The Federal Government has taken the long-mooted decision to reintroduce toll plazas on our federal highways. Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, last week announced approval by the Federal Executive Council of the Federal Roads and Bridges Tolling Policy and Regulations which will guide tolling operations.
The policy appears to have defined the framework for the involvement of private investors in the construction and maintenance as well as tolling of federal roads. If this succeeds, it will be a welcome diversification of federal highway management.
Nigerians have always dreaded re-introduction of tolling on the highways because it has been a failure in the past. The purported use of the proceeds to maintain the highways never happened, as roads all over the country became unusable despite the existence of the toll-gates. It became double punishment on road users because the plazas were objects of corrupt political patronage, and the money collected was not being used to maintain roads.
To cushion the effects of his series of petrol price hikes, former President Olusegun Obasanjo dismantled the plazas nationwide to the relief of the people. The plan to restore the plazas, 16 years after their demolition, is being widely criticised, particularly now when the pump price of petroleum products such as petrol is N162 in most places.
There is also the imminence of total deregulation of fuel price and withdrawal of petrol subsidy, which could see prices going beyond N230 per litre. The same picture of double punishment on the people will manifest when the toll-gates return in the regime of total deregulation.
The cost of transport will hit the skies at an unprecedented scale. What guarantees do we really have that the Federal Government will suddenly improve on its capacity to implement this policy? This is the same government that has failed to implement the standardisation of our food exports despite promising to do so since 2017. Nigerian food commodities continue to be rejected in foreign destinations even though eight federal agencies were mandated to ensure that our products make the grade.
What is the guarantee that the tolled roads and bridges will actually be properly maintained? We ask this question with the rickety Niger Bridge at Onitsha and Asaba in mind. What assurance do we have that the corruption that bedevilled it in the past will not be repeated?
Ordinarily, the tolling of roads and bridges should not cause a stir. It is the standard practice in some of the most advanced countries, but without the corruption and ineptitude of public workers which we see in Nigeria.
If the Federal Government can make the new policy work efficiently, Nigerians might be willing to pay, though government retains high trust deficit.