The Senate recently passed a motion to revive the collection of tolls on some federal highways across the country. The legislators explained that the collection of tolls from motorists was the only way to construct and maintain the roads. It will be recalled that tolls were abolished by former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration in 2004. The former leader had argued then that the revenue for road maintenance should rather be generated from an increase in pump price of petrol.
In spite of its obvious advantages, the reintroduction of the toll gates demonstrates government’s policy somersault. It is sad that we make plans and dispense with them so easily and still go back to them later. This flip-flop in policy formulation and implementation tends to erode people’s confidence in the government and its development programmes. Over time, it has negatively impacted some national development initiatives.
In most countries where roads have worked, governments have tended to partner with the private sector to deliver efficient and sustainable models. But, with the government’s legendry weakness in managing public assets effickiently and coupled with the current economic recession in the country, it appears that the best way to manage our roads is through the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) model. Perhaps, this is why government wants to bring back the toll gates.
No doubt, the decision to dismantle the toll gates was hasty and appeared to be targeted at certain individuals. Apart from the fact that the collection of the tolls was inefficient and fraught with corruption, the decision to do away with them was not well thought out.
Following the demolition of the toll gates, the roads were left unattended and they rapidly depreciated and became death traps. The loss to the nation and citizens is colossal in terms of man-hours, wear and tear to vehicles on the roads, loss of goods and lives.
We advise that the planning for the new toll gates must involve all the stakeholders from the very beginning. The PPP model to be adopted in bringing back the toll gates must be carefully scrutinized and agreed upon by the government and other stakeholders.
Government must sit down with all the relevant stakeholders to determine the number and spread of the highways to be tolled and how much would be reasonable toll considering the present poor earning power of the citizens. The tolls must reflect the economic importance of the roads and the size and diversity of the traffic on them. These factors will determine how much toll should be charged on the roads per vehicle.
There are workable and successful models of the PPP on roads all over the world to learn from. The Lagos State Government’s Lekki-Epe road experiment is one that the nation can learn from. The controversies that dogged it arose from lack of sufficient consultation with the people who would bear the burden of the tolls.
We urge the government to consult widely with all the stakeholders before bringing back the toll gates that were dismantled some years ago. This is the only way the return of the toll gates can be achieved without undue politicization and rancour of the past.