“There is nothing constant in this world, but inconsistency.”
The Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola (SAN), Wednesday, unveiled the Federal Government’s plan to re-introduce tollgates on the major highways in the country. The disclosure finally put to rest months of speculations about the imminent policy summersault, which originally came as a smokescreen in 2017, when he appeared before the Senate Committee on Federal Road Maintenance Agency (FERMA) to argue the need for the return of tolling.
He said: “The tolls will come. 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 standardize 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.”
Pursuant to the new policy framework, the Federal Executive Council, Wednesday, gave its nod for implementation. Being on the defensive, Fashola said that though the government dismantled toll plazas in the past, there was no law abolishing tolling.
“Let me just clarify this impression about tollgates; there is no reason we cannot toll; there is no reason. There was a policy of government to abolish tolls, to dismantle toll plazas, but there is no law that prohibits tolls in Nigeria today,” he declared.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo had in 2003 ordered the abolition of tollgates and personally supervised their demolition. In fact, he had to fly to Makera tollgate in Niger State to personally flag off the demolition exercise. Thereafter, he gave zonal offices of the Federal Ministry of Works a very short notice to demolish all the tollgates in the country. Part of his arguments for the demolition was that government was earning only about N1 billion annually from the private companies to which the tollgates were leased in the mid-1990s. He, therefore, proposed to introduce a road maintenance charge which was to be built into the fuel price increase that he was planning that year, disclosing then that the new fee would fetch the government about N4 billion a year.
To some pundits, the argument was plausible, as records showed an increment in government’s revenue from N250 million to N800 million in the very first year the late General Abdulkarim Adisa took the toll gates’ management away from the hands of public servants and leased them to private operators in 1996.
But on the other hand, some critics were quick to question the rationale for tolling roads that were in deplorable condition.
It’s been a vicious circle. And now that the government has decided to go back to the old regime of tolling, several questions are still begging for answer. In the first place, who pays for acquisition of land for expansion and rebuilding of the demolished 38 toll plazas in the country? What is the cost of rebuilding? And where will the government source funds to rehabilitate the already road infrastructure across the country?
Already, Fashola has disclosed that more land would be acquired to expand the width of the toll plazas, adding that “the expectation that collection of tolls would produce the replacement cost of the road was not accurate.”
There is a need for proper clarification on the statement. What the minister seems to be saying here is that critical infrastructure financing would continue to be a burden for the taxpayers. Of course, those in favour of building new toll plazas, like the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas workers (NUPENG) and the Petroleum Tanker Drivers (PTD), believe that they would make funds available for such roads’ rehabilitation. But it appears they got it all wrong.
All over the world, tollgates are part and parcel of standard road infrastructure management. The policy is good but not novel. In the pre-industrial revolution in Great Britain, capital was publicly raised and revenues were generated by charging tolls on users. The policy initiative which was tagged Turnpike Trusts became a huge success and improved road circulation substantially to the extent that the average time for a journey from London to Edinburgh between 1750 and 1800 was reduced from 12 to four days. Also, the time of a journey from Manchester to London fell from three days in 1760 to 28 hours in 1788.
In Nigeria, toll plazas 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. With the present economic downturn, many stakeholders strongly believe that erecting new tollgates that would cost billions, having pulled the same down before, would add more to the burden of the ordinary people.
According to some analysts, ‘huge sums were expended on the demolition and the cost of rebuilding the 38 tollgates now would be so exorbitant that it calls for a thorough cost and benefit examination.’
Some of the minister’s critics have accused him of pursuing elitist policy. Fashola, indeed, initiated the Private Public Partnership with Messrs Lekki Concession Company for the construction and rehabilitation of the Lekki Epe Expressway, which he described as “a novel way Public Partnership, which is the first of its kind in Nigeria and sub-Saharan Africa.”
His regime also introduced what has gone down in history as the highest school fees regime at the Lagos State University (LASU), jacking up tuitions from N25,000 to N197,000 for Arts and Humanities’ students, and N350,000 for medical students. It took the strident opposition and protest by students for him to reverse the decision.
Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN) was born in Lagos at the Island Maternity Hospital on June 28, 1963. He obtained his First School Leaving Certificate (FSLC) from the Sunny Fields Primary School, Adelabu Surulere, Lagos, after which he proceeded to Birch Freeman High School, Surulere, Lagos and later Igbobi College, Yaba where he obtained the West African School Certificate (WASC). He bagged a degree in Law from the University of Benin in 1987 and was called to the Nigeria Bar in November 1988 after undertaking the statutory training for Barristers and Solicitors.
His legal career spanned over one and a half decades commencing with the law Firm of Sofunde, Osakwe, Ogundipe and Belgore, where he cut his legal teeth as a litigator over wide-ranging areas of specialization. Fashola was elected the executive governor of Lagos State in Nigeria on May 29, 2007 for two consecutive terms. He was sworn-in by President Muhammadu Buhari as the newly appointed Minister of Works and Housing, having earlier supervised over three ministries-Power, Works and Housing, in his first tenure.