I have said this several times, and it is important to reiterate that Nigeria’s transportation system is not constructed for her prosperity. When I talk about the Nigerian transportation system, I’m not talking about just roads; I’m also referring to the rails, water, and air. All these constitute the transportation system.
However, today, we will focus on the Nigerian road network and land transportation. This is vital because no country can grow to its full potential without overhauling its road network system.
Let’s analyse the current situation. Why is the road transportation system in Nigeria not built for prosperity? There are several reasons, and I will spotlight a few.
The first reason is that the current road network system has not witnessed strategic improvement for years. Although the country is increasing in population and needs, no concise effort has been put in place to improve the road networks. Many of the existing roads were constructed years ago. The road network system is the largest land user in Nigeria, with over 60,000km of paved road as of 2019 data. However, this is not enough compared to the size of the country and its population. With the Nigerian population on the rise, the need for an integrated road network is crucial to meet the current and future demands of the country.
I remember that an older mentor cited how the old Eastern Nigeria had a public works department designated to make road repairs. He also explained that a weight system was in place to ensure no automobiles carried overloaded luggage on the road. Many of these techniques to maintain good roads disappeared after the Biafran war. The current road system is a part of the old town planning but doesn’t fit into the nation’s present development and needs. This should not be so. Additionally, a complete overhaul of Nigerian roads is overdue. There are vehicles and trucks that are not supposed to be the roads, safety standards have not been adhered to, standardisation of roads and what goes on it have been completely ignored, tens of thousands of people are losing their lives due to safety precautions and all other regulatory concerns.
Another reason? Nigerian roads do not have nodes, transportation grids, or shoulder zones. If anything happens to your car, you’ll have to park right there and repair it. The roads do not also have shoulders, so drivers can manoeuvre to allow other vehicles to move freely. This causes unnecessary gridlock and time wastage. Many things were not taken into consideration when the road networks were mapped. Things like the logistical impact, value impact and most importantly the future posturing of the country for economic prosperity.
Most roads don’t have intersections, feeders, overpasses or plans to regulate movement and how one road leads to another. The laws meant to guide most road networks do not exist.
We may not realise it, but these issues have far-reaching economic consequences. For example, these challenges have culminated in making logistics and the delivery of goods and services in Nigeria a herculean task for small business owners. A journey that is supposed to take 30 minutes can take more than three hours.
Businesses struggle with the road system and transportation framework, Logistics is now cumbersome. If small businesses do not thrive the nation will experience constrained economic growth. The transportation system, which should be one of the most regulated and organized because it affects the livelihood of citizens, is now one of the most restrained and stressful.
Where do we go from here you may ask.
I’d like us to see what’s possible, and we will use the US as a prime example. The US in the ’50s developed its road networks strategically. One major characteristic of the roads is their ability to accommodate emergency aircraft landing. This was used during 9/11. I am not saying all Nigerian roads should be able to accommodate this, but like other developed nations, Nigeria has to be futuristic and strategic during land and road planning.
More roads should be constructed and connected with the inner cities. This has to be done in conjunction with land planning as it ensures a robust framework that supports the cities, and rural areas, especially for accessibility to all the farmlands in Nigeria. You cannot have a standard road network without good town planning. No one operates in isolation.
We must build road networks with logistical corridors to clear any hindrance to the movement of goods and services. Roads should have lanes and allowance for drainages and sewage.
We must also segment our roads into the old system of A, B, and C and plan how they all work together. We must determine which road is better to move cargo trucks so that the vehicles moving people are not competing with vehicles moving goods. We should also have flyovers and alternate routes in case of traffic jams.
If the Nigerian road networks are refined and overhauled, there would be a wave of prosperity in the country.
I know Nigeria is doing well now in terms of GDP, but you can only imagine how much better it can get if we fix the road networks.
I also recommend that road construction is taken out of federal government hands and decentralized to the state government. State governments should be responsible for interstate road construction. This should be done by collaborating with the nearby states and letting the Federal government worry about policies, adjudicating state transportation issues, other logistical infrastructures and some federalised road networks. When this happens, regional road policies will emerge, providing access to all the inner parts of the state that have initially been ignored.
If this happens, inventory issues where one part has too much food and the other has less food would be resolved. Commodities would be able to move freely within the country.
More importantly, freer roads would make it easier for other countries around Nigeria to access her goods and services.
Adeleke, a supply chain expert, writes from the US (This article is first published in BusinessDay, 2022).