Sixteen years after the then President Olusegun Obasanjo demolished toll gates on the nation’s expressways, the government of President Muhammadu Buhari is considering their return.
But already, there is a groundswell of opposition to the plan. Indeed, some engineers yesterday advocated sector reform, rather than tolling, as a lasting solution to road maintenance in the country.
Their suggestion followed the disclosure by Minister of Works and Housing Babatunde Fashola that the Federal Government would reintroduce toll plazas.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo had ordered the demolition of tollgates in 2003, saying roads should be maintained through revenue from the increase in fuel pump price. He had also argued that the N63 million collected daily was insignificant and that the facilities constituted inconvenience to motorists and encouraged corruption.
Fashola told reporters after the Federal Executive Council meeting in Abuja: “There is no reason why we can’t toll. There was a policy of the 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 the designs of what they will look like, what materials they will be rebuilt with, and what new considerations must go into them. What we are looking at now and trying to conclude is how the bank end runs.”
But the national chairman, Nigerian Institution of Highway and Transportation Engineers, Oludayo Oluyemi, faulted the move, saying: “You can’t tell me there is a good road in the federation except within the Federal Capital Territory. No interstate highway in this country is good. So, how many of them do they think they would get tolls from?”
According to him, the Federal Government does not have a choice “but to do the road sector reform because that is the most appropriate thing for us as a nation. The introduction of tolls will not solve any problem.”
Also, President of Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE) Kunle Mokuolu said that while tolling appears to be a good option because roads need funds, a permanent solution would be engaging the private sector with the government acting as the regulator. According to him, it is better for the government to regulate the private sector than regulate itself.
He called for the use of technology if government insists on tolling. He said this would enhance operations since the number of vehicles has doubled.
The former NSE chairman (Apapa chapter), Ombugadu Garba, expressed concern over the sustainability of government policy, just as his successor, Sunny Ejeje, worried about government’s ability to plough back generated revenue into road maintenance.
Similarly, the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) criticised the idea in a statement released by its national publicity secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan.
It said toll plazas in the midst of economic hardship and the high cost of living occasioned by the alleged harsh policies of the Buhari administration are ill-conceived and anti-people.
“Such an idea amounts to executive bullying which cannot be justified under any guise as it will lead to more increase in costs of goods and services across the country. Only recently, President Buhari approved the increase of Value Added Tax (VAT) from 5 per cent to 7.2 per cent despite outcry by Nigerians, who are also being made to pay exorbitant tariffs for electricity and other essential services,” the party said.
It noted: “Nigerians could recall that the PDP administration, in keeping with our determination to ensure the wellbeing and economic prosperity of our citizens, dismantled toll gates, cut tax profiles and applied our energies towards wealth creation.” The PDP therefore charged Buhari to immediately rescind the decision.
Meanwhile, Buhari will on Saturday preside over an emergency FEC session at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
It was learnt Wednesday night that the meeting will hold when the president returns from his trip to South Africa at the weekend.
Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity Garba Shehu had specifically disclosed in a statement on Tuesday that Buhari would return on Friday.
The president departed Abuja Wednesday on a three-day state visit to the Republic of South Africa, following an invitation by President Cyril Ramaphosa to discuss the welfare of Nigerians, and find common grounds for building harmonious relations.