Road Maintenance: Government Task Or Citizens' Tax?

by L.Chinedu Arizona-Ogwu

From the North-East Zone, the states in the zone are Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Taraba and Yobe. The total road network is 6,787.9Km. Though most of the roads in this zone were contracted out for repairs by the PTF, the jobs were not properly done. Rehabilitation work was abandoned halfway and the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing are now handling them. The bad roads in the zone, which require urgent maintenance work, include Bauchi-Gombe Yola; Bauchi-Tafa-Balewa-Langtang and Bauchi-Ningi.

In the North Central Zone, there are six states in the North Central zone namely: Niger, Kwara, Plateau, Benue, Nasarawa, and Kogi. The Federal Capital Territory, Abuja is also within the zone. The total Federal road network is 9,756Km. The following information was gathered for the various roads. Abuja-Minna road, the state of the road is fair with minor potholes. There are major construction works being carried out along the Niger State stretch. Branching off from Suleja to Mokwa the road can be referred to as a death trap for motorists, as potholes adorn it. Abuja-Keffi is an old road with minor potholes, which appear to be poorlymaintained. Presently, dualisation work is being carried out along the route with a record of about 40% completion. Keffi-Gubi-Akwanga road can be said to be good. The road was recently rehabilitated. Keffi-Nasarawa roads, the 20-kilometre Keffi-Laminga road is a littered withmany pothole, while Shamege to Nasarawa can be said to be fair. Akwanga-Makurdi roads, the Akwanga to Lafia route is a dangerous road with very sharp bends. The worst of the routes is from Lafia to Makurdi, which is about 90km; it has so many gully-like potholes. Abuja-Jos roads, the Akwanga-forest are narrow single lane with potholes. Getting to jos is a very bad bridge that needs urgent attention. Abuja-Ilorin roads, the road network between Abuja and Ilorin can be described as being fair. Abuja to airport junction is dualised and well maintained. However, from Airport to Lokoja is a single lane road littered with potholes. On this route is the Murtala Mohammed Bridge, which is becoming infested with potholes. The Lokoja-Ilorin highway which was constructed few years ago, has gone very bad, potholes are encountered almost every kilometer thus making traveling on this road unsafe.

In the past, the Government had concentrated much on road construction, but much has not been done in the areas of establishing a regulatory framework and introducing measures that would promote effective road maintenance and development. Some Commissions have, however been established to tackle the problem of road maintenance. Some of these commissions include: The Wey Commission of 1971, which examined the organizational structure of highway development and management in five selected countries and thereafter recommended the formation of a Federal Highway Authority for the administration of all Federal Roads in the country; The 1979 Panel, which recommended the setting-up of a parastatal (The Federal Highway Authority) under the Federal Commissioner of Works and Housing. Its functions would include the planning, designing, construction, maintenance and surveillance of Federal highways. The 1996 Workshop which launched the Road Vision 2000 and recommended the establishment of an autonomous road agency that will be responsible for road maintenance; and The 1999 Presidential Policy Advisory Committee (PPAC), which recommended the establishment of a central body to ensure high standards in highways development and maintenance. Also, the committee recommended that funding of highways maintenance should be improved by establishing a Road Fund (RF), which will derive its funds from the following sources: Highway tolls, Vehicle taxes, Trucks, weigh/bridges and parking fees, Petroleum taxes.

The general poor state of the Nigerian roads and the failure of past efforts at establishing a road maintenance machinery led to the current initiative of establishing a Task Force on maintenance of Federal Roads. The second phase consists of long-term solution to road maintenance. In this phase, major contractors would be commissioned to maintain primary trunk roads on continuous basis while indigenous contractors are to execute special/emergency repairs on secondary roads as the need arises. Old maintenance districts were planned to remain resuscitated while new ones will be established where necessary. In the last phase, which involves direct labour, mechanized maintenance units would be established in each of the six geo-political zones of the federation, while a district unit was supposed to be set up in each state of the geopolitical zones. The Task Force was created to hold brief for the proposed National Road Maintenance Agency given the long period its Bill has awaited in the National Assembly for passage.

The Agency is saddled with the responsibility of administering and managing the “Federal Roads Maintenance Fund” in such a manner as to ensure the efficient and effective maintenance of all existing roads, and as may be declared, from time to time, as Federal trunk roads”. The functions and powers of the Agency are in sections 8 and 9, respectively, of Annex III. The sources of funding the Agency will include: grants from the Federal, State and Local Governments; grants from the organized private sector (OPS) and international donor organizations; toll gate collections; all fees on services rendered by the Agency; monies accruing from road concessions; and all other sum which may, from time to time, accrue to the Agency. Petroleum taxes are excluded. The Federal Government approved the sum of Nl0 billion for the take-off of the Agency. The expectation is that the Agency will take over the functions currently being handled by the Task Force on road maintenance.

