As the federal government moves to reintroduce toll gates on the nation’s highways in search of additional revenue, OLUGBENGA SALAMI stresses the need to curb corruption, which led to its abolishment 11 years ago.
The fall in price of oil at the international market and dwindling internal revenues have in the recent past forced the federal government in particular to look inward with a view to meeting the needs of the populace. The President Muhammadu Buhari administration has intensified the efforts to diversify the nation’s economy so that more revenues will be generated to finance the huge budget it has proposed.
Recently, Minister for Works, Power and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola disclosed that the federal government is going to reintroduce toll gates at every entry point of major cities in the country. According to him, this is to raise fund for the maintenance of federal roads in the country.
Similarly, the Senate at a plenary last week called for the re-introduction of the toll gates but with a directive that the revenue collected be channeled towards maintenance of roads in the country.
This thinking of both the Executive and Legislature was coming 11 years after former President Olusegun Obasanjo ordered the dismantling of toll gates across the country, citing loss of revenue to government and poor maintenance of the roads.
In 2004, former President Olusegun Obasanjo abolished the toll gate scheme after accusing the managers of those toll gates of using the revenues generated from them to enrich themselves. It was a mixed reaction from Nigerians when the former leader took the decision as many said Chief Obasanjo was right for taking this step as the money realised from these toll gates never made their ways to the appropriate authority.
During the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan, there was a plan to reintroduce toll gates by January 2012, but that never happened until the end of the administration in May this year.
The Senate, after reaching the conclusion of toll gates’ return directed its Committee on Works to liaise with the “Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission, ICRC for appropriate concessioning to construction companies with solid capital base and excellent track records”.
The Senate Ad-hoc Committee on Works, chaired by Senator Barnabas Gemade (APC Benue North-East) in its recommendation emphasised the need for “rebuilding and constant maintenance of existing roads infrastructure”.
It also called for the introduction of weigh bridges to protect roads and to discourage over-taxing highways that were not constructed for ferrying heavy vehicles or trucks. The committee further advocated investment in rail, air and water ways to act as alternatives to road transport and to decrease traffic on the roads for longer lifespan.
“Concrete roads are advocated instead of laterite roads in some parts of the country, especially in areas not suitable for bituminous pavement”, it stated.
It, however, said the numerous roads listed in the report be immediately forwarded to the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing for inclusion in the 2016 budget.
The committee identified poor design, inadequate funding, ineffectiveness of ICRC, lack of quality assurance and inadequate planning as some of the reasons for short lifespan of roads in the country.
In the past, there were reports toll gate managers building petrol filling stations and buying expensive houses and cars with the revenue from the tolls without much concentration on the road maintenance.
But Fashola said, maintenance would be the present administration’s watchword. According to him, the government would set up a robust maintenance regime to keep the nation’s highways in good shape. The minister maintained that tolling is necessary to support government funding. So, it will not be too much if they ask every road user to pay a little to augment government funding for road maintenance.
Senators in their contributions supported the position of the ad-hoc committee report and called on Nigerians to contribute their quota to national development by supporting the reintroduction of toll gate and concessioning of some major federal roads.
In his contribution, Senator Samuel Anyanwu, (PDP Imo East) said: “When they came to Imo state, the team will agree that a state of emergency would have been declared on the roads. In Lagos state, some roads have been tolled and monies realized from them are used to maintain the roads. The federal government should begin to think in that direction”.
Also, the Deputy Majority Leader, Senator Bala Ibn Na’ Allah (APC, Kebbi South) said, government must partner with the private sector in order to develop our roads.
“In the developed worlds, people pay toll fee. Nigerians must pay the price. It is a global practice. Nigeria should begin to think in that direction.
“As lawmakers, let us look at Nigerians and tell them the truth. It is impossible for government to provide good roads everywhere”, he said.
But Senator Dino Melaye, (APC Kogi West) noted that “One of the major roads submitted in my report which led to the setting up of this ad-hoc committee was omitted from the report. That the road along Iyara-Iyamoye-Omuo- Ekiti road”.
In his remarks, Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, who commended the committee for the assignment, however, re-echoed the need to support any lofty idea that will bring succour to Nigerians.
Saraki said, “I want to commend the committee. It is clear that government alone cannot fund road construction. It is therefore important to reintroduce toll gates along major highways in the country”.
“All the various committees must ensure that they follow through and perform their oversight. We will hold them responsible”, he added.
To stop corruption in the sub-sector, Fashola explained that the government will use technology so that those who don’t pay cash will pay by tokens or tickets and the money will be accountable and it will go to the right place. He promised that the money will be managed properly and accounted for.
The minister assured that money realised from the toll gates will be used to maintain the roads. And going by the stance of the present administration on the issues of corruption, the right time to correct the past may here.
Though the administration cannot within four years reverse the structure of the economy that has failed several decades ago, it can lay a solid foundation for a better Nigeria.
The state of the country’s infrastructure, like roads, rail, land and seaports and those of oil and gas and power, are worrisome, particularly due to corruption, and mismanagement of resources over the years. The situation became worsened by the severe drop in the international price of crude oil and the resultant fall in revenue from the country’s major source of foreign earnings.
It is believed that President Buhari administration can reverse the fast declining trend in the nation’s political and socio- economic life through a radical systemic change. Corruption has eaten deep into the nation’s fabric with the act of indiscipline becoming part if human life in the country.
There is nothing wrong with the private sector as the engine of growth working to accelerate development and moving millions of Nigerians out of poverty. Though, it may also be argued that the bottom line for the private sector is profit, the county’s development must be taken very serious.
Interestingly, the president recognises the import of Public Private Partnership, PPP, when recently he decried the nation’s huge infrastructure deficits and highlighted the need for strategic PPP in the country.
To really prove the era of change, Buhari needs to engage the ICRC in ensuring that the nation’s PPP policy is virile and result-driven.