Any nation that seeks to become developed and to sustain development will rely heavily on an effective transport system. This is a well-planned system with easy access to all parts of the country, at regular frequency, at an affordable price and with an excellent safety record. This is also a system that provides alternatives means (air, land, water and rail) for her citizens to avoid the stress of over reliance on one means.
Rather than provide the platform to accelerate our development, the underdevelopment of Nigeria’s transportation system has become a hindrance in our effort to build a developed Nigeria.
The objective of this article is not to focus on the failure of government to provide a first class transport system and the resultant enabling environment for national development. Numerous experts and public commentators have commented in good detail on this and so, I want to focus on what we can do in the interim and in the long term to eliminate this hindrance. The failure of government has affected us greatly and therefore, we cannot leave the solution entirely in their hands.
Before we talk about what we can do on the long term to develop our transport system, I believe we must focus first on actions we can take to improve the situation on the ground. Actions we can take on the interim include:
Special Road Marshals: During the days of Prof. Soyinka as Chairman of the FRSC, there were a high number of special marshals supporting the efforts of the Road Safety officials to ensure smooth flow of traffic during peak periods. In recent years, the number of special marshals has drastically reduced and yet the number of cars on our roads has significantly increased.
So many Nigerians can commit at least one day or evening a week to volunteer as a special marshal and this support can ensure that disorder and impatience that causes most traffic hold up are eliminated. Also, in many traffic congestion hotspots around the country, traffic wardens are not usually seen during the early hours and late evening rush hour, so people volunteering as special marshal will provide much needed support for periods that are most needed.
Nigeria currently relies mostly on road transportation and until other means are expanded & strengthen, ensuring smooth road traffic is a key interim action.
Old & Even Plate Numbers: Another interim measure that we can agree on in order to ease congestion on our main means of transportation (roads), is to implement odd/even number plate days. This is a system where cars with odd number plate are permitted on certain days in a week and the even number plate on other days.
I know a lot of people would criticise this idea but it would help reduce the number of cars on our roads and encourage people to travel together to work and school runs. The reduced number of cars will cut down man hours wasted during travel to work and back home. I consider this a short term measure until we implement an effective traffic management system and provide better alternative means of transportation.
Traffic Management System: One area we can assist the government in developing a first class transport system is in providing a traffic management system. Individuals can come together to form an organisation that will take up the management of traffic on our roads.
This organisation can provide:
- Traffic Information: via radio & TV stations and direct to mobile phones to update motorists with latest traffic reports. With this information, some motorist may take alternative routes and delay their journey until traffic clears up.
- Public enlightenment campaigns: to all stakeholders in the industry to improve driving standards and road attitudes. This campaigns can include roadshows, rallies, training programmes, adverts in print, electronic and new media
- Traffic marshals: In addition to special marshal volunteers, this organisation can provide well trained marshals to assist with traffic management
- Roadside recovery: A key reason we have congestions on our roads is because of broken down vehicles (especially the big trucks) in key spots and during peak periods. An effective recovery service will ensure swift action in removing broken down vehicles and vehicles involved in a motor accident
- Road construction management: In one hand we become elated when we see government undertake new road construction or expansion. But on the other hand, we become distressed due to little or no provision for the usual traffic during construction. This organisation can advise government of well thought approaches & timing that can be implemented to reduce the impact of construction on motorist.
It must be reiterated that this sort of organisation is the coming together of individuals who are keen to join resources and do something to improve our transportation system. Of course, the benefits are for us all to enjoy. The AA in the UK is a good example of this sort of organisation.
These are just a few actions we can take in the interim and it is obvious that it is mainly focused on road transportation. That is because it is our main means of transportation and I believe we can all come up with more ideas on how we can improve roads transportation for the benefit of the private motorist, commercial motorist and companies.
Alongside the interim actions we can identify and implement, there are long term actions that should be identified and implemented. Here are some:
Advocate Alternatives to road network: The main long term action is advocating the development of alternatives to road transportation system and the main alternative would be rail transportation.
