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Published On: Thu, Oct 17th, 2019

Why toll gates: When road de-nationalization or the railway system can deliver better revenues?

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By Ifeanyichukwu Mmoh

Only a few weeks ago, the federation government of Nigeria announced a proposal to re-introduce the toll gates system across the federation. Although, they had said that this toll gates will be electronic and automated; it was nevertheless received with mixed feelings by a great number of the good citizens of Nigeria. The general concern however, was of how these facilities would be distributed across the federation.
In what appeared to be a response, information (which I have not been able to ascertain its genuineness) hit the internet and a list that showed designated toll gates and how many each geo-political zone of the federation was allotted, soon set tongues waggling. In the said list, the northwest will get 12, the northeast will get 9 and the north-central will get 14. The south-south will get 21 and the southwest will get 22.
But the southeast will get 56. That sounds like the way things will turn out eventually; don’t you think? Presently, several comments, press statements and live interviews on national televisions has taken place already and, while the last may not have been seen on this matter particularly on the perceived imbalance or uneven distribution of the facility; the thought hit me to do this article.
Let me begin by presuming that the idea behind the proposed re-introduction of the toll gate facilities across the federation was purely BECAUSE OF THE DRIVE TO GENERATE REVENUES. If this is the sole reason with no other ulterior motive; then what I shall be proposing here may offer a better solution. The fact of the matter is that if the federal government of Nigeria were a corporation; it would’ve long filed for bankruptcy!
It is clear that nationalization of many of our patrimony; several of whom are money-making machines – or if you would ATMs if de-nationalized – is no longer the way to go. Back in those days, it was normal to have the government own and control assets that directly affected the citizens; those were the days when some theorists even proposed socialism, communism and stuffs. But things have long changed since then.
It no longer made sense for government to take charge of assets that affected the masses and, of which they are financially incapable of running. Before NITEL was phased out for instance, its running cost had become a huge burden on the government. The Nigeria Airways is another sinkhole which until it finally failed had become a bad investment for the government to continue to put taxpayer’s monies into.
The Nigeria Railway Corporation was another bad investment. The Toll Gate system that previously existed had turned into a bad investment long before the Chief Olusegun Obasanjo administration dismantled them in the early days of the 4th Republic. The Sea Ports that comprised but is not limited to the Apapa Ports, Tin Can Ports and the Onne Ports are all a burden too much for the government to manage.
The federal highways have been a burden for the government long before now and so are the numerous Airport Terminals. The last time I checked, the government could not finance the construction of the Murtala Muhammed Airport Terminal despite the billions of naira that accrued to that terminal annually. So they arranged to have it built, operated for 36 years and transferred to the government with Messrs Bi-Courtney Ltd.
Looking at all these assets – that ought to pour monies into government coffers and somehow enable government to lower the burden of tax imposed on the masses – and how they’ve turned into liabilities because of corruption, nepotism, politicization and mismanagement; one becomes so concerned to want to suggest a different approach that could lead to a win-win situation for both government and the people.
To re-introduce an automated Toll Gate is to re-introduce a liability and for it to have started on the note of uneven distribution confirms my humble submission. The federation government should rather de-nationalize the federal roads and place it in the hands of the state governments. The state government may wish to go the way of concession or go the way of adopting a public-private partnership (PPP).
Whichever approach they approved, the aim must be to build standard facilities, make it available to the citizens, toll it fairly and deliver a certain percentage of that toll to the national government annually. Roads are a fundamental part of the resources of any state. For instance, in Chicago the government has put most of their busy roads in the hands of the private sector who built, operated and remitted a certain percentage to Chicago government.
For the railways, I once responded to a request by the honorable minister of transport – Rt. Hon. Chibuike Amaechi – for ideas on how best to deliver on the transport sector promises. In that reply, I did say that this government through him must endeavor to concentrate on building standard rail lines and terminals and let it cut across the federation and then open up the sector for private participation.
That way, it will cost the government less in terms of managing the railway terminals and the trains and, will put more monies into government purse in the process. As it is now, those who owned trailers and trucks may not be too comfortable with the idea of reviving the NRC or even the proposed Toll Gates. And if one should factor in the Inland Dry Ports currently constructed in Kaduna and Kano; it’ll be taking business out of their hands.
Furthermore, the quantum of jobs that could be created if the roads are de-nationalized, if the private sector is either partnered or called in to play in the space and if the rights to own and operate train shuttles are given to the private sector will be unfathomable. One of the things that I admire with the Europeans is that they run their economy on policies that are up to date and are never hesitant to improve on them.
E. Dewey in his book Cycles advocated the injection of fresh ideas, fresh blood and fresh input every time an economy climaxed and was about to go on a decline. This government must understand that whatever it was trying to do in order to rejig the economy was ultimately going to be for the overall benefit of every Nigerian. Hence, it needed to be able to differentiate between an obnoxious policy and the viable ones.

Comrade Ifeanyichukwu Mmoh is an advocate for attitudinal change.

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