Sixteen years after tollgates on federal roads across the country were scrapped by the then President Olusegun Obasanjo, they are now being reconsidered by the present administration.
In 2003, the former president ordered the demolition of tollgates on highways nation-wide, which took effect from January 1, 2004. According to him, tollgates had outlived their usefulness.
Minister of Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, said the Federal Government was already seriously considering re-introducing tollgates.
He noted though that the new tollgates might not necessarily guarantee money to fix deplorable road networks across the country.
But Nigerians have kicked against the move and described it as an anti-people policy. Many of those that spoke with Daily Sun tasked the government to, as a matter of urgency, fix the dilapidated roads rather than ask the people to pay more levies.
A former chairman of Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN), Lagos Mainland District Society (LMDS), Mr Cyprian Nwuya, said that restoration of tollgates on federal roads was a decision taken out of desperation.
He believed that the government was out to shore up its revenue at all cost in order to meet the challenges of governance. He said it was doing so without looking at cost reduction in governance and leakages in the system.
However, he opined that the Introduction of tollgates at reasonable rates was not a bad idea if there is sincerity of purpose.
“But I bet you, nothing meaningful will come out of this because of wastages in the system. It will rather fuel inflation because transportation cost will surely increase. The masses will get further impoverished and it will also make nonsense of the new minimum wage.
“Mind you, government is proposing a VAT rate increase to 7.5 per cent and the impact of this on the life of the average Nigerian is better imagined. One beautiful thing about economic policies is that the multiplier effect knows no bound. The populace will suffer the consequences.
“A further enquiry into this tolling income raises the question of distribution. Will it go into the federation account for distribution at the usual Federal Account Allocation Committee (FAAC) monthly meetings or will the revenue be used solely for maintaining the roads from where it was generated? Will it be like VAT income where states like Lagos generates more than 50 per cent of the annual VAT income while others with little or no contribution will gather at the month end for sharing?
“Therefore, no amount of toll gates will bring the government out of this problem. What government needs to do is to cut costs, reduce the level of stealing and conduct the business of governance with all sincerity.”
A Lagos-based rights activist, Mr Kunle Adegoke, described the return of the tollgates as another form of extortion of the already pauperised masses.
“The roads to be tolled are death-traps, and the Federal Government needs to justify any further form of taxation of the masses. The roads ought to be properly fixed and rehabilitated to make the people feel obliged to pay. The amount of carnage on our roads does not justify any form of tolling,” he said.
Also, Chief Morah Ekwunoh, who is a constitutional lawyer and rights activist, said that the government’s move deserves the most vehement condemnation and resistance by all well-meaning Nigerians on the basis of it constituting the most brazen climax of callousness and insensitivity against the Nigerian masses.
“It also signposts progressive descent into many more excruciating and suffocating anti-people policies and programmes to be witnessed in the nearest future, if the trend is not halted with dispatch.
“The restoration of the obnoxious tollgates on federal roads, which Obasanjo’s government abolished in 2003, is a call for Nigerians to braze up for much harder and harsher economic policies, including payment for each and every imaginable basic and fundamental need for human existence.
“Yet, on the converse side of the coin, the government is not ready to pay the paltry and grossly inadequate minimum wage of 30,000.00 to its workers, nor does it repair or reconstruct the roads themselves, the expected cash-cows, but leave them as glorified death-traps.
“The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as amended, in its Chapter 11 dealing with the economic policies and objectives, as couched in beautiful platitudes, outlined government’s economic objectives expected, in implemented, leaves Nigerian paradise on earth.
“Section 14(2) thereof provides that “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government,” he quoted.
In his reaction, a renowned educationist, emeritus professor, Pius Augustine Ike Obanya, advised the government: “First step should be to fix our disgraceful roads. Then dialogue with us in a democratic manner. Policy imposition just doesn’t work.”
Lending her voice to the topic, former chairman of Inner Wheel District 911, Lagos and Ogun states, Mrs. Nkiruka Ebo, said that she didn’t have any problem with returning the tollgates but joined others to insist that there should be justification for asking motorists to pay any amount.
“My problem is with maintenance of the roads. Most of the roads are so bad that you may think we don’t have a government. I cannot reconcile how the same government that has neglected most of the roads will ask those suffering on them to pay more. Cars easily break down at the expense of the owner. There is always heavy traffic on the expressways due to bad roads.
“I will suggest that the states should handle the tollgates, so that the issue of the state saying that a certain failed road belongs to the Federal Government and the state cannot repair it will then be taken care of,” she said.
Obasanjo had said that the N63 million which the toll gates then generated daily was nothing to write home about and added that the gates constituted inconvenience to motorists and encouraged corruption.
Fashola, who spoke with journalists on the resolutions of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari, shortly before he departed for South Africa on Wednesday, opined that even if the concept is done through public private partnership (PPP), it would still not be a money spinner to fix the roads.
He said besides Lagos-Ibadan, Abuja-Kano and Abuja-Lokoja roads, other routes within the country might find it difficult to generate funds to cover expenses for fixing those roads.
“Let me just clarify this impression about tollgates. There is no reason why we cannot toll. There is no reason. There was a policy of government to abolish tolls or as it were, dismantle toll plazas but there is no law that prohibits tolling in Nigeria today.
“Let me also say that the expectation that collection of tolls will then produce the replacement cost of the road is perhaps not accurate because the traffic toll count that we have done on major highways does not suggest that there is enough vehicular traffic across all roads.
“The two or three heavy routes are the Lagos-Ibadan, Abuja-Kano, Abuja-Lokoja. Now, Lagos-Ibadan the heaviest traffic you will find is between Lagos and Shagamu, it is about 40, 000 vehicles. After Sagamu, heading to Ibadan drops to about 20, 000. So most of it has gone eastward going towards Ondo and Ore and by the time you get to Benin, the number significantly drops.
“It goes up again at the confluence where they are heading towards Niger. So, you can see that it is not a static 50, 000 all the way. Same thing with Abuja, Kano, Zaria. After Kaduna, the traffic significantly drops. It is about 40, 000 there too but after Kaduna it begins to drop. By the time you get to Zaria, if you have driven to that road before, by the time you are driving between Zaria and Kaduna, you see how thin the recurring number of vehicles you meet is. And as you begin to head closer between Kaduna and Abuja, the number of vehicles begins to increase,” Fashola explained.
The major opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), has also kicked against plans by Buhari-led administration.
A statement issued by the party’s spokesman, Kola Ologbondiyan, read in part: “Such insensitive idea, in the midst of excruciating economic hardship and high costs of living occasioned by the harsh policies of this administration, is completely ill-conceived and anti-people.”
“The PDP insists that at best, such idea amounts to executive bullying which cannot be justified under any guise, as it will lead to more increase in costs of goods and services across the country.”