By Stephen Ubanna
The last may not have been heard why President Muhammadu Buhari led All Progressive Congress, APC, government, appears determined to return the toll plaza dismantled by former President Olusegun Obasanjo of the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party in 2003. This is because of the government drive to raise money from different sources to execute its 2019 electioneering Campaign promises and prosecute the ongoing counter Insurgency war in the north eastern states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe. This is in addition to tackling the activities of Bandits I the north western states of Zamfara, Sokoto and Katsina, the President’s home state.
Recall that the Katsina state born Nigerian President had on Tuesday during his 59th Independence anniversary speech read the riot act to the revenue generating agencies to ensure to meet their targets., warning that ‘’severe consequences await any of the agencies that failed to achieve agreed revenue targets.
The Value News learnt that Babatunde Fashola, a former governor of Lagos state and now minister of Works and Housing, who has been looking for ways to turn the Federal Highways , across the country into an avenue for revenue generation to recoup the money for maintaining the roads may have taking advantage of the billions of naira raked annually by the Lagos state government on the busy lekki – Ajah toll plazas, established during his Administration to work on the President to support the return of toll plazas on major Federal roads across the country.
The minister was said to have made it clear to the Katsina born Nigerian President that there is no law that forbids toll gate collections in the country. It was a matter of time for the President to cue into the ministerial advice. The opportunity came with the Presidential directive to the revenue generating agencies last Tuesday to meet their targets or face severe consequences. On Wednesday, October 2, after the Federal Executive Council, FEC, presided over by Buhari, before jetting out out with 10 governors and a retinue of ministers to Pretoria, on the invitation of Cyril Ramophosa, the South African African President, Fashola, was forced to open up on the closely guided secret based on the approval of the Council.
Note that former President Obasanjo had ordered the dismantling of the old toll gates in 2003 towards the tail end of his first term in office , stressing that the Federal Highways should be maintained through revenue from increase in the pump price of petroleum products. The then President Obasanjo had argued that the N63 million collected daily was insignificant and the toll constituted great inconvenience to motorists and encouraged Corruption.
Past and present Administrations have continued to increase the pump price of products to raise revenue but they have remained insatiable in their revenue generation. Fashola, may have exposed the Buahari Administration that the decision on the return of the toll plaza was not taken at the last FEC, as he revealed that the ministry have concluded the designs of what the tolls would look –like, what materials they would be built with, and what new considerations must go into it. The ministry, according to sources , are currently targeting the Lagos Ibadan, Lagos-Benin, Abuja-Lokoja, Abuja-Kano Express ways for the first phase of the project before extending it to other Federal High ways across the country.
He may have made Nigerians to know that there is no going back on the plan despite the opposition from several quarters but what the government is about now was looking out and trying to conclude is how the banks would run the toll plaza to avoid fraud.
Political watchers believe that the return of the Toll plazas was part of the APC slogan which the party had promised Nigerians during the 2019 electioneering Campaigns.Oludayo Oluyemi, Chairman, Nigerian Institution of Highway and Transportation Engineers, insists that the re-introduction of the toll plazas would not solve the problem of the country Federal roads.
The APC may have played into the hands of the Opposition PDP, with the planned return of toll plazas on Federal Highways across the country as the party has kicked against it to win back the support of the people. The party described the action as ‘’executive bullying which could not be justified under any guise as it would lead to an increase on the prices of goods and services including food stuff across which heighten inflation across the country.
Recall that the Buhari led APC government only recently approved the increase of the Value Added Tax , VAT, from 5 percent to 7.2 percent . This is in addition to the exorbitant tarriffs being paid for electricity and other essential services provided by the government.
The party which could not hide its opposition to the planned return of toll plazas on the Federal highways across the country noted that ‘’since 2015 that Buhari came into office with his populist ideology, the Administration had continued to increase prices and impose all manner of levies on Nigerians which proceeds are being frittered away in reckless abandon by the cabal in the presidency, thus leading to further bleeding of the economy and despondency among the citizenry.
Appealing to the Buhari led APC government to shelve the plan of return of the toll plazas and cut tax profiles, the party urged the Administration to concentrate its efforts on wealth creation to ease the suffering of the people.
Many believe that if the past Administrations had properly managed the toll plazas in the country’s major highways in the past, there would not have been any need to be talking about toll plaza by another Administration. They cited the Republic of Benin managed toll plaza, along the Abidjan corridor, which is raking in billions of West African CEFAS to the country annually which is used in the maintenance of its basic infrastructural facilities like roads. It is a major source of revenue for the country as its operations are Computerised to ensure that motorists, tankers or trucks laden cargoes plying the Cotonou –Seme/Krake joint border to and fro, pay the relevant levies, without absconding. The Buhari Administration may have to take a cue from the Beninoise government on the Administration of their Toll Plazas since it has become a last option to raise revenue to run the government. Until this is done, there are fears that the project may be abused by motorists and the ministry of Works and Housing officials and their bank Collaborators.
This is where Buhari may have to tighten up the loose ends for the project to ensure that much of the revenue that would be generated did not end up private pockets.