The effects of the novel SARS-COV-2 virus on world economies are all but too overwhelming to ascertain. With hundreds of thousands of lives lost, countless companies declaring bankruptcy, millions of families displaced – some thirty-six million jobs lost in the USA alone (I use this example because they do have reliable statistical indexes for this), and the entire world population affected largely, it is safe to presume that there is no room for exaggeration to the extent in which the global situation has been decimated so far.
In Nigeria, we have experienced some unprecedented losses and failures in our systems, as it is also all around the globe. One of the most pivotal of these systems is the Nigeria Transport sector where the country has calculated an immense drop in revenue as a result of a cut in passenger movement and restrictions awaking from the scare of the virus. The obvious effects of these are that Nigeria transport companies are beginning to shut down or run at a loss, jobs are being lost or otherwise held with suspended pay, the Nigeria tourism sector is on the decline and overall, contributes to the fall in the country’s GDP (Transportation contributing at least 2.49% as at the second quarter of 2019). As of March, there had been a 15% decrease in international travel and 20% in domestic flights which would go on to drop to 25% two weeks later. By April, a total lockdown on the two major Airports in the country – Lagos and Abuja – was called into effect leaving airport terminals desolate. The same goes for other Nigeria transport systems as ports begin to close with all-time low cargo shipment volumes, road transport is perhaps the most affected as the ideal passenger is practically being forced to stay at home. With little patronage, in addition to passenger volume restrictions, most road transport workers have no choice but to lay off their vehicles for the time being in hopes of finding a more lucrative or at least life-sustaining alternative. The well-meaning discouragement of inter-state travels by the government, as well as citizens newly learned phobia for crowded spaces, would also mean that even lesser people will be willing to patronize the already dwindling Nigeria rail transport means. Even the pipeline systems are not left out as the world oil market begins to crumble, the nation’s current crude oil export is but a reflection of the ‘boom and bust’ phenomenon. In a poignant commentary, I would state that the middle-class population should expect woeful devastation to their resources, and quality of living if this crisis were to hold on for much longer.
The pandemic has brought along with it to the Nigeria transport sector an array of challenges; some of them being a decline in customer patronage, certain restrictions, and problem of funding. As stated earlier, citizens have maintained the general status quo of staying at home, be it as a result of self-infliction of external imposition which means that transport providers, whatever the means, are nearly out of business for the meantime. Unfortunately, most if not all of the restrictions formulated by the federal and state government are concerned with movements – this means that for every policy meant to keep citizens safely isolated in their homes, a huge blow has been dealt on the transport sector which unfortunately can only take so many of these blows before the damages become unmanageable. Travel agencies are also concerned with the problem of funding their establishments with little or no revenue to show for it. These Nigeria transport companies are shutting down by the numbers, having to suspend or worse still, lay-off numerous workers as a means to stay above water (or at least not go under).
The fact remains that it was deplorable – the state in which the country’s transport system was even before the coronavirus pandemic. There was no proper oversight by the government to ensure that optimum public service was delivered by Nigeria transport providers, it would seem as if the only portion of the Nigeria transportation sector the government is concerned about includes only those bearing direct influence on national revenue generation – airlines and maritime. This is a simple act of complacency by our government which must not be allowed to continue post-pandemic, bearing in mind that the gaps which were originally present in the nation’s transport systems have only been widened. Land transport – road and rail – seem to be at the bottom of the line when it comes to ordered transport systems, even though they are the most patronized. Truthfully and painfully, there is an organization meant to handle the order and conduct of road transport workers i.e. NURTW, but unfortunately, we have the heads of this organization as individuals with little or no formal training that helps them man their roles effectively. The National Union of Road Transport Workers as an independent body was meant to serve as an umbrella organization whose roles were to protect the interests of members in the road transport sector while also ensuring that efficient public service is rendered. It is sad however to see that the union has sometimes been used as a tool of oppression and discord, seeking out bribes and orchestrating wilful disregard for external regulations and bylaws.
There could be a light at the end of the tunnel however, for countries that can yield to the call for a conscious reformation in their weaker systems. For Nigeria, this would mean repositioning herself in the way the nation’s entire transport system is managed and conducted. As I’ve stated earlier, the gaps in our nation’s transportation sector have been widened in light of the ongoing pandemic, and so the initial cracks in the system are even better seen now as it is, and with this comes the prospects. The Nigerian government, I propose, can now restrategize by revaluating means by which it can contribute to constructing an all-new, all-inclusive Nigeria transportation industry – with the help of private/independent entities of course. The government at this time can also look to imbibe professionalism into the nation’s transport systems as observed in developed countries – the use of autonomous technology in traffic control, the construction of new high-grade roadways and repair of old ones, introduction of new and efficient traffic management techniques and so on. Nigeria’s railroad transport for one needs a total revamp, and its current level of dilapidation would mean an almost endless room for potential. The country could begin to gear towards self-driving train systems as they have in the New York City Subways and introduce the concept of fuel-efficient, high-speed trains as they have in Shanghai.
In final remarks, I would hope that our government – Federal, State, and Local – would seek to be more involved in the transportation industry, and not just the part catering for international hauls, but also the domestic transport systems. As a civil engineering student, I’ve been in luck to see many great possibilities for development in our nation’s domestic transport systems and would hope that the individuals in government see it too.
Writer: Adelokun Adebola Gideon