Some cynics have derided President Muhammadu Buhari’s ‘next level’ second term administration as one that will tax citizens out of their pockets. Yes, since starting his second term on May 29, 2019, President Buhari has approved one form of tax after another. First were new bank charges on individual and corporate deposits and withdrawals, followed by a hefty increase in the value added tax, from 5% to 7.2%. Now the government has resolved to bring back the highway toll abolished in 2003.
Minister of Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, speaking on October 2 about the planned return of tolling on 51 federal highways, said: “We expect to return toll plazas. We have concluded the designs of what they will look like, what materials they will be rebuilt with, and what new considerations must go into them. What we are looking at now and trying to conclude is how the back end runs”.
In 2003, President Olusegun Obasanjo, who was rounding off his first term, considered the toll gates spread across the country something of a nuisance and ordered that they be dismantled. His position was that roads should be maintained with the revenue derived from the hike in the pump price of petrol at the time. He also argued that the N63 million earned daily from tolling was insignificant in the larger scheme of things and contributed very little to the nation’s fiscal budget. Besides, toll gates compounded traffic gridlock on highways, were a source of pain for motorists and encouraged corruption. A large chunk of the revenue earned from tolling ended up in private pockets and in the bank accounts of law enforcement syndicates.
Now what has changed to necessitate the return of what Fashola calls toll plazas? Not much but he is insistent. He said recently that “There is no reason why we can’t toll. There was a policy of the government to abolish tolls or as it were, dismantle toll plazas. But there is no law that prohibits tolling in Nigeria today.” What is new is that the plazas will be managed by the private sector, unlike in the past it was an all government affair. Another is that no cash will change hands. “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 now faced with the need to acquire more lands to establish the width of the toll plazas. We are looking at a 10-lane plaza so that there can be more outlets and they then merge; so we need to acquire more lands.” Yet another positive is that tolling will not be immediate. According to Fashola, “We are only waiting for the completion of those roads before we introduce the toll gates.”
We at Peoples Daily understand why many citizens are uncomfortable with the reintroduction of the highway toll. It is asking them take from their already lean pockets to pay for road maintenance. However, the reality today is that the government is no longer in a position to build and maintain roads. We, as citizens and users of the roads, should do our small part to contribute to their maintenance. It is our civic duty. As for the fear of corruption, we believe cashless payment of the toll will prevent that.