- PDP rejects move
Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja
Tollgates are coming back, 18 years after the administration of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo scrapped them. And that is official.
Minister of Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, told State House reporters yesterday after a meeting of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) in Abuja that the country was returning to tolling its highways because no law prohibited it from doing so.
However, the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), has kicked against the decision, which it described as part of the orchestrated attempts by the Buhari administration to further impoverish the people, especially with the policy coming so soon after the federal government jacked up value added tax (VAT) from five per cent to 7.2 per cent.
Fashola said the designs for the new toll plazas had been concluded and materials to be used for the construction had been factored into the designs as well as every necessary consideration about the plan.
According to him, what is currently being examined is the method of banking transactions as toll transactions at the plazas would be largely done electronically because the aim is to limit cash transactions.
Also, the government is looking into how the electronic transactions would be done without impeding vehicular movement while the government is also confronted with the challenge of acquiring more land to accommodate the 10-lane plaza plan.
He said: “Let me just clarify this impression about tollgates. There is no reason why we cannot toll; there is no reason. There was a policy of 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 material they will be rebuilt with; what new considerations must go into them. What we are looking at now and trying to conclude is how the bank end runs. And that is important because we want to limit significantly, if not totally eliminate cash at the plazas while ensuring that electronic devices that are being used do not impede rapid movement.
“We are also now faced with the need to acquire more land to establish the width of the toll plazas because I believe we are looking at 10-lane plazas so that there can be more outlets. So, we need to acquire more land. That is the work that is currently being done now.”
The minister, however, dismissed the assumption that money used for road construction could be recovered through tolling, saying a survey carried out on major highways showed that vehicles transiting on the roads are not enough to recoup the cost of construction.
He used the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, Abuja-Kano Expressway and Abuja-Lokoja road, which are the busiest roads, as illustrations.
He said: “The two or three heavy routes are the Lagos-Ibadan, Abuja-Kano, Abuja-Lokoja. Now, on Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, the heaviest traffic you will find is between Lagos and Shagamu. It is about 40,000 vehicles. After Shagamu, heading to Ibadan, it drops to about 20,000. So, most of it has gone eastward, going towards Ondo and Ore and by the time you get to Benin, the number significantly drops.
“It goes up again at the confluence where they are heading towards the Niger. So, you can see that it is not a static 50,000 all the way. Same thing with Abuja-Kano-Zaria. After Kaduna, the traffic significantly drops. It is about 40,000 there too but after Kaduna, it begins to drop; by the time you get to Zaria, if you have driven to that road before, by the time you are driving between Zaria and Kaduna, you see how thin the recurring number of vehicles you meet is and as you begin to head closer between Kaduna and Abuja, the number of vehicles begins to increase.
“So, I think it is important to have that at the back of your mind; not all roads have those traffic counts. I also want to let you know that what we are doing is not accidental. We are being deliberate and methodical- collecting information to know what to do with which place and what.”
Fashola also responded to a question on how the private public partnership (PPP) could be explored to assist the government in construction and maintenance of roads.
He recalled the recent signing of Executive Order Seven by President Muhammadu Buhari on PPP arrangements in such a way that companies that offer to partner the federal government on road construction will enjoy 30 per cent tax relief.
According to him, only a few companies can embrace that initiative because the cost of construction is relatively high when compared to the profit accruable to most companies.
He said only companies like Dangote Group, which is currently reconstructing Apapa-Oworonshoki Expressway, can dare to undertake such ventures.
Earlier, Fashola had said FEC approved an upward review of contract sum for the construction of Ibadan-Abere-Ilesha road from N6.7 billion to N9.8 billion.
FEC also approved an upward review of Suleja-Alanbata road awarded in two phases in 2012 and 2015 respectively from N23.6 billion to N36.2 billion.
PDP Rejects Plans to Return Tollgates
Reacting to the plans by the federal government to return toll booths on major highways, the PDP described the idea as insensitive, ill-conceived and anti-people.
The PDP said in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, that at best, such an idea amounted to executive bullying, which could not be justified under any guise, as it would lead to more increase in cost of goods and services nationwide.
It said: “Only recently, President Buhari approved the increase of Value Added Tax (VAT) from 5% to 7.2% despite outcry by Nigerians, who are also being made to pay exorbitant tariffs for electricity and other essential services.
“Since President Buhari came into office in 2015, his administration had continued to increase prices and impose all manner of levies on Nigerians, which proceeds are being frittered by the cabal in the presidency leading to a bleeding economy and despondency among the citizenry.”
According to the party, instead of putting more pressure on “already impoverished” Nigerians by introducing toll gates at this point in time, Buhari should exert himself, seek ways of creating wealth out of the abundant resources at the disposal of his administration or resign.
The party said Nigerians could recall that the PDP administration, in keeping with its determination to ensure the wellbeing and economic prosperity of citizens, dismantled tollgates, cut tax profiles and applied energies towards wealth creation.
“It is therefore certain that if our nation were under a PDP administration, as desired by Nigerians, competent hands would have been on the deck to proffer ways to create wealth for governance instead of turning our citizens into vassals who are overburdened by heavy taxes.
“The PDP states that it is lamentable that at the time Nigerians ought to be enjoying the benefits of the Atiku Abubakar economic recovery and wealth creation blueprint, they are faced with suppressive policies,” it said, adding: “The PDP, therefore, charges President Buhari to immediately rescind the decision to return toll gates on our highways as such is not in the best interest of Nigerians.”