PROPOSED REINTRODUCTION OF TOLL GATES ON FEDERAL ROADS (2)

“With the slump in the price of Oil and its effect on government revenue, it is doubtful whether Government can single-handedly, without resort to some other source of funding, bankroll the much needed maintenance of some Federal Roads”.

Last week I began an examination of the proposed reintroduction of toll gates on some Federal Roads within the country. I referred to the controversy which the announcement of the Minister for Roads has attracted and stated my view that given the poor level of funding for the maintenance of roads it is imperative that the toll gates be reintroduced so as to attract the funds required to keep the roads in good condition. This week I intend to continue with my analysis of the subject by looking at the history of toll gates and the advantages associated with it.

TOLLING IN HISTORY

According to Wikipedia, a toll road “is a public or private roadway for which a fee (or toll) is assessed for passage. It is a form of road pricing typically implemented to help recoup the cost of road construction and maintenance, which (on public roads) amounts to a form of taxation.” . It is also stated that

“Toll roads in some form have existed since antiquity, collecting their fees from passing travelers on foot, wagon or horseback; but their prominence increased with the rise of theautomobile, and many modern tollways charge fees for motor vehicles exclusively… Toll roads have existed for at least the last 2,700 years, as tolls had to be paid by travellers using the Susa–Babylon highway under the regime of Ashurbanipal, who reigned in the 7th century BC. Aristotleand Pliny refer to tolls in Arabia and other parts of Asia. In India, before the 4th century BC, the Arthasastra notes the use of tolls. Germanic tribes charged tolls to travellers across mountain passes. Tolls were used in the Holy Roman Empire in the 14th and 15th centuries. A 14th¬century example (though not for a road) is Castle Loevestein in the Netherlands, which was built at a strategic point where two rivers meet…Many modern European roads were originally constructed as toll roads in order to recoup the costs of construction, maintenance and as a source of tax money that is paid primarily by someone other than the local residents. In 14th¬century England, some of the most heavily used roads were repaired with money raised from tolls by pavage grants.”

The following are generally regarded as the advantages of Toll gates:

(i) Procurement and dedication of funds-The funds acquired from the tolls are dedicated exclusively to the maintenance of the roads. This eliminates any form of interference in allocation of funds to the roads.

(ii) Improved roads- The roads are usually upgraded and expanded before being tolled. This expansion provides increased capacity and thus reduces congestion. The upgrade of a road generally also improves the safety and decreases accidents.

(iii) Job creation-Tolling leads to job creation and ultimately may positively affect a country’s gross domestic product (GDP). GDP is defined as the total value of all final goods and services produced in the country.

It is for these reasons and more that several countries including the United States and the United Kingdom operate tolls on some roads.

LEGAL BASIS AND HISTORY OF TOLLING IN NIGERIA

As I stated last week Toll gates are not exactly new to Nigeria. By virtue of Section 2 of the Federal Highways Act, Cap F13, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, the power to erect toll gages resides in the Minister. The said section provides as follows.

(1) The Minister shall have power to erect, equip and maintain toll gates on any Federal highway as and when required, with the approval of the President.

(2) Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1) of this section, the Minister may prescribe such fees, dues or charges that may be payable at any toll gate erected, equipped or maintained pursuant to subsection (1) of this section.

(3) In the exercise of the powers conferred upon the Minister by subsection (2) of this section, the Minister may classify the categories of vehicles plying or passing through any toll gate covered by the provisions of this Act and the amount payable by such category of vehicles.

(4) The Minister may authorize in writing any officer, agent or person to exercise any of the powers conferred upon him by subsection (1), (2) and (3) of this section.

However following widespread abuse of the system, the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo announced the scrapping of the Toll gates and the introduction of a road tax which would be built into the cost of petrol and which would be used to maintain Federal Roads all over the Federation. However, subsequent events revealed that the issue of road maintenance required much more.

For one most if not all Federal Roads degraded almost to the point that they became almost impassable. The Sagamu-Ore-Benin Express road which served as a link between the south west and the Eastern part of the country experienced gridlocks of monumental proportions. Also not spared was the Lagos/ Ibadan Expressway which could no longer accommodate the huge traffic from the Lagos end of the road to other parts of the country. The deterioration of the roads was particularly aggravated by the collapse of the rail system and non-development and or utilization of the inland waterways. Therefore heavy merchandise coming in through the ports which should have been transported by rail or via the waterways were transported with heavy trailers without any regard for their effects on the roads. To make matters worse, weighbridges which would have kept an effective check on the volume of load transported on the roads went into extinction.

Consequent upon the above and following persistent calls by Nigerians for decisive action on the roads, the Government awarded contracts for the reconstruction of some roads the most notable being the Lagos/Ibadan Expressway. However with the slump in the price of Oil and its effect on government revenue, it is doubtful whether Government can single-handedly, without resort to some other source of funding, bankroll the much needed maintenance of some Federal Roads. It is in the light of this that I believe Nigerians should support the decision of government. However Government must on its part ensure that the toll gates are operated in a transparent manner so as to avoid the problems associated with the operation of the toll gates in the past. Happily, the current Minister having overseen the introduction of toll gates on the Lekki Expressway during his tenure as the Governor of Lagos State must be familiar with the expectations of Nigerians on a matter such as this. He must therefore bring this experience to bear on the reintroduction of the toll gates. That, after all is what good governance should be all about.

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

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