We conclude Ben Obumselu review of Dr. Usoh Kingsley’s book on Effective Transportation System: A catalyst for Nigeria’s Socio-Economic Development, where he writes that Nigerian roads are among the most deadly in the world, contributting far more to the national death rate than any other single cause. According to him, the death toll on our roads is the result of a monumental performance deficit at every level. He submitted that transport is a single simple system and that it is optimally efficient and user-friendly only when its different modes are seamlessly interconnected. Enjoy the review.
We maim and kill so many of our countrymen on the roads:
1. Because a very large number of our public transport vehicles are not roadworthy; they had indeed died and been buried in Europe before resurrecting as tokunbos in Nigeria.
- 2. Because vehicles are certified as roadworthy without being inspected or even seen by vehicle inspection officers; roadworthiness certificates have no connection whatsoever with security on our roads, they are only the means of raising revenue.
- 3. Because the operators of driving schools are untrained persons who are in no position whatsoever to train drivers for professional work,
4 . Because our public transport drivers are often illiterate persons who are forced to work round the clock often under the influence of hard drugs.
In a brief review, there is no reason to proceed any further. Dr Usoh does not take us into unfamiliar territory. What he does is that he searches every. nook and corner of the ground we already know with a magnifying glass. In the process the deformations in the terrain stand out with great clarity. The death toll on our roads is the result of a monumental performance deficit at every level.
But there is another way of looking at these matters. Professor Wole Soyinka, our Nobel laureate for literature and the first chairman of the Federal Road Safety Commission, wrote a play in 1965 telling the story of Nigerian roads.
In the opening scene of that play, the usual habitues of motor parks, unemployed drivers, apprentices, spare parts dealers, thieves, thugs, vehicle particulars forgers, and other hustlers gather and talk about their lives. They complain about hunger, plan how to make it through the day and dream about the great wealth they would amass, “so much wealth that God will jealous them”; and they devise ways of evading or colluding with the police, and make up wonderful sagas about their dead colleagues who died defying the cruelty of their lives – friends like Akanni the Lizard “who would stand on the lorry’s roof and play the samba at sixty miles an hour.”
The point of Professor Soyinka’s play is that road transport, at the level of molue, bolekajas and the mammy wagons, offers existential opportunities to the destitute and the wretched in the nation, giving them what is often only the illusion of a chance, surrounded by inordinate difficulties, of making a few naira at the end of the day.
In the desperate improvisations which extreme poverty forces upon them, we come face to face with the intolerable anguish of the lives of the poor. There is no room there for professional standards.
As we should expect, it is in Dr Usoh’s discussion of maritime transport that he writes most knowledgeably and with a professional breadth of vision. He is here in his own field of specialization and revels in the stories of the Grand Canal of medieval China as a great artery of commerce, of industry and navigation on the’ Danube, of the growth and development of ocean shipping and the international conventions which govern it, of different kinds of cargo vessels and the coming of the age of containerization.
His account of the Nigerian National Shipping Line, the Unity Line, the national Ship Acquisition Fund, the Cabotage law, and the failed attempt to reserve a specified share of cargo for, Nigerian enterprise is illuminating and it goes further to highlight the human capacity failures which also ruined the Nigerian Railways and the Airways.
To understand Dr. Usoh’s vision for maritime transport and port management, we should begin by glancing very briefly at his description of the famous ‘Cement Armada’ crisis of April 1975. This was the occasion when the Federal Military Government, delighted by the mighty tidal flow of petro-dollars which flooded the treasury after the OPEC revolution, ordered 16 million metric tonnes of cement for the building of army barracks. The problem was that Lagos ports at the time could only handle 6.5 million tonnes and, in any case, 16 million tonnes of cement would be enough to build three cities of the size of Lagos.
At one point in June/July, 300 ships loaded with cement were waiting at sea and waiting time had stretched to 180 days. Nobody had given any thought whatsoever to the actual amount of cement needed to build army barracks.ior to the berthing capacity of the ports, or to cargo handling facilities available, or to transportation from the ports to designated warehouses. For several months, Lagos and its ports were paralyzed in a systemic lockdown.
Movement into the ports and around the ports was impossible Right up to the, present day, congestion and appalling. traffic jams still characterize the Apapa and Tin Can Island area even after very substantial increases have been made in the number of ports, in specialized oil and gas terminals and privately operated jetties. Furthermore, port operations have continued to be So time-consuming, expensive and inefficient that many Nigerians find it expedient to route their cargo through Benin Republic, Togo and the Cameroons. This, Dr Usoh argues, is the exorbitant price that we have had to pay for focusing attention in one port area and for making the Nigerian Ports Authority a clumsy monolith and a monopoly.
One of the exciting ideas which Dr Usoh returns to again and again in Effective Transport Systems is his insistence that the component parts of the national transport system must be seamlessly interconnected.
A traveler arriving Lagos by sea should be able to step into a railway carriage, a. luxury bus or an inland watercraft to take him to his destination without interruption. The transport system must be traveler friendly to this extent. Closely linked to this idea there is another proposition: that port services in the nation should be thoroughly unbundled, decongested and decentralized through the establishment in every geo-political zone of a dry dock to which all customs processes in the zone should be transferred.
This idea, apparently blessed by the World Bank and already enjoying the support of the Federal Ministry of Transport, has profound and far-reaching implications. Nigeria imported goods to the value of about #1.6 trillion in the first quarter of 2016. This translates in annual terms to about #6.4 trillion. What is proposed is the transfer into the heart of the different geopolitical zones of the nation, to Kano, Jos, Makurdi, Ibadan and Onitsha of several trillion Naira worth of economic business in port processes, cargo handling, warehousing, clearing and forwarding, banking, insurance, markets, hotels and restaurants, housing and social services.
The savings which businessmen in every part of the nation would make if this were incalculable. At the same time, economic power, and the direction of population movements in the nation would be totally transformed. No other measure would lead more profoundly to the economic re-structuring of the nation,
Effective Transport Systems should be warmly received by students of Nigerian economics especially those in the sub-discipline of transport and by all stakeholders in the transport sector. The propositions which run through and permeate Dr Usoh’s text, that transport planning and transport management are inherently interdisciplinary in character and that resolute national effort must be made to enhance professional capacity building for that important, are beyond dispute. He goes on to argue that transport is a single system and that it is optimally efficient and user-friendly only when its different modes are seamlessly interconnected.
He is at his brightest and best when he holds forth on his own special fields of shipping and port administration. And he does try, with all astonishing degree of success, to set out the simple laws which govern a, vast range of activities apparently unrelated, in glossy airports, in the confusion and noise of the motor roads, in railway lines still over-grown with grass, and in the ports presently undergoing professional re-configuration and concessioning, activities which appear to deny the idea of a common purpose and yet are the vital stream of the national economy as rhythmic and as life-enhancing as the circulation of blood in the human body.