• Toll-by-weight policy pushed to check overloading, infrastructure damage
• Funding for road infrastructure outside budgetary provision inevitable – experts
If managed efficiently, the proposed re-introduction of tolling on federal roads nationwide will fetch the government an average of N1 billion daily or N365 billion yearly, an amount sufficient to fix major roads across the country.
A conservative estimate by The Guardian showed that about one-third of over 11.8 million registered vehicles expected to pay between N200 and N500 will earn for the Federal Government between N1 billion and N2 billion daily.
Recall that Nigeria operated toll roads for many years before they were abolished in 2004 during President Olusegun Obasanjo-led administration, because of alleged legal disputes, revenue leakages and unmet promises of applying the revenue from toll collection on maintenance of roads.
Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, recently said that the Federal Executive Council (FEC) has approved the Federal Roads and Bridges Tolling Policy and Regulations aimed at improving roads among other facilities and services.
Fashola explained that the roads targeted amounted to only 14.3 per cent of the entire 35,000km stretch of federal roads that were dual carriageways and would be eligible for tolling with vehicles paying between N200 and N500 toll per trip, depending on the vehicle type, while diplomats, military, para-military, as well as tricycles and motorcycles would be exempted from the scheme.
According to him, the projected start-up tolls available for financial modelling and investment decision-making suggest cars will pay N200, SUVs will pay N300, private buses are to pay N300, commercial buses will pay N150 while luxurious buses and trucks will pay N500.
Apparently charmed by the huge potential, transport stakeholders have rallied support for tolling, describing it as a sustainable avenue to end tears, pains and agony of failed road infrastructure.
However, there are concerns about the standard practice as regards the amount payable by trucks plying major highways, considering the weight they carry, impact on the roads, and the need to discourage heavy-duty trucks from plying major highways.
In many countries, the toll-by-weight policy, an incremental fee structure based on vehicle weight, was more effective at controlling truck overloading behaviour and reducing infrastructure damage.
But in the absence of adequate weighing facilities across the country for vehicles, Fashola, at the weekend, said any truck caught carrying cargoes exceeding 12 tonnes on federal roads across Nigeria will henceforth pay between N1 million and N10 million fine.
Fashola, while inspecting the refurbished Digital Truck Weigh Bridge at Old Toll Gate along the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, said the measure was not just about tolling but geared towards highway development initiatives of the government to curb abuse of highways, which causes quick degeneration.
Maintaining that fines against erring articulated vehicles were to serve as deterrence, he said overloaded trucks constitute danger to themselves, road infrastructure and other road users.
“No matter how beautiful, how well designed the highways are, they are built with a specification, once you don’t comply with those specifications you are abusing or misusing the assets.
“Now, those specifications are global. So, they are not Nigerian made, every country in the world has subscribed to them. Nigeria is a signatory to the ECOWAS Axle Load Regulation signed by all West African countries, and one of the first things President Muhammadu Buhari did in the first term of his administration was to ratify that convention locally.
AS of 2018, the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS) recorded that there were 11.8 million registered vehicles in Nigeria, with the then population of 198 million people, putting the vehicle per population ratio at 0.06.
Of this number, 39 per cent (4.6 million) were privately owned, 56 per cent (6.7 million) were commercial vehicles, 1.1 per cent (135,216) were registered as government-owned, while 0.4 per cent (5,834) were registered for diplomats.
With an average fare of N300 multiplied by over 11.8 million registered vehicles, the Federal Government may be generating over N3.5 billion daily into its coffers from the tolling policy.
However, experts say if the Obasanjo-led administration could gross N63 million daily in 2003, making N23 billion yearly, then the Buhari administration can record more, regardless of how insignificant Obasanjo said the revenue was. Also, considering there are more vehicles on the road today than there were in 2003, the tollgates will be a goldmine.
Contrary to the opinion of double taxation on the reintroduction of toll, experts say the benefits accrued to tolling is economical and less expensive as compared to expenses of wear and tear on vehicles.
President, Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE), Babagana Mohammed, said tolling is what engineers have been advocating, saying private individuals should be allowed to manage the tolls and not the government. Government has no business in it.
Mohammed, who queried the reason behind halting tolling, said there was no basis for scrapping it because the government alone cannot maintain, execute and build roads.
