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Transport system still 19th century model

By Adekunle Adekoya

The appropriate take-off point for an assessment of the nation’s transport system, 49 years after independence from the British, is the imagery generated by the fact that millions of Nigerian children, including those that live in our biggest cities, are yet to see a moving train, nine years into the 21st century, except in movies.

For these children, many of whom are otherwise at home with telephone handsets, pay TV, video games and even the internet, theirs is a disjointed experience.

Sure, the four transport modes exist here; there are about 38 airports with paved runways and 22 others with unpaved runways for air transport; some 8,600 km of rivers, lakes and creeks for water transport, and of course, 193,200 km of roads in various conditions, a mere 28,980 km of which are paved, and then, much of which is in various states of disrepair. This includes some of the longest and most strategic bridges, like the bridges over the River Niger, both at Jebba and at Onitsha .

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Somehow, the development of rail transport simply stopped where the British colonialists left it. There are two major lines, 3,505 km in length combined. One, with the major terminus at Iddo in Lagos, connects the western part of the country with the North, terminating at Nguru in Yobe State, while the other links Port Harcourt with a handful of towns in the hinterland northwards and terminates at Maiduguri. Thus, it could be seen that the British developed the rail lines for easy evacuation of minerals and agricultural produce, through the Bight of Benin in Lagos and the Bight of Biafra in Port Harcourt .

However, years of neglect have severely reduced the utility value of rail as a transport mode; both the rolling stock and its technology are already obsolete.

With rail out of the picture, Nigerians rely on road transportation mostly for moving from one point to another, and also moving bulk ordnance. The result of this is heavy pressure on the roads, leading to rapid decay of the paved system. In the cities, all kinds of vehicles are used to move persons and goods, while the sector is completely unregulated and left in the hands of mainly anti-social elements unionized with the force of thuggery and other insouciant shenanigans.

By and large, the road transport sub-sector is a disorganised, unregulated system providing freight and passenger services whose main hallmarks are traffic congestion on urban roads, high incidence of fatal road accidents as a result of bad roads, poorly-maintained vehicles and careless driving that pays not the slightest heed to civilized tenets of road use.

Air transport has a unique advantage over all other modes of transport if speed, time and distance are major considerations. Air travel has developed very rapidly in Nigeria from the 1920s till date, but the 70s and 80s saw the development of many airports in many of the state capitals. Similarly, indigenous participation in the industry, originally exclusive to foreigners, has also expanded as indigenes acquired both the technical know-how and managerial resources, as well as funding to operate airlines.

In the early part of this century, the industry suffered seriously as it recorded a series of crashes that forced the regulators to live up to their jobs. Nowadays, most airlines operate new and fairly new aircraft with Lagos remaining the hub of air travel, local international, with more than 600 flights into or out of Lagos daily.

Water transport, relatively, is not as popular as road or air. This is because of its nature; it is slow, and even in the cities, like Lagos and Port Harcourt where it can be a viable alternative, it is yet to get off the ground. Water transport has the following three components: ocean transport, coastal water transport and inland water transport.

Inland water transport is used by the locals, who use canoes to move from one point to another, by fishermen along the coast and on the rivers. The oil industry is partculalrly active in terms of coastal water transport; much products oil industry ordinance like rigs are moved from one wellhead to another.

By and large, the transport sector contributes less than three per cent of the nation’s GDP; it has the capacity to contribute more by employing more and generating more revenue, but it requires huge funding infusions and massive reforms before these can be achieved.

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