Economics, Environment

Nigeria’s Struggle With Transportation Infrastructure

Ogunbiyi Kayode


April 28, 2024

Dear Beamers,

Greetings! It is important to emphasize that Nigeria’s transportation infrastructure is currently in a state of disrepair, a matter of considerable concern given that no nation can fully realize its potential without modernizing its road network. The existing road system, a relic of outdated planning, inadequately addresses the transportation demands of the present era in Nigeria’s development trajectory. Undoubtedly, a comprehensive overhaul of Nigeria’s roads is long overdue. This concern has sparked significant interest, culminating in a research initiative featured in this week’s newsletter, aimed at exploring the challenges facing our transportation system.

Nigeria’s transportation infrastructure stands as one of the ailing sectors necessitating urgent attention. Despite assurances from the government, the lamentable condition of Nigeria’s roads has shown scant improvement, if any, over recent years. Getting around Nigeria’s transportation network can prove exceedingly arduous.

In various regions of Nigeria, including major urban centers, the prevailing road network has remained largely stagnant for years without strategic enhancements. Despite the country’s escalating population and growing demands, there has been a noticeable absence of concerted efforts to upgrade the road infrastructure. Many of the existing roads were established decades ago and have not undergone significant maintenance or expansion to accommodate the expanding geographical footprint and populace of the nation. Given the continuous growth of Nigeria’s population, the need for establishing an integrated road network cannot be overstated, as it is essential for meeting both present and future transportation needs.

It is crucial for Nigeria to adopt a forward-thinking and strategic approach to land and road planning in order to anticipate and address the needs arising from unforeseen circumstances, technological advancements, and the continuous growth of its population. The expansion of road infrastructure, particularly the connection of additional roads to urban centers, must be synchronized with comprehensive land planning initiatives to establish a resilient framework that facilitates accessibility throughout cities and rural areas, notably for reaching agricultural lands across Nigeria. Establishing a robust road network without concurrent urban planning measures is counterproductive, as these elements operate in tandem to sustainably support societal development. Collaboration and integration are essential components of this endeavor.

“Road networks need to be carefully planned with dedicated paths for moving goods and services smoothly. They should include specific lanes and systems for drainage and sewage. Road plans should be reviewed and organized based on the type of traffic they will handle. Roads for cargo trucks should be separate from those for regular vehicles to avoid congestion. It’s also important to build flyovers and alternative routes to keep traffic flowing smoothly.” Says Engr Clement Okpara

The presence of vehicles and trucks unsuitable for road use persists as a significant concern, highlighting a failure to uphold safety standards and establish regulations governing road usage and vehicle specifications. This oversight has resulted in the loss of numerous lives due to inadequate safety measures and regulatory enforcement. Moreover, the transportation of overloaded cargo on roadways underscores the absence of a robust weight monitoring system implemented by road authorities. Such a system would mitigate road damage caused by excessive loads and reduce the frequency of accidents stemming from overloaded vehicles.

In contrast to many developed nations, Nigerian roads lack essential features such as nodes, transportation grids, and shoulder zones. This deficiency presents challenges, as motorists encountering vehicle issues are compelled to halt immediately for repairs without designated parking areas. Moreover, the absence of shoulder zones impedes drivers from maneuvering to facilitate the smooth flow of traffic. Additionally, the absence of comprehensive laws governing road networks perpetuates the use of outdated road systems devoid of intersections, feeders, overpasses, or systematic traffic management strategies. Consequently, these deficiencies contribute to congestion and inefficiencies, resulting in significant time losses for commuters. The evident oversight in road network planning underscores the failure to account for essential considerations in various locales.

Unknown to many, these challenges carry significant economic ramifications. The resultant difficulties have rendered the seamless operation of certain professions exceedingly difficult. Particularly, small business owners grapple with logistical hurdles and the timely delivery of goods and services due to prolonged travel durations caused by inefficient transportation systems. What should be a brief journey often extends into hours, placing a strain on businesses and exacerbating logistical complexities. The ramifications extend beyond individual enterprises, as the inability of small businesses to thrive hampers overall economic growth. Consequently, the transportation system, integral to citizens’ livelihoods, is paradoxically burdened by regulatory constraints and heightened stress levels, instead of being regulated and organized as expected.

