The Minister of Works, Mike Onolomemen, has dropped hints that the tollgates on our highways which were demolished some years ago would soon return. The reason for the return to the tollgate era, according to the minister, is to generate funds to maintain the roads so that they do not degenerate again to the sorry state that they are in at present.
The Lagos-Ibadan expressway may be the pilot project for the scheme as the minister has said that tollgates would be introduced on the road as soon as the ongoing reconstruction and expansion works are completed. We sympathise with Onolemenmon and the government of Nigeria on this issue. The minister’s new song on tollgates is indicative of the unfortunate policy flip flops that our governments are given to. With the plan to reintroduce the tollgates not too long after they were scrapped, the government of the day has acknowledged the fact that the decision to do away with the tollgates in the first place was not well thought out.
The reasons which Onolemenman are adducing for the reintroduction of the tollgates are as valid today as they were when the tollgates came into being in Nigeria. They are supposed to generate funds for the maintenance of the highways. If the government of Olusegun Obasanjo scrapped them because they were not living up to that expectation, that was unfortunate. But the point remains that demolishing the toll plazas and abolishing toll collection was not the right response to whatever problem the government was having at that time.
If the tollgates were not yielding the required revenue, what government ought to have done was to put in place an arrangement that would work. Rather than do that, government fitfully chose to demolish the toll plazas with millions of Naira. Now that government has decided to return the tollgates, new structures will be constructed, this time with millions, if not billions of Naira. This is most wasteful. Indeed, it appears as if our governments are hooked to wasteful ventures.
Onolemenmen was, for instance, reported to have said that government would first repair the Lagos-Ibadan highway within a period of eight weeks before awarding contracts for its full reconstruction. It is apparent that the minister had the Christmas and New Year festivities in mind when he made that assertion. But we are constrained to fault the minister’s position on this matter.
The decision to repair the road is belated. Not much will be done before the festivities begin. Besides, the state of the road cannot be described as unmotorable. The road is still better than some of our highways like the Enugu – Port Harcourt expressway which is in serious state of disrepair. Therefore, rather than waste money on ordinary repairs before embarking on full scale reconstruction, government can go ahead to award the contract for the reconstruction of the road.
The bifurcation between repairs and reconstruction will only bring about unconscionable waste of tax payers’ money. It does not make sense. Now that government has decided to return to the old regime of tollgates, we urge it to think through the new idea. It has to eliminate all the hiccups that made the old order unattractive and unprofitable. Strictly speaking, government has to ensure that the toll regime is properly managed.
If they have to be concessioned to ensure efficiency, transparency and accountability, so be it. Significantly, the minister has hinted that the private public partnership approach will be adopted to ensure the sustainability of infrastructure nationwide.
Government does not only need to do this, it has to also ensure that the tollgates are technologically driven so that there will be little or no room for manipulation by unscrupulous operators. The state of our highways has become such an embarrassment that whatever measures that government is thinking of adopting to return them to normalcy should be rigorously worked out. They have to be well considered. That is how best to ensure that we do not continue to beat about the bush.