Public financing does not hold the key for the reform of the road sector; the need to involve the road users and business community is vital; The real causes of problems associated with poor road maintenance policies were weak or unsuitable institutional arrangements for managing and financing roads; and Poor road maintenance policies are a subset of the underlying issues of managing and financing the road network as a whole. The above-mentioned insights point to the fact that a distinct body, which is relatively independent of Government and affiliated to the private sector, is indeed a vital tool in the efficient and sustainable management of road networks. By the law establishing the FERMA, the sources of funding for the agency include: Grants from governments, organized private sector and international donors, Toll gate collections; Fees or services rendered by the Agency and monies accruing from road concession. These are also sources of funding in the other countries, with the exception of taxes on petroleum products in respect of the FERMA. The grants from the Federal Government could be equated with the releases for road maintenance which totaling N470.9 million, N401.2 million, N474.5 million and N178.7 million in 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002, respectively. Toll gate collections, which exceeded the releases in all the years constituted the major source of funding. The other sources indicated above have not been explored.

With the looming reestablishment of tollgate rate, the revenue would augment the proposed fuel tax. All these assume only a yearly increase of 5 per cent in the frequency of tollgates usage. However, if the economy improves and road maintenance improves, the increase in the volume of traffic would be much higher than 5 per cent and the realizable revenue would also be higher. It is note- worthy that increases in the rates, which means motorists will have to pay more for using tolled roads, would require the government giving assurance to the people that the revenue realized would be used judiciously in maintaining the roads. The other sources of revenue listed above would also be explored and used to augment toll gate collections. If the revenues are pulled together and paid directly into the FERMA account and managed efficiently, Nigerian roads will experience a face-lift.

An outfit similar to the Federal Road Maintenance Agency should be setup at the state and Local Government levels, which account for the construction and maintenance of about 83 per cent of the total road network in the country. Half of the funds accruing to the Agency should be set aside and shared between these two tiers of Government. In order to complement the services of the roads and ensure their durability, there is need to develop the other transport modes, particularly the waterways and railways. Channeling a chunk of transport services to these transport modes will reduce road network utilization and increase its life span. The development of waterways and railways should benefit from levies earmarked for the Federal Road Maintenance Agency (FERMA).

Another viable way of raising funds for highways maintenance is through the capital market, particularly, because the development of highways has a long gestation period and money markets funds are short-term in nature. The government or preferably a private firm therefore can float bonds in order to generate funds rather than depend on the traditional source of fund such as statutory allocations and internally generated revenue. This form of financing will among others, ease the problem of loans and interest payments and thus release more funds for road maintenance.

The huge amounts involved in the construction, rehabilitation and maintenance of roads and the fact that provision of transport service directly affects the welfare of society have made government to singly shoulder this responsibility, which has not in any way promoted efficiency. The need to create a partnership between the government and the private sector to achieve the needed efficiency and effectiveness in the sector should be encouraged. Three areas have been identified where the private sector can participate in road transport business, they are: (1) Provision of services (consultancy, procurement, etc.) (2) Undertaking of works (maintenance, rehabilitation, etc.) (3) Financing (new works, rehabilitation, equipment etc) It is anticipated that if the private sector is allowed to be fully involved in all these areas, the needed efficiency will be realized and this will ultimately lead to economic development. This will also reduce to a minimum the amount lost due to lack of road maintenance.

The problem of inadequate funding and untimely maintenance of highway infrastructure in Nigeria has been of great concern to the government and the entire citizenry. The paper noted that though much effort had been made in road construction, maintenance had lagged behind. A survey on the state of the roads was conducted across the country and the findings revealed that the roads have been plagued by a number of problems, including faulty designs, inadequate drainage systems and poor maintenance culture. These have resulted in littered potholes, washing away of pavements, fallen bridges, etc. along most Nigerian roads. The condition of the roads was terrible in the South Eastern part of the country. The major reasons for the parlous state of the highways include poor quality roads, inefficient bureaucracy, poor funding and excessive use of the road network, given the underdeveloped state of the waterways and the poor state of the railways. Drawing lessons from other countries, the paper recommended the urgent establishment of the National Road Maintenance Agency, which has now been established by law. The development of the waterways and railways to complement road services; use of the capital market; as well as greater involvement of the private sector in the funding and management of highway maintenance should be encouraged.

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