FG Advised to Phase Implementation of Toll Collection on Roads

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As the Senate relevant stakeholders carryout their planned detailed study of the nation’s toll gate policy for effective and efficient implementation, following a motion it passed to reintroduce tolling on federal roads, recently, an Engineer and former staff of Federal Public Works Department, Afolabi Adedeji has recommended phased implementation. This, he said would dowse tension and enable Nigerians gauge the government’s sincerity of purpose, reports Bennett Oghifo

There is temptation for the federal government to build toll plazas on all its highways simultaneously for various considerations, particularly for political balance, but this may not serve the interest of the Nigeria populace that is still skeptical of the real motives of the government.

Specifically, they are suspicious of the real reason the government is considering the reintroduction of tolling on the same roads it spent millions to strip their toll plazas that were built at huge cost.

While the Senate and its partners strategise, the Federal Government has been advised to phase the construction of the toll plazas to enable Nigerians determine if they serve their purpose.
Remember the Senate said it is searching for ways to carry out the policy as a holistic package. This is to generate adequate funds for roads maintenance, and that the money realised should be judiciously utilised in order to restore confidence in the masses.

Bitter pill…
The possible reintroduction of toll collection on federal roads is a bitter pill whose implementation may need to be executed in phases, said Afolabi O. Adedeji, Chief Executive Officer, Ethical Business and Management Associates, in a statement, at the weekend.
According to Adedeji, “It is my considered opinion that a Phased Introduction of Toll Gates on a few selected Federal Roads is more appropriate, rather than a ‘big bang’ across-the-board reintroduction on several routes by legislative fiat.

“When Nigerians see “sincerity of purpose”, more often than not, their Patriotic spirit gets reawakened. We need this for the achievement of meaningful, long term national goals.
Neglect of regular Maintenance is also a bad habit that may be ‘relapsed into’ if care is not taken and deliberate Programmes and Policies must be put into effect, so that the Facility remains in its original condition as constructed (or as is subsequently improved).

Background…
On Tuesday, October 25, the Senate, passed a Motion raised by Senator Suleiman Nazif that supports a possible reintroduction of Toll Collection Plazas on some Federal Highways across the country. The Senate Committee on Works was mandated to enter into consultation with relevant stakeholders in the road sector on how best to move forward on the very sensitive matter and make necessary recommendations for further action.

Adedeji said, “The passage of time is akin to a ‘rascal’ that allows a few inaccuracies to creep into our recollection of certain important things as human beings. But, if I am not mistaken the Lagos – Ibadan Expressway was one of the first major arterial roads to have Toll Plazas constructed on it for the purpose of toll collection from various types of vehicles plying it, followed perhaps by the Ibadan – Ife – Ilesha Highway linking Oyo State to Osun State right up to Ondo State, Ekiti State and beyond.”

Benefits of toll plaza reintroduction…
Revenue collection that will be applied towards recovery of Road Construction Costs, Road Maintenance, future Road Development, etc.; round – the – clock presence of Security Operatives at the Toll Gates, which will enhance safety on our Federal Highways and provide an additional deterrent to Robbers, Marauders, Kidnappers, etc., who might otherwise have been able to make a quick ‘get away’ after a nefarious “operation”. We are all familiar with usual ‘stop & Search’ Duty of Nigeria Police Officers. This will be further enhanced near Toll Plazas and help in the perpetual war against Crime.

Speed Limiting and Speed Control at the approach to Toll Collection Plazas, which may reduce accidents caused by excessive speeding. The Federal Road Safety Commission (‘FRSC’) has been raising discussions about the possibility of undertaking random Tests on Commercial Vehicle Drivers for the level of Alcohol in their Breath -there are established Safe Limits for this, random Eye Tests to ascertain visual acuity, random Blood Sugar Tests to determine uncontrolled Blood Sugar Level that may lead to Diabetic Coma whilst Driving, and possible fatalities, etc. With proper coordination, this seemingly esoteric aspect of the constitutional role of the FRSC may be enhanced by the reintroduction of Toll Plazas.

Further Financial Inclusion and Financial ‘Deepening’ among Nigerians who might be gently encouraged to utilize Electronic Products as well as Electronic Channels of various Banks for Paying their Tolls, with an attached ‘prize’ of faster passage through the Toll Gate(s). This idea was also mooted on the Lekki – Epe Expressway that was concessioned to LCC (i.e. The Lekki Concession Company).

