By Jude Njoku
A Potpourri of reactions has continued to trail the proposed re-introduction of toll gates on Federal highways across the country. While built environment experts welcomed the reintroduction because tolling is a universally accepted procurement standard for the maintenance of roads infrastructure, labour unions opposed the move because in the past, proceeds from toll collection were never effectively deployed for the maintenance of roads.
Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr Babatunde Fashola, had at his maiden press briefing announced the intention of the Federal Government to re-introduce toll gates on federal highways across the nation. He explained that the revenue generated would be channelled towards sustaining and maintaining quality federal roads.
Fashola who promised that money generated from the toll gates will be properly accounted for and judiciously put to use, said maintenance would be the watchword of the Buhari administration. “ We are setting up a robust maintenance regime to keep our highways in good shape. This shows that tolling is necessary to support government funding. So, it will not be too much if we ask every road user to pay a little to augment government funding for road maintenance. It is eminent commonsense for us to find that money. We will use technology; so if you don’t pay cash, you will pay by tokens or tickets and the money is accountable and it will go to the right place. We will manage that fund properly and we will hold those who we put there to account,”Fashola who during his tenure as Lagos State Governor defied public pretests to introduce tolling on the Lekki-Epe Expressway said.
Prior to the formal announcement by Fashola, the kite had already been flown by the Senate which advised the Federal Government to re-introduce toll gates on all Federal roads.
The Red Chamber explained that reintroducing tollgates would not just to boost the income for the Federal government but will also to generate more revenue for road maintenance. The Senate took the decision after the adoption of recommendations of its Ad hoc Committee on Works, which investigated the total collapse of federal roads in Nigeria and prevalent gully erosion sites.
Besides, the Senate advised the Muhammadu Buhari administration to introduce weighbridges to protect roads and to discourage overtaxing highways that were not constructed for ferrying heavy vehicles and trucks. The committee further recommended that there should be rehabilitation and constant maintenance of existing roads infrastructure.
Reacting to the proposed reintroduction of toll gates, the President of the Commonwealth Association of Surveying and Land Economy, CASLE, Mr. Olusegun Ajanlekoko described the move as the “only plausible alternative” to raise funds for roads construction and maintenance in the country. Ajanlekoko who is a past president of the Nigerian Institute of Quantity Surveyors, NIQS, described tolling as a universally accepted procurement method for maintaining and building roads. He however called for the engagement of credible private sector partners with proven tract record of service delivery to man the toll plazas.
Toll gate system
According to him, government can no longer continue to build roads and allow them to decay without putting in place the measures to carry out regular and routine maintenance.
In his own reaction, the Chairman of the Nigerian Institution of Estate Surveyors and Valuers, NIESV, Mr. Sam Ukpong said the land professionals support the reintroduction of toll gate system in the country but added a caveat. “We must state that the former toll gate system failed because of the inconsistencies in government policies. .If we want to introduces these toll gates, let us look at growth centres. It is a very good thing . It can be cited in one remote location so that people could drive long distances and rest there. If there are accidents on the highways , treatment of the victims can be handled in these growth centres . Let everything not be concentrated in urban centers . Some banks could be established there, industries could be established there, even if it is a cottage industry.
From these areas where there are toll gates, the government can do 100 kilometres of roads to link the major highway and the infrastructure will attract new settlement to decongest the densely populated urban centres. The traffic situation in cities like Lagos is very serious now because of congestion . when we turn these toll points to growth centres, it will help us to grow and decongest the centre”, Ukpong who spoke at the end-of year party of NIESV, Lagos branch said.
Repair roads first: The Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC however opposed government’s move to reintroduce toll gates on federal highways as well as the proposed increase electricity tariff and pump price of petroleum products.
A communiqué signed by NLC President Ayuba Wabba and the General Secretary Dr. Peter Ozo-Eson, said the enormous public resources expended in the past on the construction and demolition of toll gates, and the proceeds from toll collection were never effectively deployed for the maintenance of roads, but lined the pockets of favoured collectors. “Convinced that proceeds from any new toll collections will suffer the same fate, NLC disagrees with the planned re-introduction of toll gates”, the union leaders declared.
Toeing NLC’s position, the Lagos Chapter of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ called on the Federal Government to repair roads across the country first. The union made the call in a communiqué issued penultimate Wednesday at the 2015 end-of-year congress.
The communiqué, which was signed by the Chairman of the Council, Mr Deji Elumoye called for major repair of federal roads across the country in the interest of the citizenry, before the planned re-introduction of toll gates on highways in the country.