TOLL GATES ON WHICH ROADS?

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It does not make sense to toll roads that are dilapidated

We asked the above question before on this page and we are asking it again, following the recent resolution by the Senate for the re-establishment of toll gates on federal highways across the country. Senator Suleiman Nazif, who moved the motion, argued that the main purpose of toll gates would be for revenue generation. “Beside revenue generation, the presence of toll gates which are normally managed by armed security agents, provides a level of safety for road users.

The government cannot fund road construction alone. The poor state of roads in Nigeria has remained, for many years, a great source of risk for travellers and transporters,” Nazif said.
While we may not share the same ideological position with the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), their Secretary General raised a fundamental point that was missed by the Senate in their discussion. “Unless we are able to put in place a mechanism that will ensure that the revenues from the tolls are used for the development and maintenance of the roads, any attempt to bring the toll gates will again be a failure.” But beyond that, the question remains as to whether it makes sense to put toll gates on the dilapidated roads that we have all over the country today.

Against the background that a drive through many of the nation’s major roads is now a nightmare, we cannot understand the basis for erecting toll gates before their reconstruction. As we have repeated on this page, trips that ordinarily should take no more than a few minutes now take hours and at times days because of the condition of most of the major access roads. And no part of the country is spared. From the North-east and North-west to the South-south, South-east and South-west to North-central, the story is the same: most of the roads have become death traps.

Some roads in the South-south, South-east and South-west are death traps, apparently because of the impact and damage the rains had on them. Most affected roads in the South-east include the Enugu-Port Harcourt Expressway, Bende-Ohafia-Arochukwu road, Aba-Ikot Ekpene-Calabar road, Enugu-Awka-Onitsha road and Umuahia-Ikot Ekpene road. Even in Lagos, the roads leading to Apapa, the strategic port city where hundreds of millions of naira are made daily by the government and others, are embarrassing. Over the years, billions of naira had been poured on the Oshodi-Apapa road but it is still in a shambles, crater-ridden and looking more like a war-ravaged area.

Unfortunately, it is not too difficult to decipher how we got to this sorry pass. Instead of maintaining the bad spots on the roads as they develop, the authorities would wait until they go completely bad, perhaps to provide opportunity for the award of contracts at heavily inflated rate. In order to go around this problem, the federal government at a point established FERMA, an agency saddled with the responsibility of maintaining roads. But it has not provided the needed respite.

It is not just that most of these roads are so impassable that we find very disturbing, it is also the fact that the dangerous spots along many of them have also become convenient operating centres for highway robbers who lay siege to unsuspecting motorists and other road users. This is aside the notorious fact that the poor state of these roads hampers economic activities as several tonnes of farm produce and other products cannot be transported to areas where they are needed. In the rainy season, many communities have practically been cut off with impassable roads.

Given the foregoing, we really have no problem with the idea of erecting toll gates. What we query is whether it makes sense to erect them before rebuilding the dilapidated roads.