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Transportation Crises In Nigeria’s Diamond Age

So much has occurred in our 60 years arduous journey in nationhood. We have successfully fought a civil war, moved from the parliamentary system of government to the presidential system. We have badly suffered lack of due restraint by military administrations and had a bitter struggle to restore sustainable democracy.

Although we have made slow progression as a country, we still struggle to entrench those tenets that unite a nation. A lot has transpired. In the course of our voyage under the present administration, we experienced a recession for the first time in 25 years and exited it eventually.

There are many other areas of our national life that can be examined closely, but the concern here is the transportation sector. Nigerian transportation system constitutes road, water, air, and rail. But the dominant ones are unarguably road and air transport. Strangely enough, the ignored rail transportation might well be the most demotic at independence.

 Goods were moved across the country by rail, and it was also the means for individuals to move from one part of the country to another. Some of the existing rails were built during the colonial era, while water transportation is nearly non-existent.

Nigeria has about 8,600 km of largely unexplored inland waterways. Water transportation is widely utilised in the Niger Delta region because of the topographic peculiarities of the area. Water and rail transport basically rank low in the nation’s 60 years of independence.

Air transportation is in a vigorous state, though gradually. With 31 airports across the federation, air transportation has been gaining impressive public acceptance. According to the National Bureau of Statistics, NBS, no fewer than 15,232,597 air travellers used Nigerian airports in 2016 compared to about 173,000 in 1970.

Gone are the days when local flights were characterised by crashes and accidents that frightened many people out of their wits from using flights for domestic trips. Despite the growth in the sector, the aviation industry is still faced with many challenges that extenuate the actualisation of its full potential.

The most increasingly dominant transport mode in Nigeria is road. With over 200,000km, road transport accounts for more than 90% of the 3% contribution of the transportation sector to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the economy. Sadly, road transportation has practically replaced the rail system in the movement of goods and heavy machinery.

While the country lags behind in developing other transport sectors, our roads are saddled with over utilisation. Following the pressure on them, they are quick to rapid decay. To worsen the trouble, Nigerian roads are, to an obscene degree, characterised by inadequate road network, the dearth of national road transport planners and managers, poor traffic management, and bad sustenance culture.

For instance, a city like Lagos was once depicted graphically by Forbes as one of the worst cities for drivers and traffic jam. This is a normal experience for commuters as a result of the bad road network, narrow roads, and the display of insanity by some motorists.

The problem in Lagos is further worsened by the Apapa Port. As a result of the gross negligence of rail and water transportation, most imported goods are hauled to other parts of the country by road. Products for export are also ferried to the port by road. This sets truck drivers with other road users at the same time.

The Apapa situation is not a bizarre case. Virtually all the entry points into the ports in Nigeria are met with decrepit roads. Again, bad roads are somewhat not unique to the ports; rather, they have become defining attributes of Nigerian roads.

The President, Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN), Engr. Kashim Ali, once admitted that 70% of the roads in Nigeria were horrible. He said, “there are about 200,000km of roads in Nigeria, and 36,000km belongs to the federal government and of the latter, only about 30% are in good condition. The shares of the States and local governments are in terribly worse conditions.”

The chilling effect of this dangerous situation is the proliferation of road accidents, high rate of highway robbery, rise in automobile breakdown, and exponential growth in health challenges. According to the Federal Road Safety Commission, FRSC, narrow roads, bad roads and many sharp bends are noticeable features on our road network. Some highways have become most infamous for robbery which is often supported by the creaky state of sections of the highways.

Every president or governor ironically promises to remedy the roads upon assumption of office which they have little or no intention to keep. This oratory is often repeated at every budget presentation, yet not much seems to have changed.

In his 2016 independence speech, President Muhammadu Buhari strongly indicated that the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing had received a total of N197.5b to continue work on 12 roads, which he listed in the speech. He also stated that “other major highways are in the queue for rehabilitation or new construction.” The hope is that these roads would be completed before he exits office in 2023.

Road construction and maintenance require a huge financing, which the government has amply failed to demonstrate capacity to handle in very substantial ways. The Infrastructure Construction Regulatory Commission, ICRC, that provides a financing arrangement from banks, proves a viable alternative in this regard.

To that extent, the ultimate solution to road transportation lies in Public-Private-Partnership. The government obviously cannot singlehandedly address the road challenges in the country. It requires the unanimous backing of the private sector to meet the key objectives of the people. Lagos State is a particular example of how highly beneficial PPP can be in road construction and maintenance.

Nigerians are prepared to pay toll on our roads so long as they are motorable. Similarly, the government can motivate companies to construct roads for a tax holiday. This is why the Dangote tax-for-road deal seems proper regardless of the many repugnancies in the deal. PPP will remain a valuable option if it is done with unusual candidness.

Even if all the roads in the country are well managed, our transportation problems may not necessarily be solved so long as road transportation is directly responsible for 90% of the movement in the country. Therefore, there is a need to vary our transportation system in order to grow other transport sectors.

To this end, the government needs to correctly implement the Cabotage Law to encourage local investment and ownership of ships for domestic maritime business. This will considerably improve water transportation and significantly curtail reliance on road transport.

The rail system in the country needs a comprehensive resurgence. An effective and well-connected rail system will drastically curb the roads of trucks and other heavy duty vehicles. We seem to be moving slowly in this direction.

As we commemorate our painful 60 years independence anniversary and look towards more years as a nation, the present leadership should consider it  appropriate to plan enough for the future of the nation. Highly effective transportation is crucial to economic growth and industrialisation. If we truly desire to be a great nation, then we must radically overhaul our transport system.

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