Again last week, the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola informed a visiting delegation of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) about the plans of the federal government to bring back the payment of tolls on highways for their maintenance. Earlier in July, the Senate had in addition, proposed the setting aside of 0.5 per cent of fares paid by passengers on inter-state trips to generate funds for the rehabilitation and maintenance of roads in the country. Also known to be on the cards is the road fund from tax on every litre of fuel sold, ring-fenced exclusively for road infrastructure development.
We share in the broad premise that the current funding mechanisms for road infrastructure maintenance have become inadequate. In fact, the state of dilapidation of the nation’s road network are such that the entire annual federal government budget would be to no more than an inconsequential droplet in the famished land to fix. With recurring budgets coming in trickles, increasingly, over the years, and with corruption and institutional lethargy denying the sector benefit of the funds annually appropriated, the outcome is what has rendered the motoring experience a nightmare.
We must admit that the current cycle of slump in oil prices have made the proposals urgent and compelling. Although we do not pretend that the proposal would necessarily solve the entire funding problem, it is nonetheless a pragmatic way out in the current circumstance.
Now, the issue is that the country can do with new sources of revenue to fund the road sector. Of that, there can be no doubt. The debate has always been the form as well as the shape of the funds to come and the question of who to bear the burden. As, far as we can see, there is no controversy about the citizens deserving a new motoring experience, which in our view is best guaranteed with sustainable funding. Even now, we are aware of the moves to get the private sector involved in the provision of road infrastructure.
Therefore, if we agree in principle that our annual budgets are no longer adequate to fund road development with its maintenance, and that the private sector will at some point come in to bridge the gaps, we might come to the point where the idea of citizens bearing a part of the burden would become less vexatious.
The idea of bringing back the tolls is therefore not lacking in merit. With Nigerians already paying premium in humongous costs of maintenance on their vehicles plying the crater-infested highways, the idea of paying tolls on better maintained roads would be a lesser evil, if it comes to making a choice. Critical here is the need for a strong independent and pro-consumer regulator to ensure fairness.
What Nigerians needs to be reassured of is that the plague of corruption which marred its earlier entry will not resurface to undermine confidence in it; and that going forward, they would have the pleasure of driving on good roads, at least pending when the current clamor for restructuring is given life and the states given the responsibility and resources to manage the roads.