I commend the proposed plan by the Federal Government of Nigeria to reintroduce tollgates on Nigeria’s highways. It is quite unfortunate that the plan to reintroduce tollgates which was recently announced by the Honourable Minister of Works, Power and Housing, Mr Babatunde Fashola rather than attract kudos has received knocks from critical segments of the Nigerian society. Many who should know better have rather chosen to deliberately misinform the public by presenting it as a plan by the government to further increase the hardship of Nigerians in a time of economic recession.
Tolling was initially introduced on Nigerian roads in the 70’s in the thick of the oil-boom era. The whole purpose behind it then was that while the money realized from the sale of crude oil internationally would be used to build critical infrastructure like roads, bridges and highways, the money generated from tolling would be used to maintain them. It was not an idea native to Nigeria as it was already in existence in advanced countries of the world like the United Kingdom where we borrowed the idea from and the United States of America. The whole idea behind the collection of tolls was for road maintenance. However, like all things in Nigeria that got infected by the corruption bug, the money realized from tollgates nationwide began to be diverted into private pockets and that was what prompted former President Olusegun Obasanjo to abolish tolling on our roads and highways in 2003. But despite the corruption involved in revenues derived from the tollgates, it still generated enough funds which was used to still make our roads passable and prevent them from decaying beyond repair. A thorough study of Nigerian roads would reveal that since the abolition of tollgates on our highways, majority of Nigerian roads have metamorphosed into death traps overnight with several avoidable accidents occurring leading to the loss of precious and valuable lives. The huge craters which developed on our roads now became convenient points for dare-devil armed robbers to stage attacks on innocent travellers. It also led to illegal tolling as many motorists in order to avoid bad roads now pass through roads in villages and communities where idle youths now set up their own “Tollgates” and collect toll from them.
The way to minimize corruption in the management of tolling revenues is to make it automated. That way, all monies generated would go directly into the coffers of the government. The money realized from tolling should be used strictly for the maintenance of roads and highways in Nigeria and not for any other purpose. That will lead to less accidents on our highways, less armed robbery attacks, less time spent on the road travelling from one place to another and the elimination of illegal tolling on our roads. Alternative routes should be created for motorists who cannot afford to pay toll. The success of some reputable companies in Nigeria in reintroducing tollgates on some selected roads in Lagos shows that indeed tolling can be successfully carried out in Nigeria. Government should bring in these private companies as consultants in order to pick their brains and get ideas which will ensure the success of this programme all over Nigeria. Our lack of maintenance culture in Nigeria is what has made key infrastructure facilities in Nigeria which we celebrated at their commissioning as world class projects to decay beyond repair and rehabilitation. We must as a people embrace the maintenance culture by embracing the reintroduction of toll gates on our roads and highways.