toll was not being collected.
So, given the decrepit state of the country’s road network, the right thing is to do the roads first. It would be senseless, indeed, immoral to collect toll on dilapidated roads. Besides, government should not impose more hardship along with the recent VAT increase from five per cent to 7.2 per cent, among many other charges in place.
Tolling the roads at this critical time is tantamount to extorting money from beleaguered poor Nigerians. It will force the prices of basic food items to skyrocket.
The facilities would compound the worsening traffic snarl on the bad roads and would create opportunity for armed robbers, kidnappers and other hoodlums to operate. It is regrettable that government may not care if people die.
A permanent solution is needed to address the issue of road maintenance. Government should fast track the establishment of the National Road Fund to ensure sustainable funds for road maintenance. It was unfortunate that President Buhari failed to sign a bill that would have introduced the ‘Road Fund’ into law in the last days of his first term. The National Assembly should dust up the bill and return it to the president with a proper explanation of its relevance to building national security assets called roads.
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