Out of the top 15 most populous countries in the world, Nigeria at number 7 is the only country without an effective rail transport and with the current government attitude this trend is likely to remain for many more years. Yet, other populous nations rely on rail transportation for the transportation of most of our citizens. A country approaching 200 million people in a few years cannot build enough roads to support this huge population.
Therefore, we must form pressure groups that will mount intense pressure on the government (state & federal) and the National Assembly to ensure that the development of our rail network is considered as important as the provision of steady light. If more Nigerians from all backgrounds (religious, ethnic, political, professional, etc.) joined in to mount pressure on government, we will not only see increased funding to the sector but proper implementation by contractors because they would see the huge interest shown by the public.
The building of a rail network that covers all the 36 states and FCT will drastically reduce cars on the road and the impatience associated with driving on a busy road. It will also take away some of the heavy load trailers put on our roads. Besides, it is much safer, easy to maintain, provides a huge source of employment and will help improve competition within the transport sector that will ensure prices are competitive. A good rail network will reduce the high population density in city centres.
Advocate the building of motorways: In addition to the advocacy for the accelerated development of the rail network, there is still a need to build new motorways or expand the current ones. Since the roads still play in significant role in nation-building, we need to mount pressure on the government to develop motorways (minimum 8 lanes – 4 each direction) linking the 6 geographical regions of the country.
This effort will not only provide an excellent platform for the increase in commerce & industry and reduce the number of accidents but it would also ensure integration between the various ethnic groups, thereby strengthening the unity of our nation.
Advocate the development of water transportation: We can advocate for more investments to be made to develop the movement of goods & people by water. This development will provide alternatives and ease pressure on other means of transportation.
Advocate the development of air transportation: We need to advocate government reforms in the aviation industry to ensure efficiency. When efficient, the relevant aviation agencies will ensure the proper maintenance of our airports, the availability of aviation fuel at reasonable rate; provide incentives to encourage more local airlines and flight frequencies & connections. Air travel must not continue to be seen as a means of transportation that belongs to the elites but to the majority of Nigerians.
Private Sector Investment: In addition to advocacy, we can also get involved in the process of change by becoming stakeholders in the industry. We need to see more Nigerians setting up innovative companies to exploit the untapped opportunities in our transport sector. The opportunities would include investment in rail network development, investment in traffic management organisation, investment in freight or cargo transportation within the country (we urgently need to minimise the number of trailers that ply our roads in order for our roads to last long), investments in the aviation sector, etc.
It will require a lot of courage and sacrifice to harness these opportunities but they must be developed in order for us to develop Nigeria.
Research & Development – In addition to advocacy and investments in the sector, there is need to see more Nigerian researchers commit time, knowledge and financial resources to research Nigerian solutions to meet our peculiar needs.
The research may include identifying how we can undertake construction work during the raining season (this is usually a 6 months period and must not be seen as a hindrance); develop new materials for building roads, rail network and trains; create new road design to ensure we use our limited land mass to move people effectively; the building of high speed trains and the establishment of well-connected rail networks meeting the needs of individuals and companies.
One of the key ways developed nations continue to stay ahead of others is the commitment to research & development and the work is mostly done outside of government. Nigerians must identify with the importance of committing resources to this area. R&D provides the platform to develop solutions for tomorrow challenges and new approach to solving today’s challenges.
I would like to add that extensive research must be undertaken to provide government with expert advice for effective town planning. Alongside seeking to develop a first class infrastructure, emphasis must also be given to opening new cities, industrial parks or zones, residential estates and offices. This is ensure our city centres are decongested and a plan is put in place to address the future high demands which would be a result of our continuous rapid population growth.
Of course the government has a key role to play in providing a first transport system but the main work of nation-building belongs to us the citizens of Nigeria. We must recognise that the innovative ideas the government needs to deliver this system lies within us and not the government.
It is therefore imperative that we commit the time, finance and ideas required to enable us build a developed & sustain Nigeria through the strong transport system.