Reintroduction of toll plazas


The call the other day by the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas workers (NUPENG) and the Petroleum Tanker Drivers (PTD) for the reintroduction of tolls on Nigeria’s roads is as curious as it is interesting for the two bodies are not usually disposed to making such demands.

The drivers’ bodies are not alone though: Of recent, there have been calls from some quarters for government to reintroduce toll-gates and not long ago the Senate passed a resolution backing the reintroduction of such fee-collecting gates on federal highways.

The concern is over the funds with which to deal with the deplorable state of Nigerian roads, some of which have to be rebuilt before anything else. Those in favour of building new toll plazas, of course, argue that they would make funds available for such roads’ rehabilitation. But this is an age-long argument and Nigeria has flip-flopped over what model to use to fund its roads assets. Whatever the case, there is a need to find creative ways to maintain the nation’s roads, which have also been classified as national security assets given their crucial importance to the economy.

NUPENG, PTD and the Nigerian Association of Road Transport Owners (NARTO), made their submission to the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, at the ministry’s headquarters in Abuja saying that many of the highways are not properly maintained due to paucity of funds.

While appreciating the minister for some of the roads currently being fixed, the PTD noted that many others were in bad shape, hence, the need to toll the roads to get the funds to have them fixed. The tanker drivers, according to the body, were ready to pay.

Interesting, even altruistic, as this may seem, there are more fundamental issues that border on the logistics of tolling considering the Nigerian experience so far, the most fundamental being the effective management of the toll gates such that the funds realised are not stolen but used to fix the roads.

Whereas, toll-gates are part and parcel of standard road infrastructure management all over the world, in Nigeria, they have been used as avenues for raking in revenue into the pockets of a privileged few while the roads are hardly maintained from the collected fees. Faced with a biting economic downturn, it is also unacceptable that the Federal Government would consider erecting new toll-gates that would cost billions, having pulled same down before. And of course, the tolls would constitute another tax on an already over-burdened citizenry. So, it is better to find money from other sources and repair or build the roads first to justify tolling. When former President Olusegun Obasanjo did it, he justified pulling down the toll-gates by saying that the revenue generated from them was often stolen.

Certainly, huge sums were expended on the demolition and the cost of rebuilding the 31 toll-gates now would be so exorbitant that it calls for a thorough cost and benefit examination. Obasanjo had argued, among other things then, that the toll-gates had outlived their usefulness. For the government to start considering erecting new toll-gates now advertises the inconsistencies in Nigeria’s governance and poor vision on the part of leaders.

All roads belong to the people of Nigeria in different jurisdictions. States and local governments should, therefore, be involved and should take charge of the roads in their jurisdictions. If, for the purpose of funding, toll plazas are to be erected, the management must be thorough.

There is also need for establishing a Road Fund into which all monies collected from toll plazas and other sources are deposited for easy access for road maintenance.The failure of the Federal Government to maintain its so-called federal roads has left major inter-state highways in dilapidated condition and this is a problem that proper federalism will solve as each entity takes charge of its jurisdiction.

There must be a shift in paradigm otherwise merely erecting toll-gates for its own sake would be meaningless.The point must be made once again that whereas toll-gates remain part of standard road infrastructure all over the world, in Nigeria, they are facilities for enriching corrupt officials and their acolytes while the roads are hardly maintained from the accruals.

In keeping with the best practices on road administration worldwide, Nigeria must, therefore, establish a Federal Roads Authority. The country must also act quickly and convene a National Highways Conference whose agenda must include reviewing classification of roads in Nigeria. It is also time to look into materials for road construction.No doubt, failure to set up an appropriate road agency as well as a comprehensive funding plan for roads in Nigeria has retarded the nation’s progress and now is the time to put an end to this disservice.

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