Return of tollgates seen reviving Nigeria’s road infrastructure

As the Federal Government plans to reintroduce tollgates on highways in Nigeria, expectation is high among the citizens that road infrastructure will come back to life for safety and good driving experience.

Recently, the government launched what it called Highways Development and Management Initiative (HDMI) whose objective is to attract significant and sustainable investment and funding in the development of road infrastructure in Nigeria.

It is expected that the HDMI would maximise the use of assets along the right-of-way and develop other highway furniture, which encompasses all roadside objects used for safety and traffic control such as signage and other road assets like earthworks, drainage, and culverts.

“Our targets are to develop an ecosystem along the federal highway network by bringing multi-dimensional resources of skills, finance, technology and efficiency into national highway governance,” Babatunde Fashola, minister for works and housing, states.

Adedapo Kuti, director, federal highways, South West Zone, says Nigeria has a total of 200,000 kilometres of road network, which is a little above Infrastructure Concession and Regulatory Commission (ICRC) estimates of 195,000 kilometres.

Out of this number, 32,000 kilometres are federal roads and 31,000 kilometres are state roads. In total, only about 60,000 kilometres are paved, leaving 135,000 kilometres untarred and therefore in deplorable condition, and often not motorable.

About 17 years ago, the Federal Government under former President Olusegun Obasanjo dismantled tollgates across the country, citing poor daily returns estimated at N63 million, corruption surrounding the funds and the inconvenience motorists experienced at the tollgates.

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This has impacted negatively on the development and maintenance of road infrastructure in the country, despite the setting up the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency (FERMA) for that purpose.

Sometime ago, provision was made for certain percentage of fuel money to be given to FERMA for road maintenance but that did not work as FERMA is said to have not received such funds for three years.

“FERMA is grossly underfunded. If you look at their appropriation in the last five years, you see between N30 billion and N35 billion given to them in a year and when government does that, most times, they don’t fund the budget.

“The best they are doing is 50 percent funding, meaning that FERMA is given between N15 billion and N20 billion every year and that is grossly inadequate,” Dayo Oluyemi, chairman, Nigerian Institution of Highways Transportation Engineers, was quoted as saying.

This poor funding throws up the need for a sustainable road fund. Fola Fabule, senior vice president/head of Financial Advisory at Africa Finance Corporation, notes Nigeria needs to create a dedicated National Road Fund (NRF), which owns all the roads, tolls all of them at different levels, and uses the funds from that to independently fund new roads.

“That is the key,” he says, pointing out that other African nations, including Ethiopia, Zambia, Kenya, Ghana, Malawi, Tanzania, and even Benin Republic, all have functional road funds, many established since the 1990s.

The funds are financed by fuel levies or some form of tolls and managed by boards representing the interest of road users. These boards include private sector operators and public servants.

The implication of poor road funding is the collapse of many roads, especially those belonging to the Federal Government. The roads are not only slowing trade and commerce, but also claiming lives on daily basis, with combined negative impact on the economy.

Typical examples are the Enugu-Onitsha Expressway and the Lagos-Badagry Expressway, which are death traps and serious obstacles and limitations to inter-state and inter-regional trade and commerce. The two highways are also security risk for travellers.

The President Muhammadu Buhari administration’s plan to concession the highways and return the tollgates under HDMI has, therefore, been welcomed and commended by a cross section of professionals and stakeholders, though not without reservations.

The highways for concessioning include the Benin-Asaba, Abuja-Lokoja, Kano-Katsina, Onitsha-Owerri, Shagamu-Benin and Abuja-Keffi-Akwanga. Others are the Kano-Shuari, Potiskum-Damaturu, Lokoja-Benin, Enugu-Port Harcourt, Ilorin-Jebba, Lagos-Ota-Abeokuta, and the Lagos-Badagry-Seme Border highways, which have a combined length of 1,963 kilometres.

While professionals, particularly engineers, foresee problems that will be arising from corruption as of old, experts at a gathering in Ikoyi, Lagos, recently, said the proposed tolling of the highways might experience set-back from litigations, citing Lagos-Ibadan Expressway.

A concession agreement on the expressway between the Federal Government and Bi-Courtney Group was terminated in November 2012, and contract for the repair of the Expressway awarded to Julius Berger and Reynolds Construction Company (RCC).

Wale Babalakin, Bi-Courtney Group’s chairman, noted that public private partnership (PPP), despite its highpoint for developing public infrastructure, cannot work in Nigeria because of government itself which, he said, appeared to be in competition with the private sector.

Mohammed Babagana, president, Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE), blames inconsistency in policy and lack of planning by the government for the planned return of the tollgates, noting, however that, “ordinarily, establishing tollgates is good, but the problem is in its management and lack of proper planning.”

The engineers are still waiting for proper communication from government before they could make official pronouncement, he says.

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