“Road to Yesterday”is a popular Nollywood movie directed by the ace movie director Ishaya Bako. The movie captured the story of a couple with trust issues; the struggling couple only tried to reconnect on a road trip that turned out to be the hallucinations of a loving wife who just wanted a happy home. In other words she tried turning back the hands of time and to even make yesterday better, but it was already too late for them. The decisions of yesterday, as innocent as they may seem, sometimes haunt us today and even tomorrow.
Nigeria’s infrastructural vehicle is on the road to yesterday. Just as depicted in the movie, it appears we have finally decided that the only way to connect to the future we have been yearning for as a nation is to embark on a road trip to the yesterday that we once declared outmoded. The past that was painted with corruption, stagnancy and replete with inconveniences is what we have decided to revisit. The Minister for Works, Power and Housing, BabatundeFashola hinted last week at a meeting with the Senate Committee on Worksthat the federal government would reintroduce toll gates in the country. Prior to the recent meeting, Fashola had told members of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, MAN, in September that the government was considering reintroducing toll. The pronouncement by the minister is obviously an endorsement of the proposal by the Senate in July that tolls should be returned as a way of generating alternative funding for road maintenance. The logic behind the proposal is that the funds generated from the tolls will be used to maintain the roads. And of course, the reintroduction would also create jobs for the growing unemployed population in the country.
In a bid to douse tension, the minister also stated that the tolls will only become functional after the roads have been completely reconstructed. He also assured that the reconstruction would be financed throughthe controversial Sukuk bond. The arguments presented perfectly justify the latest move especially with respect to seeming funding challenges confronting the government in its infrastructural drive for many years. To have an accurate picture of the deficit in road infrastructure, the minister stated last year that the country only constructed about 28,980km out of the 193,200km total length of her road network since independence. And this situation is due to shortage of funds. According to the Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN), the country requiresN3 trillion investments to address the prevailing infrastructural deficit. In the same vein, the Chief Executive of the Africa Finance Corporation (AFC), Mr. Andrew Allialso revealed that Nigeria needs US$3 trillion over the next 30 years to fix its infrastructure including power and roads. Alli also stated that federal and state governments’ fiscal incomes are unacceptably insufficient to meet the investments required in infrastructure.Mr. Jonathan Juma, Acting Director-General, National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), also submitted last year that $2 billion was required by the federal government to commence substantial rehabilitation of roads in the country. All these point to the undisputable fact that the country obviously needs alternative sources of funding.
But a revisit of yesteryears will reveal that the problem has always been more of corruption and less of funding. Following the directive for the dismantling of the toll gates, on a radio programme titled “The President Speaks” aired on Federal Radio Corporation of Nigerian, FRCN, in 2003, President Olusegun Obasanjo informed Nigerians that the toll gates had outlasted their usefulness. He further indicated that the N63 million generated daily from the toll was nothing to write home about, more so that the toll plazas were creating inconvenience to motorists and encouraging corruption.Based on the revelation by President Obasanjo, at N63million daily means the country realised approximately N22billionyearly. This presupposes that between 1999 and 2003, the country must have realised close to 100billion from toll gates; funds that were perhaps conveniently embezzled by some people in government.N100b would have gone a long way in bridging the road infrastructural gap in the country at the time if the money was spent judiciously and conscientiously. But what happened? Corruption prevailed over nationalism and patriotism. What the foregoing reveals is that we created a system for some people to steal and drain the country. A few citizens were using the federal government to extort money from unsuspecting fellow citizens.
Upon the closure of the tolling system the government introduced the pump price levy of 1.50k effective from January 2004, which led to the increase in the pump price of petrol. The pump price levy has continued to increase with every upward review in pump price of petrol. President Obasanjo assured Nigerians then that in spite of the initial inconveniences “in the long run, the merits outweigh the demerits as everybody would be good for it.” Put differently, Nigerians were promised a future with better road infrastructure by paying pump price levy as against toll fee.
So the question now is what happened to the pump price levy? What did we do with the money that was realised that we now have to revisit the idea of tolling to maintain our roads? Part of the reasonsput forward for the abolition of the tolling system then was that the government felt pump price levy would generate more funds for road maintenance. Why is it now generating less? We may have to turn to the statement by Senator Kabiru Gaya, Chairman, Senate Committee on Works to find answers. In his remark at the public hearing on the repeal of the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency Act, 2002 and Federal Roads Authority Bill, 2016 and National Roads Fund Establishment Bill, the Senator reproved Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) for not remittingproceeds from the five per cent pump price levy to government. He further revealed that “the sum of N536 billion accrued from Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) and N174 billion from AGO were to be shared on the basis of 60 per cent to Federal Road Maintenance Agency, and 40 per cent to state governments for road maintenance.” Clearly, the law that requires Nigerians to pay petrol tax is still active and has generated considerable income for the government. But the money has not been spent on what it is meant for since its enactment.
Many will agree that the Nigeria of today has not really changed from what it was in the years preceding the closure of toll gates. Corruption still pervades the land just as there is no efficient system to deter its incidence. We have only continued to fight the manifestations of corruption among perceived enemies; in fact, we have repeatedly displayed an inexcusablelevel of insouciance in institutionalising framework that will daunt corruption and largely extirpate it from our system. The corruption blight seems to have grown bigger with its wings extending across every facet of our society and especially the public sector. To go back to the days of toll gates while using deodorant for corruption as posited by Senator Shehu Sani only suggests another deliberate or oblivious attempt to create jobs for the boys, whether they are in the public or private sector. Even as we speak the country does not really lack funds to address our infrastructural challenges; what we lack is the true spirit of proper prioritization which can only stem from a genuine vision for our country. For so long, we have continued to expend public funds on things that do not matter and other elephant projects while we create a visible hole for dishonest individuals to exploit and embezzle our national commonwealth.
It is not in doubt that tolls are good for road management; in fact it is the norm in advanced societies. The point is reintroduction of toll system without adequate measures to deal with attendant corruption is just another means to extort Nigerians by a few Nigerians through a medium mandated by the government. The other question is if the toll complexes are reintroduced, will the government scrap the tax citizens already pay on pump price? Keeping the two policies running is a thoughtful attempt to short-change Nigerians because one was introduced for the other with a promise of a better tomorrow. The tomorrow that was preached yesterday is now here but with a worst reality. If we must embark on a journey to yesterday, it must not be at the expense of the Nigerian people who have done nothing wrong but to vote a political class they trusted with power. It is either the petroleum tax or toll gates. In any case, the government has not justified the proceeds from the pump price levy; no one has even been called to give an account of how much has been collected since 2004 till date. Nigerians deserve better treatment than this and our leaders can actually do better. The problem is not inadequate funding. The problem is our inefficient and corrupt system. Let’s face it!
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