The Federal Government on Monday stated its objections on the plan by the Senate to cancel the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency and replace it with the Federal Roads Authority.
The government however supported the planned to restore of tolls on federal highways across the nation.
The Senate, acting on a bill sponsored by its Chairman of the Committee on Works, Kabiru Gaya, (APC, Kano South) in October 2016, had resolved to repeal the Act establishing FERMA and replace it with the FRA.
The move, the upper chamber of the National Assembly alleged, was due to the apparent lack of capacity of the road maintenance agency to handle the task of road management in the country.
Gaya, in his opening address, explained that the public hearing was to hear the views of all stakeholders.
In his presentation at a public hearing organised by the committee on the bill on Monday, the Minister of Works, Power and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola (SAN), however, cautioned the Senate over the move. He stated that FERMA had become a brand, which should not be changed.
The minister said, “We welcome the idea of creating road fund. We also welcome the idea of creating a maintenance agency. But we think – and this will be details of the substance of the presentation that I will make – that all of the recommendations that have been made for maintenance should be embodied in the agency that government has already created, which is FERMA.
“Repeal the existing FERMA law, re-enact it and put all of the new things we want to create (in the FRA) inside it instead of creating a new agency because FERMA was set up for maintenance in the very first place.
“It has acquired the name; it has acquired the brand; we can build on that brand instead of creating a new brand. People who managed brands like this change their drinks but they don’t change their names.”
Fashola supported to the move by the Senate to reintroduce toll policy on federal highways in the country as a way of raising funds for their maintenance.
He said, “There is the need to institutionalise the maintenance of road assets but, much more importantly, there is the need for increased awareness and advocacy for users of our road assets; that roads are not permanent assets in that way.
“They (roads) are wearing assets; they are assets that diminish once we start to use them and so, from the day the road is opened and we start to ply it, it begins to deteriorate and, therefore, not only must we maintain them, we must use them carefully; we must use them consciously with the intent to get the best out of them.
“There has been a toll policy already in Nigeria since the Federal Highways Act in 1971 with deployed tools but for some reasons we stopped it.
“In other to attract the investments that will enable us to achieve private capital inflows into infrastructure, two things for me are very instructive. The first is the cultural change from our existing mindset and our experience at sub-national and at national levels.”
Gaya, in his lead debate on the bill, had said the FRA, as a replacement for FERMA, would serve as a semi-autonomous road agency, which would be responsible for the professional management of federal roads in the country, including planning, design, construction, rehabilitation and maintenance.
This, he stated, would end the duplication of functions between FERMA and the Highways Department of the Federal Ministry of Works.
Gaya noted that the country had established the Maritime Authority, the Inland Waterways Authority and the Airports Authority over the years, while the “road,” which was the most essential link for all other transport modes had no authority.
Gaya pointed out that Nigeria’s federal highway network of 34,000 kilometres constituted part of the nation’s assets.
“Nowhere in the world is such a long stretch of roads administered within a bureaucratic structure,” he said.
According to him, the passage of the bill will bring permanent solutions to the challenges of funding and management of roads in the country.
The senator noted that the creation of the FRA was in line with international road management practices, adding that Ghana, which once had many agencies for roads, had eventually brought them together under the Ghana Highways Authority.