PROPOSED REINTRODUCTION OF TOLL GATES ON FEDERAL ROADS (1)

“On a particular occasion, I instructed some of my lawyers to observe the volume of traffic from three points on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway over a 24 hour period. The volume of vehicular traffic observed and the expected revenue from these was mind blowing”.

Recently the Federal Government, through the Works, Housing and Power Minister Babatunde Fashola (SAN) announced the planned reintroduction of toll gates across selected Federal Roads in Nigeria. Explaining the rationale for the change in policy, the Minister was reported to have stated as follows:

“Maintenance would be our watchword. We are setting up a robust maintenance regime to keep our highways in good shape…This shows that tolling is necessary to support government funding. So, it will not be too much if we ask every road user to pay little to augment government funding for road maintenance…It is eminent commonsense for us to find that money. We will use technology; so if we don’t pay cash, you will pay by tokens or tickets and the money is accountable and it will go to the right place…We will manage that fund properly and we will hold those who we put there to account,”

Furthermore the minister stated that the road sector had so many road projects estimated to cost about N2 trillion. He revealed out that out of the N18 billion budgetary allocation in 2015 for the ministry, N15 billion has been spent. He compared this with the highest yearly budgetary allocation for in 2002 which was N200 billion in2002. The Minister generally painted a bleak prospect of government’s ability to fund the maintenance of roads without collecting tolls.
Hardly had the Minister’s press conference been concluded than his statements began to attract diverse comments from concerned Nigerians. While some questioned the timing of the proposal at a time when a greater number of Nigerians were facing economic hardships owing to the poor state of the economy, others were concerned by what they saw as a general lack of policy consistency on the part of governments in Nigeria as the Federal Government had in 2004 spent over 430 Million Naira to demolish the old toll gates. It was stated at that time that the Toll gates had become conduit pipes for siphoning of government revenue rather than an avenue for road maintenance. The Sun Newspaper in its Editorial of December 18th 2015 adequately captured the view of most sceptics when it stated as follows:
Irrespective of what the government thinks of the proposed plan, the new initiative has elicited mixed reactions from Nigerians. Many Nigerians are worried over policy somersaults of our government, especially on the issue of toll gates. Even Nigerians who would like the project to be given another trial equally decry the high cost of road tolls in the country. Therefore, the coming and going of the toll gates is a clear demonstration of policy inconsistency and utter confusion on how best to manage our roads by our policy makers. If the toll gates did not work efficiently before, what is the guarantee that they will work well in this dispensation?
I share some of the concerns raised about the impending return of the Toll gates. However I am of the firm view that the reintroduction of the gates are long overdue. We simply cannot continue to pretend that the finances of government will dramatically improve overnight as to enable it budget adequate funds for the maintenance of the roads and construction of urgently needed new ones. What is more, tolls are not entirely new to Nigeria and Nigerians. Until the Government of former President Olusegun Obasanjo decided to pull down toll gates, they were a common feature on our roads. The only problem at that time was that the revenue being generated at the toll gates were not ending up in Government coffers. Yet so much was being generated without anything to show for it. On a particular occasion, I instructed some of my lawyers to observe the volume of traffic from three points on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway over a 24 hour period. The volume of vehicular traffic observed and the expected revenue from these was mind blowing. Therefore if properly managed, toll collection could serve a lot of good to the government and the populace.

However to make them work requires more than the usual statements of intent from government. To underscore this point I intend to highlight briefly just what and how Nigeria continues to lose economically owing to the bad state of our roads.

STATE OF TRANSPORTATION IN THE PAST

At independence Nigeria could boast of an efficient rail system which cut across the length and breadth of the Country. This aided the movement of goods including farm produce. Even the City of Lagos had its own tram system. Nigerians roads, on their part were not the death traps that they currently are.

However with the passage of time, a culture of neglect of public infrastructure crept into the psyche of the Government and the governed alike. The rails system fell apart. Heavy goods which were hitherto moved by rail had to be transported by road. This in turn had a devastating effect on the roads. Nigerians in the recent past have had one sorry tale or the other to tell about their experiences on such roads such as the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, the Sagamu-Ore-Benin Road and the Onitsha-Awka-Enugu Road.

The lamentations of Nigerians have never succeeded in getting a firm commitment of the Government to attend to the sorry state of these roads. In most cases, a ministerial visit to the roads is often followed only by half-hearted measures aimed only at bringing about temporary reprieve to motorists.

The reason for this seeming nonchalant attitude of Governments at the Federal and State Levels may not be unconnected with the huge recurrent expenditure of these governments. In some states, salaries of Civil Servants and emoluments of elected political office holders and appointees take up a huge chunk of the monthly allocation of the said states thereby leaving very little for the funding of other vital sectors of the economy such as education, health and infrastructural development. In realization of this most governments simply pay lip service to the issue of good roads and other facilities.

To be continued

AARE AFE BABALOLA SAN, CON, LL.D, D.Litt

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