THE Federal Government appears determined to open more space for the public to play bigger roles in infrastructure construction and management.
Only recently, it announced the concession of some roads to private companies in the Apapa-Lagos axis to construct in exchange for tax waivers.
It also intends to concession the major international airports in Lagos and Abuja. Just last week, the Bonny-Bodo Road construction project, undertaken by Nigeria LNG, was flagged off by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo.
The announcement by the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, that plans have been concluded to restore toll plazas on major Federal highways indicates a deeper drive into the territory of reducing the amount that government spends annually to maintain its roads.
On the face value of it, building toll plazas to generate income for the maintenance of roads is a sensible economic decision, especially in view of dwindling public revenue which has led to the neglect of most Federal roads nationwide.
These toll gates are equitable means of imposing road user tariffs and ensuring that the surcharge is proportionate to the intensity of road usage.
Thus, an individual who has only one car and seldom travels on the expressway is not forced to subsidise the thousands of trucks and tankers which are on the roads virtually all the time, causing the damages which government is expected to repair at ever increasing cost to the nation.
The funds we save by removing expenditures on roads from our annual budgets can be more profitably invested in education, infrastructure and health services.
However, we have to be mindful of the logic that led former President Olusegun Obasanjo to angrily demolish the old toll gates shortly after assuming power in 1999. These plazas had ceased to be useful to Nigerians. Their operators were merely collecting tolls without using the proceeds to maintain them. They were simply granted to friends and acolytes of people in high places to line their private pockets.
If we are to restore this strategy for roads maintenance, it must conform to the templates used in other parts of the world where they have been successfully deployed over the years.
All this talk about giving out public amenities built with tax payers’ money as concessions and commercial ventures must be made to serve the purposes and objectives they were meant for as Nigerians will not accept the collection of tolls while the roads remain in deplorable conditions.
To reduce the expected opposition that may arise from Nigerians who believe that public amenities built with taxpayers’ money should be free, the benefits of the public-private model must be clearly explained and the process of concession made transparent. Most importantly, it must be result-oriented.
The Federal Government must show it is serious, this time around, about making the toll plazas work for Nigeria.