“To transport someone is a feat of astonishing determination and imagination. Shakespeare did that emotional transporting with words; London’s Underground does it physically with engineering.” And in Nigeria? Our transportation system takes us out of this world…literarily.
On June 17 2011, Nurudeen Udu was on his way to Abuja from Minna. Less than two hours after he started his journey, he ended. The jeep which overtook him suddenly lost control and started careening from side to side; Nura slowed down and tried to get off the main road. The jeep spun and landed on his car. Those who loved Nura have spent the past month dazed with pain and confusion about the loss of a wonderful man and his heart full of goodness which he had not managed to empty after over 30 years on earth.
This anguish and incomprehension is replicated every day in Nigeria. People go to work and never come back or start journeys which never end. Yes, to God we belong and to God we will return but our transport system in Nigeria is too intent on claiming the prize for the route with the most blood and frankly a lot of the deaths are avoidable. According to conservative data released by the Federal Road Safety Commission in 2010, at least 264 people die every month from motor accidents.
For Nigerians there are 3 main issues. One, the over burdened road network: we have 80,000 kilometers of roads which is insufficient for our land mass and population and only 15,000 kilometers are officially paved and in condition to be called roads. Two, the lack of law and order and our irresponsible driving culture where our cars, trailers, trucks and buses have breaks thinner than shoe laces and we are all Formula One drivers on an obstacle course tackling potholes, vendors, officials with sirens and the thick black fumes from the exhaust of ill maintained cars. And three, the absence of alternative transportation. We either drive or…fly and unfortunately, the aviation system is in such a state that it deserves separate mention for the satisfaction of the few Nigerians who can afford air travel.
Rail is the cheapest means of transport for people and goods all over the world but in Nigeria, rail constitutes less than 1% of land transportation. In the late seventies, Nigerians could get on a train in Zaria and get off three days later in Lagos. Slow yes, but with the developing technology if we had maintained our investments in rail, we would be crossing the country in hours today – relatively cheaper and a lot safer.
The Federal and State governments are aware of the need to develop alternative means of transportation. If the loss of lives is not enough reason, they have the insistence of the development agencies and donors that our woeful transportation system is a major constraint for our development (right after power) especially the impact on the cost of production. But despite the de rigor stories of railway projects with the South Africans, the Chinese, the Canadians and even Julius Berger during the Obasanjo administration, we have no trains between any major destinations, not even Abuja – Kaduna or Aba – Onitsha.
Last week thousands of people who ply the Abuja Nyanya Keffi corridor – the major route to and from Nassarawa, Bauchi, Gombe, Plateau and beyond- were cut off from their homes and their business. People who could, walked hours past horrible carnage to get home and those who couldn’t had to find shelter with friends or family around other parts of Abuja. In the middle of the day, between 2 and 4pm two separate accidents involving haulage trailers and heavy machinery resulted in at least 20 people dead and tens seriously injured. Total gridlock: tighter than the mouth of a baby refusing to take its medicine.
The use of trailers to transport goods across the country is a problem on so many levels. The food for far away markets rots before it gets to its destination raising the cost of food for two reasons – artificial scarcity and the cost of navigating the road blocks a.k.a police checkpoints mounted along the way. Trailers are a serious safety issue where the drivers are reckless with fatigue, intoxicants or both or park their trucks round bends for unsuspecting motorists to find head on.
The trucks are an environmental issue – the carbon emissions from thousands of trucks which try to take the place of rail haulage is one aspect. The other aspect is that all trailer parks on major routes such as the Lagos Ibadan expressway have become black oil soaked land mass piled high with the waste generated by the truckers. And that is not all – these trailer parks and the trailer accidents which litter our highways cause serious traffic congestions which are in themselves a danger for run away trailers with failed breaks – a never ending tragedy of errors.
The Nigerians at risk on our roads are the most productive of our society – the young on their way to and from school and the workers, busy making a living. Why don’t we do something to reduce the painful deaths of our most productive people? Why don’t we have trains running across our country like Kenya and South African do? What does the Federal Ministry of Transport do? What is it in charge of and how does it spend its budget? What does it take? Policy drafting. Planning. Legislative frameworks. Investments. Policy implementation.
Last month the Federal Government pledged 14 Billion US Dollars (2.2 trillion Naira) over the next 2 years to implement its Investment Plan for the Development of the Transport Sector. The grand plans include linking ‘rail, sea, air and road networks in strategic locations across the country’. What makes this plan different from previous plans? Find out next week.
Please note: the quotation at the beginning of the article from the United Kingdom’s “Transport Policy in 2010: a rough guide”.