“Private sector needs to come in by tolling. That does not mean people should excessively charge, it should be moderate and affordable, which should be done electronically for ease of movement.”
He said tolling is not only about maintaining the road, the security network should be expanded and maintained by private companies handling it.
Speaking on fare for trucks, he said private companies involved in the tolling should ensure that weigh bridges are constructed for accountability.
“Government is expected to provide an enabling environment. There is a basis for the fare for trucks, that is why we have weigh carriage/bridges. You pay based on what you have carried.”
Road safety expert, Patrick Adenusi, said in other climes, tolling is part of development where private people operate it. The model the government adopted by giving roads to some multinationals in lieu of tax haven could have been a better option to tolling.
Adenusi, who doubles as the founder, Safety Beyond Borders, said it is not to say that tolling is wrong but it’s not the best model.
“For example, a road was given to Dangote to construct and Dangote Group is not going to toll the road but the government will be deducting the cost of constructing the road from their taxes until they are done with that. That would have been a better kind of model bearing in mind the economic situation in the country.
“If we had any of those private companies that do any of those constructions, because of their reputation, they would want to make sure the road construction is properly done. Because if it’s not properly done, the cost of maintenance would still be on them unlike when it is the government that gives out the job and the quality of construction may not be as much as what the private sector-driven road construction would be like.
“Government best understands the direction that they chose to go, since they have gone that route, there is little or nothing we can do about it anymore,” he said.
According to Adenusi, tolling is one of the global best practices in road development but it is compulsory that for every tolled road there must be an alternative. He said if the government fails to create an alternative, it amounts to violating the international human charter rights of citizens.
Speaking on trucks plying the highway, he said the concessionaire must reinstall weighbridges to ascertain the impact of such trucks on roads. “They must ensure that any truck plying the toll roads must not exceed 30 tonnes.”
Public Transport Owners of Nigeria Association (PTONA), an umbrella body of long-distance road passenger transporters in all parts of the country, said the introduction of tollgates would ameliorate and soften the sufferings of Nigerians, as out of every 10 citizens, three are on the road.
Secretary, PTONA, Valentine Uduebor, said with a population of over 200 million people, that means over 80 million people are on the road.
Uduebor said: “If the tolling would create a safe road, people would pay. We are not kicking against it nor are we for it. But the simple truth is if the primary motive for building the tollgates is to ameliorate the sufferings of the masses, it is okay,” he said.
Prof. Samuel Odewumi of School of Transport, Lagos State University (LASU), said government must ensure there are benefits accrued to tolling to ensure a win-win solution for all parties involved.
In addition to responsibility for the concessionaire, Odewumi said aside from maintaining the roads, security is important with free accident rescue, free towing for broken down vehicles, while transit lodging and tourist sites should be developed and tour guides provided.
The don said the price slated for toll collection is considerable but that of trucks should be reviewed, stating that the problems inflicted by trucks on roads are more complex than that of other vehicles.
Speaking on tolling as double taxation for citizens, he said the price is fair as compared to driving through a bad road where thousands of naira would be spent on wear and tear. People should hold the government responsible to deliver service for what is being paid.
Chief Operating Officer, Automedics Ltd, Gbola Oba, said the driving time would be minimal if roads are tolled and the funds accrued are judiciously used for repair and maintenance, stating that if there are quality road and maintenance as such of Lekki-Epe expressway on federal highways, average transporter would be able to do enough return trips.
For the national president, National Freight Haulers Association, Chief Jackson Malam Bent, he said if the country must have good road, funding outside the nation’s budget must be prioritised. He said revenue generated from toll gates should be used to maintain roads in the country, to avert potholes. He, however, lamented that corruption killed the tollgate prior to now.
Also, the former director-general, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Dr Muda Yusuf, corroborated Bent’s statement when he said the need to generate funds outside budgetary allocations is inevitable.
“The best practice in most parts of the developing world is to create frameworks to generate revenue outside of the normal budgetary allocations for the development of road infrastructure. The tolling proposition is, therefore, a welcome idea,” he said.
Yusuf added that the exemption clause for paramilitary and other organisations should be reviewed, as the risk of abuse is high.