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EDITORIAL

Toll plazas and Nigeria’s horrendous high ways

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THE federal government advanced the need to restore toll gates in major highways across the country. The rationale, according to the Minister for Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, is to generate sufficient revenue to enable the Federal Road Maintenance Agency (FERMA) to be prompt in rehabilitating the now terrible highways, otherwise known as Trunk ‘A’ roads.

 

THE reintroduction of toll gates that were demolished by  the regime of President Olusegun Obasanjo (1999-2007), is no doubt, consequent upon the declining revenue receipts from the sale of crude oil which forms a huge chunk of total revenue accruing to the country. The dwindling revenue has accounted for the country’s  borrowing from international monetary institutions to tackle the critical infrastructures to leapfrog  Nigeria into the club of developed nations.

 

Minister for Works and Housing, when he was parleying with the Senate Committee on Federal Road Maintenance Agency [FERMA], debunked the notion on the minds of Nigerians that the demolition of toll plazas during the Obasanjo administration was because it   has been legislated against entirely.

HE ASSURED Nigerians that this time, the government would be careful to avoid the fraudulent manipulations that characterised the previous  toll gates project. Prior to the minister’s meeting with the senators, the Federal Executive Council had given its nod to for the reintroduction of toll gates in the Trunk ‘A’ roads.

 

Collecting toll on  roads was  introduced in the country by the military regime. The collection was managed by public servants. But the revenue being generated fell short of  expectations of the federal government. In a bid to find a credible alternative, the federal government hand-picked private companies who were termed  patriotic and fit  to meet the objectives . But along the line, the same dissatisfactory narratives came up thus defeating the aim and objective of establishing toll plazas.

 

THUS in 2003, former President Olusegun  Obasanjo appraised the essence of continuing with the unviable toll gate business and gave it the boot. It was also believed that since the petro dollar revenue was increasing then, it would be  policy which the masses would treasure if the burden of toll gate is removed and  part of the petroleum revenue would be used  to get the highways worthy all the year round.

 

THAT period, the pump price of petrol was N40 per litre and the federal government  made a policy that a special fuel tax should be managed by the NNPC for the  purpose of regular rehabilitation of the trunk ‘A’ roads. Consequently, the Obasanjo government issued directive for the removal of all the toll plazas to the joy of the masses. Unfortunately, a close tab was not set to ensure that the policy was implemented religiously.

 

Like every other good policy the laudable initiative was not managed properly. Roads were scarcely maintained as if the gods had programmed it to be messed up always. Hence conceivable good policies that would ameliorate the privations and plight of the masses failed.

 

In the course of time, the Nigerian private and commercial motorists who did not see any substantial improvement on the maintenance of trunk ‘A’ roads began to ask relevant questions on how the supposed special fuel tax was being managed. It became clear that  those charged with the execution of the policy failed to live up to the billings. Consequently, FERMA lagged in the rehabilitation of the roads which progressively formed  into ravines, craters and decimated precious lives and property worth trillions of naira every year.

 

THERE is no denying the fact that corruption and  manipulation of policies  to achieve selfish ends  led to the death of the populist policy of the special fuel tax.

 

GOVERNMENT  is  a continuum globally. Sadly with the exit of Obsanjo administration, the pump price of petrol and gas has jerked up and Nigerians now have need to ask questions on the use of the special fuel tax for the maintenance of highways which are  meant to promote socioeconomic growth and development. Lack of continuity led to the detriment of motorists who experience unmitigated agony while driving on the major highways in the country.

 

IF successive governments had keyed into the policy, there would have been quantum  funds to rehabilitate the roads and even extend some funds to state governments to tackle their ever deteriorating inter-local government councils and inter-communities road networks. If this had been the ease, the level for  development of the nooks and cranny of the country would have been high  now.

 

ONE wonders why the National Assembly failed to ask relevant questions on the transparency and accountability of the special fuel tax with regards to the deteriorating condition of the highways through their oversight  functions. Similarly, institutions that track   how public funds are being expended should have saved the nation this agony.

 

NATIONAL Light is not against the reintroduction of toll gates on the roads. But the  persuasive presentation of the Works Minister  on the quantum revenue it would generate notwithstanding, if there is no effective guard  against financial malfeasance that both public servants and private companies that managed the toll plazas exhibited, the new toll gates would be another conduit pipe to milk Nigeria dry.

 

Our stand hinges on the unimaginable privations of the masses using the roads amid the comatose economy. The traders who travel to buy goods will bear the brunt of the tolls to be paid by the motorists. The commercial motorists will hike their fares. Goods’ prices will rise and poor masses will bear it.

 

THE solution for regular maintenance of all the roads in the country would be   devolution of powers from federal to state and local governments. That way, the states and councils could attend to and get rewards from all roads in their domain. There is also need for palliative to the common man whose burden, the toll gates will be.

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