The Ogun State governor, Mr. Dapo Abiodun, disclosed this week that the Federal Government had handed over three federal roads to the Lagos and Ogun State governments. Going by the arrangement, the roads, namely Ikorodu-Ogijo-Sagamu, Epe-Ijebu-Ode and Lagos-Ota-Abeokuta, would now be reconstructed and managed by both state governments through a public-private partnership. Speaking with members of Abeokuta Club during his investiture as honorary patron by the club at the Ogun State capital, Abiodun indicated that he and the Lagos State governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, had met and agreed to allow private investors to fund and toll the roads in order to ease transportation of people from Lagos to Abeokuta. He said: “The president handed over the road to us. What we intend to do is to commercialise these roads and turn them to a public-private partnership and we have people that are waiting to enter into a PPP arrangement with us so that they will fund the roads, they will toll them and this will allow people to move from Lagos to Abeokuta with ease.”
The move by the Ogun and Lagos state governments is no doubt informed by the need to facilitate movement into Lagos, the country’s economic hub. Currently, portions of the Lagos/Ibadan expressway have been closed due to the ongoing reconstruction efforts and motorists are experiencing severe difficulties in getting into Lagos through the adjoining states. The situation is especially critical because the Lagos/Ibadan expressway is the busiest road in the country and the delays being experienced by motorists are having a negative toll on the economy. Beyond the issue of the expressway however is the crucial issue of economic collaboration between the two contiguous states. Particularly in recent times, the governments of Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Ekiti, Osun and Ondo states have been holding meetings with a view to actualising regional economic integration.
Bound by ethnicity, culture and contiguity, the states are, among others, finalising plans to have a broad-based regional security arrangement to address the menace of banditry and kidnapping in the South-West geopolitical zone. They have already held talks in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, on two occasions. The takeover and planned reconstruction of the Ikorodu-Ogijo-Sagamu, Epe-Ijebu- Ode and the Lagos-Ota-Abeokuta roads is also informed by this embrace of regional integration. This is, without doubt, a laudable move and we urge Governors Abiodun and Sanwo-Olu to sustain the momentum. There is no doubt that if the project is well managed, it can provide a fillip for motorists heading to Lagos from all parts of the country and contribute positively to the economy of Ogun and Lagos states, particularly as it is a public-private partnership with inbuilt mechanisms for sustainable funding and maintenance.
However, as we noted in previous editorials, the opposition by many Nigerians to the planned reintroduction of toll gates in the country is not predicated on ignorance of the importance of highway tolling in an economy. Certainly, Nigerians are aware that toll plazas are meant to generate revenue for road maintenance. Among other benefits, tolling roads provides a ready stream of revenue with which repairs can be guaranteed, which is why, for instance, the ongoing Lagos/Ibadan expressway is going to be tolled when completed. Besides, the presence of security operatives at the toll plazas would no doubt enhance safety on the highways. The problem, truth be told, is that Nigerians have for far too long been daily confronted with the challenges of bad roads, and tolling bad roads amounts to inflicting misery on a badly misgoverned populace.
Against this backdrop, while welcoming the initiative enucniated by Governor Abiodun, we urge that the project be designed in such a way that the roads will be permanently conducive to travel. It should be treated with all the seriousness that the modern economy requires. Intending users will definitely not be against tolling per se; what they would insist on is value for money. Had the Federal Government been alive to its responsibilities, the takeover of the said roads, assuming that all the necessary legal issues have been taken care of, would not have been necessary in the first place. But it has apparently failed and the bad roads have no doubt exacted a huge toll on the economy of both states. We urge the Ogun and Lagos state governments to make this project a success. The gains promise to be huge.