•FG’s plan to reintroduce toll points on highways worries Nigerians
By Job Osazuwa
Recently, the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, announced to Nigerians that the present administration had concluded plans to re-introduce tolls on major roads across the country.
Expectedly, the announcement didn’t trigger much joy in the minds of many recipients. Not a few have expressed concern, arguing that the move was to further impoverish the masses rather than add value to their lives. They want the government not to forget so soon how Nigerians paid similar tolls for decades without any commensurate reward until former President Olusegun Obasanjo demolished the tollgates.
But Fashola has insisted that the new toll regime would be an improved adaptation of the past toll points, adding that the ministry would adopt similar toll regime throughout the country.
“We have looked at the previous tolling regime, the inefficiencies raised we have tried to review. One of the things we have done is to try and standardise the toll designs for the entire country. We have finished with that. So that we’ll expand its width according to the size of the road but they will be built with the same kind of materials that we can control,” Fashola said recently.
The minister said the government had identified 38 points across the country, but was waiting for the completion of various roads construction that is on-going. He stated that it would not be fair to ask people to pay tolls on roads that are barely passable.
He announced that the toll points would be managed by private organisations as part of the Federal Government’s job creation scheme.
The re-introduction of the tolls, according to Fashola, would first kick off at moribund toll points previously used by the government.
“The existing law allows us to toll and we have gone back to pre-existing toll points where the previous tolls were dismantled and those are the places where it is easy to re-introduce them again for a start because they used to be there,” he said.
Experts on environment beautification and transport management have welcomed the re-introduction, saying tolling was a universally accepted procurement standard for the maintenance of roads infrastructure. But some motorists and commuters have opposed the move on the ground that the proceeds from toll collection in the past were never effectively deployed for the maintenance of roads.
But Fashola has assured Nigerians that this is a new dawn and that money generated from the toll gates would be properly accounted for and judiciously put to use. To constantly maintain federal roads, he insisted that tolling was necessary to support government funding, and stressed that the ministry was setting up a robust maintenance regime to keep the highways clean.
As gathered, the Senate Committee on Federal Roads Maintenance Agency (FERMA) had given its nod for the ministry to continue the project.
One of the voices against the FG’s move is the Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership (CACOL). The body described plans to re-introduce toll gates in the country as an ‘unfortunate retrogressive slip.’
A statement issued by the Executive Chairman of CACOL, Debo Adeniran, saw toll gates as part of the legacies of military misadventures into governance in Nigeria.
He said toll gates were a drain pipe for unscrupulous merchants of power, official scamming of unwary public and often times causing irritating gridlock leading to loss of productive man-hours.
His statement reads in part: “It is the expectation of the public that the minister should have been queried by the Senate on why FERMA has gone into self-induced permanent sleep under his watch while our roads have become death traps with high frequency of accidents leading to monumental loss of goods, property and lives.
“We call on all well meaning Nigerians, transport stakeholders and relevant government agencies to forcefully speak out against the return of toll gates and extorting toll fares on our roads.”
Backing government’s decision, a top management official of a road and transport management company in Lagos, Kingsley Oke, told the reporter that there was nothing wrong in government asking the road users to pay a token to put the same road in perpetual good shape. He maintained that it was the same thing that is obtainable in developed countries.
He said it was understandable that Nigerians were only apprehensive due to how successive governments had betrayed them in the social contract. However, he urged the people to cooperate with this initiative, saying that good access roads bring accelerated transformation to many sectors of the economy.
But an inter-state driver with one of the major breweries, Mr Ayotunde Adeayo, in a chat with Daily Sun said that he couldn’t trust any government on its promises to make the roads better through proceeds that would be levied on motorists.
“Those making the proposal should bury their heads in shame. Nigerians have been deceived for too long but not this time again. Inconsistency in government policies had always dragged us back. How are we sure that the next administration will not wake up one day to say the toll gates are no longer needed just like Obasanjo’sgovernment said?
“The government gave us beautiful promises when the Federal Government-owned Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) was to be privatised. We were forced to pay higher bills by the new private companies managing the electricity distribution in order to enjoy better service. Today, we are paying more bills but getting less power.
“The federal roads were in a terrible state while we were paying tolls at various toll gates then. Nobody knew how much was being realised from the collection. It is unfortunate that the system has always benefitted from the people without making life better for us in return,” Adeayo said.
Another driver of a commercial bus who plies Lagos-Abeokuta route, Mr. Ogundele Olaleye said that the move was another avenue to siphon public wealth. He challenged the present administration to make a transparent public declaration of how much has been realised from crude oil sales from May 2015 till date.
Said he: “What the government is asking for is not what Nigerians cannot comply with, but the trust is no longer there. Revenues are being generated from many other sources, but are they judiciously utilised for public good?
“As a commercial driver, I pay nothing less than N2, 000 levies every day I put my vehicle to use. These people collecting the money from us were installed by government officials. They (levy collectors) told us time to time that they remit a large sum of it to the government. I have been paying that in the last eight years as a driver, yet there is nothing to show for it.
“If the government cannot account for that and fix the roads with it, then they should look for better lies to tell us because Nigerians are wiser now.”
A concerned Nigerian, Pa Lucky Igbinidu Omoruyi told the reporter that passengers would end up being the ultimate losers at the end of the day. He pointed out that whatever a commercial driver pays at various toll points would be added to the passengers’ fares.
The 84-year-old man said he could still recollect vividly how drivers paid certain amounts at various toll gates and smartly added it to what they charged the passengers before the tolls were demolished by Obasanjo.
In his words: “Between Lagos and Benin, there were five tollgates. They were mounted at Berger in Lagos, Sagamu and Ijebu-Ode in Ogun State, Ore in Ondo State and Oluku in Edo State. A lot of money was realised from those points but some few individuals cornered the money to enrich themselves.
“I know there is the need to boost revenue drive in the country but I will advise the government to ensure that there is a close monitoring of money collected and how it is used,” Omoruyi advised.