The Toll Plazas on the Lagos – Ibadan Expressway were initially operated by Civil Servants/Government Officials from the Federal Ministry of Works (way back in the mid to late 1970s). However, gradually over time it was discovered that revenue “targets” were perennially ‘delinquent’ and/or unmet whilst the queues were causing ‘annoyance’ to Road users. If there is any iota of truth in stories from the gossip mill (or grape vine), why should a middle ranking to semi-senior Government Official on Salary Grade Level 10, 12, or higher be lobbying for a posting to undertake Toll Plaza duties, which are more or less Clerical in nature, extending to odd hours of the day/night, causing “dislocation” from Family/loved ones, etc., unless there is some other ‘juicy’ thing involved.

In his usual ‘No – Nonsense’ style, it was late strongman of Military Politics, Major-General Abdul-Kareem Adisa (of blessed memory) during his tour of duty as Minister of Works, who either replaced the Civil Servants at the Toll Plazas with Revenue Collection Contractors, with definite “targets” of returns that they were expected to make to the Treasury/government coffers every month, and adequate ‘margins’ left to make it worth their effort and worth their while or who stumbled upon the startling “discovery/revelation” that even the Revenue Collection Contractors were perpetually or so it seemed not meeting their targets.

The Government was still not getting the desired results and the patience of the travelling public was chronically being put to test. Hence the decision to demolish all Toll Plazas on Federal Roads and the discontinuation thereon of Toll collection from Road users during the regime of Chief Olusegun Aremu Obasanjo, as our democratically elected Head of State from 1999. The Newspaper, which Reported the Senate Decision mentioned at the opening of this contribution, put the date of this decision by the Government of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, at December 2003.

What can go wrong and suggestions…
What may go wrong in the implementation of this plan to reintroduce toll gates and suggested strategies to prevent problems, mitigate their negative effects, etc.
People from all walks of life, in all countries, dislike standing in long queues, whether in the Bank, Fast Food Restaurants, Petrol Filling Stations, or at Toll Gates on the Highway – especially when such queues are disorganized, disorderly, slow moving, and so on and so forth. There is a well-developed body of knowledge called ‘Queuing Theory’, which is taught in Tertiary Institutions to Students of Business Administration, Construction Management, Engineering, Mathematics, and other related Disciplines.

Taking the Lekki – Epe Expressway as a Case Study, long queues at the Toll Plazas during the early morning rush hour (i.e. 7.00 AM to 8.00AM0, at Lunch Time (between 12.30 PM and 2.15 PM) and around closing time (4.45 PM till say 8.00 PM), was a frequent source of “irritation” among commuters who criticized the Lekki Concession Company (LCC) at every opportunity they had in the Media to give vent to their anger.

“My observation around year 2013 of how LCC tackled this problem was that they would intermittently “open” the Toll Gates and give “free passage” to rapidly reduce the long queue of vehicles at such times. Whilst this approach was a tactical Success, it adds up in the long term to an erosion of profits and ‘strategic damage to the bottom line’ of LCC.”

Another remedy of LCC at that time, from my observation was that at least one Lane near the Toll Plaza was dedicated to vehicles that had procured the Electronic Prepaid Tags for their vehicles, which guaranteed them rapid passage. The challenge, however, was that not enough people “bought into” the Electronic Tagging Channel.

Without any doubt, the problem of Queues and how to deal with them effectively is going to arise if a decision is made to go ahead with the reintroduction of Toll Collection on Federal Roads in Nigeria.

He said, “There is again the problem of ‘leakage’ of proceeds from the Sale of Toll Tickets and Electronic Tags through ‘pinching’, pilfering, “chop chop”, corrupt enrichment, etc. It is a fact that there are still many people who want something out of nothing, or wish to get rich at the expense of others. Even when there is a wide scale utilisation of Electronic Channels of Payment, those knowledgeable in the emerging Field of IT Security or Cyber Security will have to be brought on board to prevent a Financial Disaster. The Banks, Nigeria Police, supervising Ministry of Government, the Internal Control Unit of LCC, etc., cannot do it alone.”