Historical analysis of Trade and Transport in the Lower Niger

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By Laja Thomas

Ever since the publication in 1956 of Professor Kenneth Onwuka Dike’s Trade and Politics in the Niger Delta: 1830-1890, the Niger Delta region has been of great interest to Nigerian and foreign scholars. Most studies of the region have focused on the way in which its unique geography has combined with historical personages and significant events to throw up issues that are germane to a proper understanding of the region in particular and the Nigerian nation as a whole.

Dr. Anthony Danladi Alli’s Trade and Transport in the Lower Niger: 1830:2011 is a worthy contribution to this intellectual tradition. It focuses upon a vital area of the Niger Delta area, namely, the Lower Niger river, which the book defines as the portion of the river starting from the confluence at Lokoja where the Benue joins the Niger, flowing southward until it splits into the delta before entering the Atlantic Ocean.

The book utilises historical and economic perspectives to review a particular aspect of the region’s economy and proffer suggestions as to how it can be enhanced.

In taking up this task, Dr. Ali performs a duty that is both scholarly and activist. As a scholar, he seeks to further knowledge and enhance understanding of one of the country’s most significant geopolitical entities. As an activist, he seeks to show how the region can rise above the current stalemate of low level insurrection, widespread political corruption, and popular disenchantment with the lamentable state of things.

The book is divided into six chapters. The first chapter is titled “Transport History of the Lower Niger,” and it provides a clarification of the basic terms and issues that are to be dealt with at length later in the book. These clarifications include defining the meaning of transport; a review of relevant  literature on the lower Niger; the transport history of the Lower Niger, and the River Niger itself.

The second chapter is titled “Inter-Group Relations and Trade in the Lower Niger Up to 1997. It examines the features of the Lower Niger River; the peoples of the Lower Niger; trade and inter-group relations in the Lower Niger up to 1997; the introduction of foreign currency and its aftermath; and the Niger Delta.

Chapter Three is titled “Trade and Transportation in the Lower Niger: 1830-1960,”  and it focuses upon the nature of trade in the Lower Niger between 1830 and 1960; the companies involved in that trade, the volume of trade between 1879 and 1960; and the competition among road,  rail and water transport between 1923 and 1945.

The fourth chapter is titled “Government’s Effort at Developing Transportation on the Lower Niger: 1953-2011.” This chapter examines the maintenance of ferry services on the Lower Niger between 1901 and 1997; the establishment of the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) in 1997; dredging and the politics of transportation in the Lower Niger between 1901 and 2011; and the politics of the colonial railway.

Chapter Five is titled “Problems and Prospects of Trade and Inland Water Navigation in Nigeria.” The chapter evaluates the prospects of trade and inland water transportation in well as the inland transportation systems of Britain, the United States of America, the Netherlands and Germany.

The book also has two appendices, an extensive bibliography and a list of secondary sources and figures;and equally contains many relevant tables which offer a graphic presentation of the issues under discussion.

These sources are particularly useful to the  understanding of relevant quantities like tonnages, budgetary allocations, expenditures, and growth patterns over time.

The methodical approach of the author to his subject is suggested by the detailed outline of his chapters given above. This methodological approach enables him to undertake a comprehensive study of transport and trade in the Lower Niger river by situating it within the appropriate historic , political, economic, diplomatic and other contexts.

Trade and Transport in the Lower Niger: 1830-2011 by Dr. Anthony Danladi Ali is a noteworthy addition to a growing list of incisive scholarly works on what is arguably Nigeria’s most important economic region. It will reward those who approach it with an open mind, and makes a veritable contribution to the commendable efforts to turn the Lower Niger into an African equivalent of the Ruhr or the Great Lakes.

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