Idris Umar, Transport Minister
The transport industry in Nigeria has come a long way in the last 52 years writes John Iwori
There is no doubt that the transport industry in Nigeria has come a long way from the time the country gained independence from the colonialists on October 1, 1960. Transport is a key component of the socio-political development of any nation.
The importance of transport in the life of any nation cannot be overstressed. This is not unconnected to the fact that it is the livewire of any society. This is because when it is not possible to effortlessly move people and goods from one place to another, the socio-economic life of the people, including socio-political activities, grind to a halt. This explains why transport remains one of the key indices in the assessment of any economy.
Nigeria’s transport system during the colonial era was characterised by the construction of roads and rail lines to link areas of that had abundance of raw materials to the coast. This was based on the fact that the road and rail network was meant for the easy evacuation of cash crops from where they were produced to places where they can be easily transported by sea overseas.
This was the basis for the construction and rehabilitation of roads to link places like Maiduguri, Ibadan, Port Harcourt, Aba, Kano, Enugu, Kaduna, Lagos, Calabar, Sapele, Koko, and Warri, and Sokoto. A cursory look into the towns and cities that were linked by roads or the railways during this period showed they were large producers of the raw materials needed by the colonialists and the routes through which they could be exported out of the country.
Without doubt, the transport industry in the country has changed tremendously since Nigeria gained independence 52 years ago. The construction of roads and railways are no more tied to the production of cash crops and other raw materials. Other factors and considerations now hold sway in the selection of villages and towns for the construction of roads and railways.
The military era in particular witnessed a boost in the construction of mega roads linking the major towns and cities in the country. The era also witnessed the construction of major highways that connected one part of the country to the other just as urban roads, especially in Lagos, Port Harcourt, Enugu, Kano, Kaduna, Sokoto, Ibadan, Aba, and Benin City were rehabilitated and given a facelift. For instance, it was during the military administration of General Olusegun Obasanjo and later General Ibrahim Babaginda (rtd) that the Third Mainland Bridge said to be the longest bridge in sub-Saharan Africa was started and completed in Lagos. The bridge, which was constructed at a time Lagos was still Nigeria’s capital, helped in no small way to arrest the challenge of Lagos residents in connecting the island from the mainland with ease.
However, the population of Lagos, which still remains Nigeria’s commercial nerve centre, has increased over the years leading to the deplorable condition of most of its infrastructure facilities, especially the roads as more people use them than the number they were originally designed for.
The East-West Road, Kaduna-Kano Road, Lokoja-Abuja Road, Enugu-Port Harcourt Road, Lagos-Ibadan, Lagos-Shagamu-Ore-Benin Road are other highways built by successive governments to ease the movements of goods and people across the country. But over the years, many of these roads have suffered neglect, thus turning them into nightmares as a yet-to-be ascertained number of Nigerians have lost their lives in road accidents. Several others have been injured or maimed for life.
Indeed, the present state of roads in the country is a manifestation of the deterioration in the transport industry. This has made many wonder why successive administrations in the country have not given the construction of new roads and rehabilitation of existing ones the priority they need.
A Lagos-based transporter, Mr. Olatunde Ajayi told THISDAY in Lagos that the poor state of roads in the country was caused by the absence of the maintenance culture in the country. “Our people lack maintenance culture. We do not take time to maintain whatever thing we have so that they can be useful to us as long as we want. We do not give the repairs of our roads apriority. Our engineers and other top officials in the federal or state Ministries of Works do not repair roads as and when due.
“Whenever there is a pothole or gallop, we do not fix it immediately so that the roads do not turn out to be a death trap to motorists. They prefer to leave it unattended for a long time, so that another mega contract running into billions of naira and in some cases, trillions of naira is awarded for their rehabilitation and reconstruction. A typical example is the rehabilitation of Ore-Benin Road which has been awarded several times to several contractors without any tangible result to justify the billions of naira that have been awarded every year for its repair.”
Ajayi, who runs a transport firm called on government at all levels to give attention to the construction of new roads and maintaining old ones. “Many roads all over the country are failing because government at all levels, without the exception of a vey few ones, are not paying attention to them. We need to buckle up in this respect because good roads enhance the socio-economic development of the people. This is because a good network of roads will reduce the cost of living since goods can easily be transported from the hinterland to the urban centres,” he stated.
Many have also called for the improvement in railways and water transportation. Those who spoke to THISDAY said this would reduce the overdependence on roads as a major means of transportation in the country. They opined that the development of other means of transportation would provide Nigerians with alternative means of moving from place to place.
A passenger, who was caught up in the recent grounding of Arik Air flight operations by aviation workers in Lagos, said he would have not mind going to Abuja by rail if there was fast-moving train service between Lagos and Abuja. The middle-aged passenger who did not want his name in print said: “Since the Dana Airline plane crash in a Lagos suburb, I’ve been afraid of flying. The only reason I still fly is because there is no alternative to road transportation which will take the whole day if not two days to get to your destination.”
Stakeholders in the transport industry have, in this regard, called for the enactment of policies that will ensure Nigeria gets the desired results in transportation. According to them, the country needs a master plan for the transport industry.