The announcement by the Federal Government that it intends to reintroduce toll gates on federal across the country not only came as a surprise to most Nigerians but a sad reminder of how successive administrations in Nigeria often see nothing good in decisions of their predecessors and consequently reverse such decisions/policies not minding the funds, and energy among other resources committed to such prior to their coming into office.
Recall that the toll gates were scrapped fifteen years ago by the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
Disclosing the Federal Government intention to reintroduce the toll gates while briefing state house correspondents at the end of the Federal Executive Council meeting on October 2, 2019, Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, said there is no law against toll plazas in the country.
He added that some of the logistics being worked out before the reintroduction include acquiring more lands that will provide up to 10-lane plazas.
“Where are we in PPP and toll gate, let me just clarify this impression about toll gates. 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.
“We expect to return toll plazas, we have concluded their designs of what they will look like, what material they will be rebuilt with, what new considerations must go into them.
What we are looking out now and trying to conclude is how the backend runs. And that is important because we want to limit significantly if not totally eliminate cash at the plazas while ensuring that electronic devices that are being used do not impede rapid movement,” he said.
While we agree that the President Muhammadu Buhari administration has every right to review decisions made by administrations before it, we do not see any rationale, at least from Minister Fashola’s argument, for the return of the toll gates at this period when most Nigerians are not only passing through excruciating pains eking out a living and motorists being subjected to worsening conditions of roads across the country, federal roads inclusive.
The fact that there is no law against toll plazas, as argued by Fashola, in our view, is not enough reason for them to return. Government, we believe, exists to set forth policies, regulations, and laws among others to make life easier for citizens and not to compound it.
We do not see how the return of toll gates will make life easier for Nigerians, particularly motorists. All we see is a move by government to rake more revenue into its coffers at the detriment of citizens’ happiness, in this case, motorists.
As was experienced previously before the toll gates were pulled down, there is no guarantee that the revenue generated at the toll plazas will be deployed to keep these road in good shape all year-round or even enough to fix them.
This, Minister Fashola confirmed when he said: “But 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.”
If the expectation that collection of tolls will produce the replacement cost of the road is not accurate, as posited by the Works and Housing minister, then why does government see the reintroduction of the toll plazas a necessity?
For Government to prove that revenue is not its main target, it needs to ensure the complete reconstruction of these roads, before putting up toll plazas on them. That way, Nigerians, particularly motorists, will see reason for it to reintroduce the toll plazas.
We are of the opinion that before going further with the plan to reintroduce the toll plazas, revenue generation must not be the prime target of government but the overall happiness and well-being of motorists who are currently subjected to payment of several taxes, in addition to the soon to be legalised 7.5% Value Added Tax.
There is also the need for government to evaluate reasons for the scrapping of the plazas by the Obasanjo regime in the first place before thinking of reintroducing them. Are those reasons not valid today?
Even if the toll plazas are to be under Public Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement as stated by Fashola and cash payment drastically reduced, what is the guarantee that a large chunk of revenue generated therefrom will not find its way into private pockets?
Again, how can Minister Fashola and those pushing for the return of the toll gates prove that it is not another attempt to reward party loyalty and set aside funds for the next general election?
Finally, the Federal Government, in our opinion, needs to listen to voices of stakeholders before going ahead with the plan to reintroduce the toll plazas.
This, the Buhari administration can do quickly by drafting a bill to that effect, send same to the National Assembly which after inputs by stakeholders via public hearing session(s) would approve same for onward transmission to Mr. President for assent for it to become law.
Anything short of this will only confirm the suspicion by many that the planned return of the toll gates on federal roads is essentially for revenue generation and that the happiness of Nigerians, nay motorists, is not of prime importance to the Federal Government.