The poor state of Nigeria’s roads has contributed significantly to numerous highway accidents, underscoring a pressing need to address this issue directly to restore order. While human factors such as reckless driving, disregard for traffic signals, and impatient or ill-tempered drivers occasionally play a role, the condition of the roads themselves is often the primary culprit. Factors such as deteriorating road surfaces, neglected or ongoing maintenance sites, traffic congestion, and road obstructions consistently contribute to a high incidence of highway accidents. Without timely intervention to rectify these conditions, the frequency of accidents on Nigerian roads will persist unabated, posing ongoing risks to motorists.

Accidents within the road transportation system pose significant dangers, given that it is the primary mode of travel, affecting a diverse range of users including motorists, cyclists, commuters, and pedestrians. These accidents yield consequences ranging from fatalities and injuries to property damage, and tragically, loss of life in extreme cases. Consequently, there is a critical imperative for transportation policies to prioritize inclusive prosperity and social equity, directing funding towards communities with the most pressing needs. Authorities should advocate for local planning initiatives and environmental reviews that foster transparent decision-making processes and extensive community engagement, particularly concerning the road transport system.

According to Ajala Ibrahim, a road transport worker, regular maintenance and thorough inspections of the road transport system are necessary to identify faults and areas requiring repair. He emphasizes that:

“Road transport systems need regular maintenance and checks to identify faults and necessary repairs. Even the sturdiest roads deteriorate over time due to constant use. Erosion, potholes, and poor drainage often leave roads in bad condition. Some new roads are built with poor materials, which means they can quickly succumb to the elements. Regular oversight and quality construction materials are crucial to keep roads safe and functional.”

The exorbitant cost of transportation exacerbates challenges within our transportation system, yielding detrimental consequences. A system designed primarily for driving, forcing a significant portion of the populace to rely on private vehicles for daily necessities, is not only fundamentally unsustainable and inequitable but also financially inefficient. Addressing this issue could have been straightforward through measures to alleviate congestion and offer residents affordable and accessible transportation alternatives.

However, instead of prioritizing such solutions, our political leaders and elected officials often prioritize new construction projects. This approach undermines social equity, particularly as existing assets in dire need of repair or reconstruction are frequently situated in communities experiencing economic stagnation or decline. Consequently, the imperative to accommodate growth can paradoxically perpetuate a cycle of neglect, as struggling areas fall further behind due to inadequate maintenance.

The expansion of transport infrastructure and services in Nigerian cities is failing to keep pace with the rapid growth of urban populations. Consequently, a significant demand-supply disparity exists in most Nigerian cities, leading to prevalent issues such as road congestion, overcrowded buses, delays, and parking difficulties.

Therefore, the Ministry of Transportation considers safeguarding the secure transportation of individuals and commodities as a central mandate. This is particularly crucial due to the heightened risk of pedestrian fatalities associated with poverty, especially in rural regions. Given that numerous households lack access to personal vehicles, modes of transportation such as biking, walking, and public transit play indispensable roles in commuting to work and fulfilling daily requirements, necessitating careful attention and support.

According to Olamide Abigail, a roadside trader in Lagos State, it is imperative to prioritize the needs of pedestrians during road construction. She emphasizes:

“Designing streets with features such as sidewalks, raised medians, controlled turning lanes, better-placed bus stops, improved lighting, traffic calming measures, accessible sidewalks, curb cut-outs, and clear signage for those with sensory and cognitive disabilities makes roads safer for everyone—pedestrians, bicyclists, and drivers. Focusing on the needs of travelers with disabilities is important for fairness because these individuals are often at greater risk in traffic accidents and fatalities.”

Transportation plays a pivotal role in driving the economic development of Nigeria. Refining and overhauling the country’s road networks would catalyze a surge of prosperity nationwide. Improved road infrastructure would facilitate smoother access to Nigerian goods and services for neighboring countries and foreign investors alike.

The primary objective of transportation is to ensure the safe, sustainable, and efficient movement of both individuals and commodities. Effective infrastructure investments have the potential to generate widespread prosperity for Nigerian workers and businesses. Conversely, inadequate project selection can erect obstacles to opportunity and result in the creation of unproductive assets that impede economic growth.

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