So they want to reintroduce toll gates, fuel tax

Casmir Igbokwe

Published in SUNDAY PUNCH, April 18, 2010

“If a kid asks where rain comes from, I think a cute thing to tell him is, ‘God is crying.’ And if he asks why God is crying, another cute thing to tell him is, ‘Probably because of something you did.’”

I can’t think of a better way to start this piece than the above quote by Jack Handey. The Leadership Newspaper published it under its Amusement Park column last Wednesday.

Indeed, the Nigerian people are tired of crying. They had cried over sectarian killings in different parts of the country. They had cried over infant and maternal mortalities. They had cried over poor standard of education and poor infrastructure.

Today, it’s God who is weeping for Nigeria. Did you ask why He is shedding tears? It’s because of something we did and still do. He is wondering what has happened to our oil money. He is amazed at the number of people proclaiming his name in vain inside churches and mosques.      

He is apparently crying over the plans by the Federal Government to reintroduce toll gates and fuel tax in Nigeria. Some three weeks ago, the Chairman of the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency, Abdulkadir Kure, said the aim of the toll gates was to raise funds for the maintenance of roads in the country. The expected annual revenue from this is N30bn.

On the face of it, the idea sounds good. All over the world, road construction and maintenance are capital intensive. Citizens pay one form of tax or the other to help raise funds for such projects. The difference between Nigeria and some other countries is that while such countries utilise the funds for the purposes they are meant for, Nigeria uses her own for some other purposes.

Since the advent of this current democracy in 1999, billions of Naira had been allocated to road maintenance in the country. Media reports in early 2008 indicated that the Olusegun Obasanjo administration spent N500bn on roads. Kure said FERMA had only received N30bn budgetary allocation in the last two years. His agency, he stressed, would require about N1tn annually to fix the roads. The Ministry of Works had received a budget allocation of over N146bn in 2009. This year, the budget for the ministry is N250bn. The question is, what have we done with the past allocations?

The answer, as usual, is blowing in the winds. From Enugu-Abakaliki Road to Benin-Ore Expressway; from Ikot Ekpene-Calabar Road to Kaura Namoda, the state of federal roads is terrible. I cannot find a better adjective again to qualify them.

It is even annoying to hear that Kure said stakeholders in the transportation sector agreed with the reintroduction of tolls on our highways. Who are these stakeholders? Did they consider the fact that we had these toll gates before but Obasanjo ordered that they be dismantled from January 2004? The dismantling alone cost about N300m. Did the stakeholders remember that Obasanjo imposed a fuel tax of N1.50 on every litre of petrol which a federal high court stopped in 2005?

I’m a stakeholder as far as roads in Nigeria are concerned. I know the pains I go through driving on these pothole-infested roads. And so for anybody to talk of collecting any toll from me, there must be an account of what happened to the funds earlier voted for the maintenance of these roads.

There had been probes of some past misappropriation of resources. What has happened to the reports of these probes? Late last month, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole, lamented the non-implementation of the report of the House on the annual manipulation of the so-called unspent budget by government officials.

Bankole was specifically said to have noted that the House stopped the Federal Ministry of Works from fleecing the country of N40bn last year. He reportedly said the legislators discovered that out of the N100bn budget estimate the FMW presented to the House, the recovered money was budgeted for projects already completed and paid for.     

THE PUNCH of March 31, 2010, quoted Bankole to have said that the House also uncovered between N800m and N1tn accruals from the internally generated revenue that were not accounted for. The figure may even be higher.

The tragedy of our situation is that those who supervised the rot in that ministry are very much around and are still strutting our political stage for more goodies. Rather than be in jail, some of them either want to be in the driving seat in 2011 or be godfathers to some more ambitious politicians. Bankole vowed to pursue the missing funds in the FMW to its logical conclusion. After this vow, which he made in March, I have not heard much from him again on that point. I hope he keeps to his promise.

Before FERMA could convince Nigerians to pay any toll or fuel tax now, it must repair the roads first. This is what seems to obtain on Lekki-Epe Expressway. Media reports last month noted that collection of tolls on a section of the road would commence only when the concessionaire of the road could obtain independent certification of the completion of the first six kilometres of the road.

Some federal roads had already been selected for concession. Government should adopt this method for all the federal roads in the country. A private concession company that wants to collect toll on any highway will never toy with the repair of that road. Otherwise, it risks being the butt of public anger.

Meanwhile, should anybody ask you why God is crying for Nigeria, the cute thing to tell the person is that Nigerians are dying in their thousands on our roads. By the time toll is added, there may not be any tears remaining in the tear glands again.

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