The Federal Government recently unveiled a new plan to commence the concession of some federal highways located across the country. The pilot programme to ensure more efficient and motorable roads comes under the Highway Development Management Initiative. The government has also opened a portal that will ensure that the procurement process is transparent. The total length of affected highways is about 1,963km, which represents less than 5.6 per cent of Nigeria’s 35,000km federal highway network. According to the Minister of Works and Housing, Mr Babatunde Fashola, the routes for concession under the pilot phase are the Benin- Asaba, Abuja- Lokoja, Kano-Katsina, Onitsha-Owerri, Shagamu-Benin and Abuja-Keffi- Akwanga. Others include Kano-Shuari and Potiskum-Damaturu, Lokoja-Benin, Enugu-Port Harcourt, Ilorin-Jebba, Lagos- Ota-Abeokuta, and Lagos-Badagry-Seme Border.
According to the minister, these roads were carefully selected to ensure that each of the six geo- political zones would be covered. It is estimated that about N1.13 trillion will initially be invested in the project while it is expected to generate over 50,000 direct jobs and 200,000 indirect jobs. Good enough, the design for the toll gates have provision for rest houses, weighbridges, towing vehicles and road furniture and other safety points for road users. Tolling on roads for their maintenance is not novel. It is a global practice, which Nigeria is now trying to embrace. We urge that the toll will be such an amount that Nigerians can afford. With adequate management of the tolls, we believe that the affected roads can be easily maintained. The dilapidated condition of many federal roads has made it imperative to search for alternative road maintenance funding as obtains in other countries.
This is not the first time the government will moot the idea to concession some of the federal highways without actually doing so due to one reason or the other. We hope that the new plan will not be vitiated by policy flip-flops or other considerations that usually plague some worthy initiatives by the government. Given the deplorable state of many roads in the country, there is no doubt that an initiative that will ensure that the roads are adequately maintained all-year-round is worthy of consideration. The pilot nature of the scheme will also give room for all stakeholders to fully appraise the workability or otherwise of the project. It will also enable the stakeholders make adjustments where necessary. The poor road maintenance culture in the country is worrisome. Therefore, it is a relief that government has thought out this scheme as a way of ensuring that the roads are safe and motorable. If the scheme is well implemented, it will ensure a better management of Nigerian roads. The potential of the new scheme to generate jobs for many unemployed Nigerians makes the plan more attractive. However, everything must be done to ensure that the initiative is not politicised or used by unscrupulous Nigerians to enrich themselves at the expense of the masses. Corruption of the tolls on some federal highways literally forced the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo to dismantle the tollgates in 2004. Since then, every attempt by the government to revive the toll plazas has been opposed by Nigerians. For instance, in December 2017, the Federal Government made effort to construct 38 toll plazas to replace those pulled down by Obasanjo. However, the plan did not materialise. For the new initiative to work effectively, all the stakeholders should be sensitised and carried along in the exercise. Therefore, we call on the government to critically evaluate and select those who will handle the project effectively. While the plan to allow private firms manage some federal highways is commendable, we think that the government should not lose sight of developing other means of transportation, especially the railways and the waterways which will largely ease the burden placed on the highways at present. The development of the railways will particularly reduce the current pressure on the highways by articulated vehicles.