The Federal Government’s plan to build new tollgates on some Nigerian roads is eliciting diverse reactions among Nigerians. While some Nigerians are opposed to the move, others do not see anything wrong with the plan provided that the money realised would be used to maintain the highways.
We recall that the tollgates were introduced on some high traffic-density federal roads some years ago, using the Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) initiative. The money realised from the venture was to be used to maintain the affected highways. But the arrangement did not work as planned.
This could have been responsible for the dismantling of the tollgates some years later during the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2004. Besides, the operators of the tollgates were accused of outright embezzlement of the money realised.
In 2017, the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari made moves to reintroduce about 38 toll plazas on the nation’s major highways in order to generate revenue for their maintenance. Following the strident opposition to the plan, the government dropped it.
However, the government has come up with the same plan again. We hope it will not suffer a similar fate. Before executing the plan, we urge the government to consider the misgivings of the citizens on the return of the tollgates and ensure that the plan is well-conceived.
Beyond the plan to reintroduce the tollgates, the government must realise that the provision of good roads is its responsibility. When the government fails consistently to provide this essential infrastructure to its citizens, it shows that it has shirked in its duty. Therefore, it must go about the business of heaping this additional new burden on the citizens with tact and openness, especially in a season when the citizens are struggling to survive.
Collecting tolls on some of our roads may have become inevitable because of the dwindling oil revenue, but government must justify it and set out clear parameters on how the tollgates should be operated.
If operated properly, we believe that the return of the tollgates can be a win-win situation for the government, the investors and indeed the citizenry. The present state of our roads has been a huge drain on the economy and the citizenry.
Travel time on our roads is usually very long and many times double the normal time it should ordinarily have taken. As a result of dilapidated condition of these roads, the vehicles that ply them are badly affected. Our roads are now littered with potholes, craters and manholes.
While the maintenance costs for vehicle owners have risen astronomically, the shelf life of the vehicles has been seriously undermined by the poor state of Nigerian highways. At independence and some years after, we had well-maintained roads. The road workers in the then Public Works Departments (PWDs) set up camps on designated roads and ensured that they were maintained throughout the year. This practice was not different from international best practices.
For instance, the United States operates the super-camps, staffed with the requisite personnel to police the roads every day and effect repairs. This model has proved to be cost effective, as the damages on the roads are repaired immediately.
Apart from tolling some of our busy highways, government should equally prioritise other modes of transportation, such as the railways and water transportation. This is the best way to reduce the pressure on the highways. There is need for an integrated transportation system instead of the present emphasis on road transportation system.
This is why the roads must be adequate and well maintained. If the government must introduce the tolls, therefore, measures should be put in place to curb corruption that made the government to dismantle the tollgates before. The tolls should not only be a means of generating revenues by the government. Government must ensure that the tolls collected are judiciously used to maintain the affected highways.