In what promises to be a major collaborative effort by Ogun and Lagos states, Governor Dapo Abiodun disclosed recently that plans had reached advanced stages to take over the reconstruction of some poorly-maintained federal roads in the two states and impose tolls thereafter, adopting the Public Private Partnership model. The concerned roads, the Ikorodu-Ogijo-Sagamu; Epe-Ijebu-Ode and the Lagos-Ota-Abeokuta roads, are very important arteries that could facilitate trade between the two states and therefore boost their economies, especially that of Ogun, which stands to gain more from the proximity to its more illustrious neighbour.
According to the Ogun State governor, the Federal Government, which has been delinquent in the maintenance of roads under its control countrywide, has gladly bought into the idea, surrendering the roads to the two states, following a written request. While this could be a relief to the longsuffering road users, it is indeed an indictment of the Federal Government’s laxity in its responsibility of providing efficient and modern road infrastructure, despite the enormous resources — over 50 per cent of national resources — under its control. Of the 195,000 kilometre-road network in the entire country, only 32,000 kilometres belong to the Federal Government. Yet, across the country, most of the roads are in an appalling state of disrepair.
For advocates of regional cooperation, the move by the two states could be seen as a master stroke. But for the target users of the roads, what is of concern is the return of tolling more than 15 years after the Federal Government under the presidency of Olusegun Obasanjo, abolished it. Of course, tolling has been taken as a veritable source of providing funds for road maintenance and construction globally. But in Nigeria, the government sees it as a means of raising revenue and increasing the citizens’ tax burden. Before tolls were cancelled by Obasanjo and replaced with a levy on each litre of fuel bought in the country, the roads had become an eyesore. Rather than use the money for road maintenance, tolling had become a mine of corruption.
Beyond the issue of road tolling, government in Nigeria is viewed generally as irresponsible, leaving people to fend for themselves in virtually every sphere of life. At every level, citizens provide their own security because the one provided by the government has failed. So also do they provide their own water, by digging wells, boreholes or even going to streams and rivers to fetch water. Most citizens now send their children and wards to private schools, where they pay heavily, because virtually all the government schools lie in ruins. Those fortunate enough to own cars soon find themselves spending heavily on maintenance because the bad roads would not allow the cars to function without regularly breaking down. So, one may be forced to ask what the usefulness of government is if Nigerians have to provide everything for themselves.
The idea of tolling is usually an opportunity to expand the road network of a country through the construction of new or relief roads, for which people are expected to pay to use. Additional roads could be constructed under the PPP model, which could take the form of Build, Operate and Transfer, meaning that the private sector, which funds the construction, would have the opportunity to recoup its money. Since they are usually new roads, people still have the alternative of using the old and existing ones. Very rarely are people forced to pay toll on existing roads just because they have been rehabilitated. It is, indeed, an aberration in civilised countries.
It is morally wrong to hand over an existing road built with taxpayers’ money to some private individuals to repair and start collecting money on it from the citizens. For instance, in Kenya, there is a proposed superhighway between the capital, Nairobi, and the port city of Mombasa, which will reduce the time spent on the journey from about eight hours to four hours. People will be left with the option of either paying to use the faster and better-maintained new road or continuing with the old ones, with the inconvenience of long hours spent in traffic snarls.
In India, for instance, the government, in 2017, earmarked a staggering sum of $107 billion for the construction of 83,677 km of road network to facilitate mobility and business. According a BBC report, the country already had 5.4 million kilometres of national road network, but the government was still interested in building more roads. Using the model of the PPP, the government of Narendra Modi planned to use the roads to create employment for many Indians and, consequently, lift people out of poverty.
It is important to ask when last the government of Nigeria undertook the construction of new roads in the country? With the size of the country, the road network of 32,000 km by the Federal Government is grossly inadequate. If the government can invest in the building of new roads, it will not only create jobs, but will also improve the country’s ease of doing business standing.
Motorists should be given the opportunity to divert from highways with tolling to secondary highways without tolling. Having committed themselves to the rehabilitation of the important roads in their domains, the governments of Ogun and Lagos should see it a social investment and a way of opening up the state for new local and foreign investments. But any thought of returning tolling to the roads should be discarded as it belongs to that category of government actions that heap misery rather than relief on the citizens.