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Achievements and challenges of roads in Nigeria (2)


Free roadsContinued from yesterday

MUCH effort has gone into trying to effect the road user contribution from fuel, for the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency. In anticipation of this, in October 2003, the Federal Minister of Works, at the time, stated that “tolls on federal roads could be done away with, if fuel tax was instituted.” In January 2004, the Federal Government dismantled tolls on federal roads. However, the National Assembly ruled that its prior approval was required before the commencement of collection of funds from the pump piece of fuel. Yet, in all recommendations for the funding of roads, (from 1973 to 2008) road user contributions had always consisted of a percentage of fuel price of fuel, tolls, concessions on federal roads and other sources.

Establishing the Road Fund and the Federal Roads Authority will require re-visiting all existing laws on federal highways. These are the Federal Highways Act 1971, the Federal Road Safety Commission Act of 1988 and the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency Act of 2000. In this, Nigeria would be following Ghana’s experience. That sister country set up various agencies for roads before bringing them together in 1974 to form the Ghana Highways Authority.

The most recent step towards establishing the Highways Authority involved the Workshop on “Road Sector Reform in Nigeria: the Way Forward” organised by the Federal Ministry of Transportation on June 10, 2008, in Abuja. The Minister, Mrs. Diezani Allison-Madueke, noted that “roads are probably the most valuable public asset of our economy; which are not only big business but, extremely essential for economic development. The current state of our roads could be attributed to lack of appropriate institutional and legal frameworks, unpredictable and inadequate funding and a dire lack of maintenance culture.”

The Abuja Workshop addressed all these issues in deliberations that encapsulated all preceding reports and studies from 1971 to 2008. It concluded with recommendations for the setting up of the National Road Fund and the Federal Roads Authority; each with its own Board. The Federal Road Safety Commission will be represented on the Board of the Federal Roads Authority, along with other stakeholders from Government departments and the Private Sector. The 36 States and the 774 Local Government Areas would be required to set up an equivalent Agency at their tier of government.

Ogun State had already passed a Law in 2005 for the Ogun State Roads Board whose template has been requested by some of the other states. In the on-going Road reform in Nigeria, it is necessary to review the roads under each tier of government, especially where federal roads pass through cities in the states. There may be need for further classification of roads, such as Township Roads within the Local Government areas and roads in Private Estates and Institutions.

The year 2008 Workshop established target dates (milestones) for the passage of the Bills for the Federal Roads Authority, the Road Fund and the inauguration of the Road Fund Board (in the Ministry of Finance) and the take-off of Federal Roads Authority (by May 2009). The Stakeholders also discussed modalities for expediting the passage of the Bill through the Executive and Legislative Arms of Government. The Federal Government decision to dismantle the Ministry of Transportation (and thereby return roads to the Ministry of Works, with new Ministers and new organizational structures) slowed down the process. However, the Federal Executive Council promptly approved the recommendations in 2010 and sent the Executive Bills to the National Assembly.

In the meantime, Nigeria had embraced the idea of concessional infrastructure including roads. However, development economists have consistently stated that developed nations used public funds to develop their basic infrastructure before they adopted the option of concessional and that Nigeria must yet use public funds to do the same. We had the experience of watching the outcome of the first road concession, the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, since it was handed to a private company in April 2009.

The agreement was terminated in 2011. That experience will be a reference for future concessions in Nigeria and other countries of Africa. We witnessed the wrangling over the Lekki Concession by the Lagos State Government, even after the concessionaire had sunk in funds and built toll plazas. However, concessionaires support the establishment of a Federal Roads Authority in Nigeria, because of the confidence arising from the fact that such a corporate entity can raise funds from financial institutions based on the assured regular flow from road user sources.

The setting up of the Federal Roads Authority is the greatest legacy a Minister responsible for roads can bequeath. This also applies to the Presidency. In the long years of attempts to set up this agency, only a few of the ministers have supported the idea. Major General Maman Kontagora and Major General Abdulkarim Adisa were enthusiastic about setting up the authority. Adisa even went further to state that it did not matter to him if the Federal Roads Authority was domiciled in Ministry of Works or Ministry of Transport. After leaving office, many of the other Ministers regretted not pushing the establishment of the Roads Authority while in office.

When the present minister responsible for roads, Babatunde Raji Fasola, announced recently the possibility of returning tolls on federal roads, the Nigeria Society of Highway Engineers called on the National Assembly to pass the laws for the Road Reform Package. This would be the realization of the 45-year long journey to set up a Federal Roads Authority. The delay in setting up this agency is the main cause of inadequate funding for roads in Nigeria. Every day without the Agency results in the loss of millions of Naira that could flow into the National Road Fund. In the provisions of the Draft Bill, the National Road Fund will be distributed in agreed proportions to the Federal Government, State Governments and Local Governments for their respective road networks.
• Concluded

• Akindele, a Special Adviser (Road Administration) to the Governor of Ogun State, from 2003-2011) is a visiting Member of the Guardian Editorial Board.

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