FEATURE ARTICLE

Monday, October 14, 2019
ifeanyi_mmoh@yahoo.com
Jos, Nigeria
WHY TOLL GATES; WHEN ROAD DE-NATIONALIZATION OR THE RAILWAY SYSTEM CAN DELIVER BETTER REVENUES?

nly 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 thistoll gates will be electronic and automated; it was nevertheless received withmixed feelings by a great number of the good citizens of Nigeria. The general concern however, was of how these facilities would be distributed across thefederation.

In what appeared tobe a response, information (which I have not been able to ascertain its genuineness) hit the internet and a list that showed designated toll gates andhow many each geo-political zone of the federation was allotted, soon settongues waggling. In the said list, the northwest will get 12, the northeastwill get 9 and the north-central will get 14. The south-south will get 21 andthe southwest will get 22.

But the southeast will get 56. That sounds like the way things will turn out eventually; don’tyou think? Presently, several comments, press statements and live interviews onnational televisions has taken place already and, while the last may not havebeen seen on this matter particularly on the perceived imbalance or unevendistribution 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 Ishall be proposing here may offer a better solution. The fact of the matter isthat if the federal government of Nigeria were a corporation; it would’ve longfiled 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 togo. 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 madesense for government to take charge of assets that affected the masses and, ofwhich they are financially incapable of running. Before NITEL was phased outfor instance, its running cost had become a huge burden on the government. The NigeriaAirways is another sinkhole which until it finally failed had become a badinvestment 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 governmentto manage.

The federal highwayshave been a burden for the government long before now and so are the numerous AirportTerminals. The last time I checked, the government could not finance theconstruction of the Murtala Muhammed Airport Terminal despite the billions ofnaira 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-CourtneyLtd.

Looking at all theseassets – that ought to pour monies into government coffers and somehow enablegovernment to lower the burden of tax imposed on the masses – and how they’veturned into liabilities because of corruption, nepotism, politicization andmismanagement; one becomes so concerned to want to suggest a different approachthat could lead to a win-win situation for both government and the people.

To re-introduce anautomated Toll Gate is to re-introduce a liability and for it to have startedon the note of uneven distribution confirms my humble submission. The federationgovernment should rather de-nationalize the federal roads and place it in thehands of the state governments. The state government may wish to go the way ofconcession or go the way of adopting a public-private partnership (PPP).

Whichever approachthey approved, the aim must be to build standard facilities, make it availableto the citizens, toll it fairly and deliver a certain percentage of that toll tothe national government annually. Roads are a fundamental part of the resourcesof any state. For instance, in Chicago the government has put most of theirbusy roads in the hands of the private sector who built, operated and remitted acertain percentage to Chicago government.

For the railways, Ionce responded to a request by the honorable minister of transport – Rt. Hon.Chibuike Amaechi – for ideas on how best to deliver on the transport sectorpromises. In that reply, I did say that this government through him mustendeavor to concentrate on building standard rail lines and terminals and letit cut across the federation and then open up the sector for private participation.

That way, it willcost the government less in terms of managing the railway terminals and thetrains and, will put more monies into government purse in the process. As it isnow, those who owned trailers and trucks may not be too comfortable with theidea of reviving the NRC or even the proposed Toll Gates. And if one shouldfactor in the Inland Dry Ports currently constructed in Kaduna and Kano; it’llbe taking business out of their hands.

Furthermore, thequantum of jobs that could be created if the roads are de-nationalized, if theprivate sector is either partnered or called in to play in the space and if therights to own and operate train shuttles are given to the private sector willbe unfathomable. One of the things that I admire with the Europeans is that theyrun their economy on policies that are up to date and are never hesitant toimprove on them.

E. Dewey in his bookCyclesadvocated the injection of fresh ideas, fresh blood and fresh input every timean economy climaxed and was about to go on a decline. This government must understandthat whatever it was trying to do in order to rejig the economy was ultimatelygoing to be for the overall benefit of every Nigerian. Hence, it needed to beable to differentiate between an obnoxious policy and the viable ones.

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