The federal government has finally resolved to reintroduce toll-gates on some federal roads. This was recently confirmed by the Minister of Works, Babatunde Fashola.
Recall that the payment of tolls on roads, 38 of them, was scrapped in 2003 by the then President Olusegun Obasanjo for being riddled with corruption and inefficiency. Obasanjo’s administration removed all the toll structures across the country as the money being generated were merely ending up in private pockets.
Obasanjo ordered that the roads be maintained from revenue accruing from the increase in pump price of petroleum just as he decried the traffic hiccups always experienced at the toll gates.
Criticisms have trailed the government’s resolve n this issue. While some argue that the government has not done well in the reconstruction and maintenance of the nation’s road networks, others expressed concerns that bringing back toll fees is tantamount to returning corruption in the country.
As at now, majority of the federal roads in the country are in states of disrepair. Some can best be described as craters leaving queries on the real essence of the Works ministry and the Federal Road Maintenance Agency (FERMA).
Fashola hasn’t hidden his penchant for capitalism. He believes Nigerians must pay for services rendered and public utilities must be privatized to make them work. For instance, while he was the governor of Lagos state, he directed the Lekki Concession Company (LCC) to collect toll on Lekki-Epe expressway in 2011.
Fashola, a man sold to private-public-partnership (PPP) policy, has always maintained that government cannot single-handedly provide infrastructure without the input of the private sector. He has continued to preach to whoever cared to listen that Nigerians must pay for service rendered, especially for the maintenance of roads. The minister also believe in concession of roads to private investors who are expected to recoup their investments through tolls.
In order to address the challenge of corruption, Fashola has said that the government plans to make the payment of tolls as cash-free as possible by introducing electronic payment.
To address traffic hitches, the government proposed ten lanes at the toll-gates with enough illumination.
Also to be built at the toll-gates are mini-clinics and offices for security operatives to provide surveillance and security on the roads. This is expected to help checkmate incidences of kidnapping and armed robberies on the roads.
With the building of the toll-gates across the country comes another clusters of markets where petty traders are expected to eke out a living. So, the policy is expected to create direct and indirect jobs for residents of the toll gates communities.
Sound as the toll policy may sound, there are indications that it would have profound negative effects on the already impoverished majority in the country. Payments of tolls will definitely translate into higher cost of transportation for goods and services. This will in turn escalate inflation at the face of dwindling income even as the government continues to prevaricate on the payment of N30,000 minimum wage.
In any case, many Nigerians are waiting to see how the government intends to execute the new policy. It is believed that many may not care to pay a little for improved services so long as it will improve the quality of roads and provide necessary security on the highways.
Same Fashola, it was, who pushed for increase in electricity tariff while he was combining the power and housing ministries with works during Buhari’s first term. Though government decision to hike electricity tariff was predicated on the promise of uninterrupted power supply, consumers are yet to see improved electricity supply even when they are being made to pay more to allow private sector participation.
Revisiting VAT increase
Equally rated as anti-people is the government resolve to increase the Value Added Tax (VAT) form 5 to 7.2%. At the face of dwindling revenue and a bourgeoning capital expenditures, the government felt increase in VAT was inevitable.
But the Senate has knocked the policy and may stop its execution considering the preponderance of opinion from the Red Chamber. The lawmakers argue that the common man has already been overburdened urging the executive to look elsewhere to raise funds.
Specifically, Senator Ali Ndume asked the executive to forget about increase in VAT because of its devastating effects on the poor. He said the government should instead look inwards and exert taxes in the minority rich who are in possession of huge resources.
To this extent, the lawmaker suggested imposition of telecommunication tax where telecoms users and operators are made to pay certain percentage to the government. He equally proposed the enactment of property tax. These, according to him, will have minimal effects on the poor masses.
How sustainable is land borders’ closure?
Another government decision that has continued to elicit diverse reactions from the public is the government resolve to close the nation’s land borders. There is no gainsaying that the nation’s land borders were actually porous.
Most security challenges in the country were exacerbated by the influx of foreigners and the smuggling of contraband goods including arms and ammunition. There were allegations that personnel of security agencies and para-ministry organisations deployed to the borders were being mostly compromised.
Heavily subsidized petroleum products meant for local consumption were being smuggled out of the country by unpatriotic merchants bent on making fortunes a the expense of the country.
Cheap and inferior items, like perboiled rice and other food items, banned by the government were daily being smuggled into the country thereby killing the government ‘Grow what you eat’ initiatives. Local farmers who heeded the government’s directives to return to farm could not recoup their investments as the market had been flooded with smuggled items.
It is with this background that the government recently ordered the partial closure of the nation’s land borders. Already, the decision has started to yield positive results as the daily local consumption of petroleum products has reduced considerably. Several millions of liters of petroleum products hitherto diverted to neighbouring countries have being saved.
Influx of foreigners masquerading as herdsmen causing havoc in the country has been checkmated. Illegal arms flowing into the country only to fall into wrong hands have been reduced amongst other benefits.
But residents of those communities doing legitimate businesses across the borders have begun to lament the effects of the government directives. This raised the question of the sustainability of the directive. For how long will Nigeria be an island at the face of globalization?
The government must therefore find an ingenious solution to the porosity of the borders as continued closure will put more pressure on the seaports which is already bedeviled with the challenge of congestion.
By the way, the closure of land borders is an indictment of those with the statutory mandates to police the areas. The Nigerian Customs Service (NCS), Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) and others at the borders must up their games and save the nation of possible embarrassment.
The government must also deploy technology to monitor the borders. Deployment of drones and other technological devices will help in tracking smugglers on their routes even as local vigilantes from the border towns could be engaged to give intelligence on their activities. Permanent closure of the nation’s border is obviously not the way to go.