The Federal Government recently announced plans to reintroduce toll gates at 38 locations on highways across the country. The gates will be erected where the previous ones were dismantled. Minister of Power, Works and Housing Babatunde Raji Fashola announced this when he appeared before the Senate Committee on Federal Roads Maintenance Agency, FERMA. The minister said the existing law allows the government to toll; he also said that the new toll gates would be an improvement on the past ones.
Fashola said, “The tolls will come. We have looked at the previous tolling regime. The inefficiencies raised we have tried to review. One of the things we have done is to try and standardize the toll designs for the entire country. We have finished with that, so that we’ll expand its width according to the size of the road but they will be built with the same kind of materials that we can control.”
We recall how the administration of President Obasanjo contemptuously ignored the protests from Nigerians and unceremoniously demolished the toll gates in 2003. It did so with alacrity; the then Minister of State for Works went to Makera toll gate in Niger State and then President Obasanjo flew in by helicopter to personally flag off the demolitions. Obasanjo also gave zonal offices of the Federal Ministry of Works very short notices to demolish all the toll gates in the country. Only some of the toll gates’ side structures were preserved, which the Federal Road Safety Commission [FRSC] took over and is using as highway offices.
The Obasanjo regime’s basis for demolishing the toll gates had earlier been revealed in his 2003 budget speech. He had complained that government was earning only about a billion naira annually from the private companies to which the toll gates were leased in the mid-1990s. Obasanjo proposed to introduce a road maintenance charge which was to be built into the fuel price increase that he was planning that year. He said the new fee would fetch the government about N4bn a year. In short, demolition of the toll gates was part of the justification for fuel price increase because Nigerians questioned the rationale for paying tolls when the roads were poorly maintained.
A nation-wide strike called out by the Nigeria Labour Congress [NLC] stymied the plan to introduce the road maintenance bill but by then the toll gates had already been demolished. Since government now plans to rebuild them, it should first admit that a mistake was made in demolishing them in the first place. It also needs to take several things into consideration. One, Nigerians shouldn’t be made to pay tolls on poorly maintained roads. Fix the roads first. Minister Fashola seems to agree because he told the senators that “what we are waiting to achieve now is the completion of the construction work that is going on. We don’t think it’s fair to ask people to pay tolls on roads that are not motorable.”
He also said, “While that is going on, we are working on the design. We want to standardize it so that when we put out advert for people to come and bid, we can control what they are going to construct.” That addresses the second issue, as to who will manage the new toll gates. It was then Works Minister Major General Abdulkarim Adisa that took the toll gates’ management away from the hands of public servants and leased them to private operators in 1996. In the first year after they were leased out government’s revenue from the toll gates went up from N250m to N800m.
Then also, functional weigh bridges must now be reintroduced and enforced unlike what obtained in the past when the installed bridges were not used. Putting them into use would address the menace of trailer and tanker drivers who are given to overloading their conveyances thereby posing danger to our roads and to other road users.