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mPC Opinion 01/12/2013

Good roads are good for nigeria

Basic development economics sufficiently demonstrates the place of physical infrastructure in the economic advancement of any human society. Abundant evidence abounds in both historic and economic literature of the link between human travel and economic growth & development. Cross fertilization of ideas have immense power in moving the human race forward. One can safely posit that human progress is significantly influenced or enhanced by the possibilities and ease of human travel.
Many scientific inventions and solutions that run our world today have been made possible because one scientist or thinker had the benefit of visiting countries or lands other than their native ones. As such, the fundamental place of the transportation system requires no extra ordinary elucidation save to the very naïve in economics and development. This is underscored by the assertion made in many old literatures that the invention of the wheel truly marked the beginning of human civilization. Isolated societies no matter how gifted often dry up eventually for lack of opportunities to interact and share experience with others.
The biggest and most far-reaching impact of the invention of machines which kicked off the industrial revolution in Europe was only felt after an efficient transport system was put in place. Many of the Lords of territories raised taxes to build roads and canals across their territories to deliberately encourage trade and human travel in order to speed up development of their regions.
Against the back drop of the above examples, one then wonders why we need the World Bank to tell Nigeria in the 22nd century why it needs to have a decent road transport infrastructure. According to the CIA World Fact Book Nigeria has a total of 193,200Km of roads, broken down into 28,930Km paved, (but mostly pothole riddled) and 164, 220Km unpaved, which included gravel and earth roads. When we set this against the land area of the country i.e. 923,768skm, we see a low road density of about 200m/Km2. On one extreme, we can compare Germany with a land area of 357,114skm with 645,000Km of roads ALL of which are paved and well maintained. One can also compare with Malaysia a former peer country for Nigeria with 556,000skm of land area but with 144,403Km of roads, 116,169km of which are paved and 28,234 unpaved. Mexico, another former peer country with an equally turbulent history has 377,660Km on a land area of 1,964,375skm, while our dear neighbour Ghana with a land area of 238,533skm has 109515km, with 13,787km paved and 95,728km unpaved. All figures dated 2009 and 2010.
Statistics still attribute more than 60% of Nigeria’s population as being rural dwellers who mostly have small scale agriculture as their major means of livelihood. We also know that post harvest losses in Nigeria tops 50% for many of our farm products, many of this being caused by difficulties in evacuation of the farm produce to market due to nonexistent or very poor road infrastructure. Thus, one would rationally reckon that this alone should suffice as the case for particular attention to be accorded road infrastructure in Nigeria. Also many excellent research works done by the CBN and the World Bank identify the cost of local foods which again depends on harvests and post harvest losses as the biggest factor in inflation in Nigeria. This suggest that you can actually fight inflation by building good roads for evacuation of farm produce.
Even more important, is the potential economic benefit of road travel for local tourism. Good and safe roads invite drivers and encourage people to explore their country. The contrary certainly holds, the appetitive for adventure especially in an African setting, no doubt is not helped by a road travel infrastructure that can be most politely described on some stretches as “deadly”.
Practically every analysis of the major causes of road mishaps in Nigeria, along with recklessness and abuse on the part of drivers, poorly maintained vehicles and again abuse and misuse of such vehicles, identifies the state of the roads as major contributors. Particularly deadly is the common occurrence of what mPC refers to as “Death-holes” on many of our roads including those designated as expressways, where even the most careful driver who respects all the rules and travels under the speed limit suddenly comes up to a point where the entire surface of a paved road is missing? The author remembers a journey from Ibadan to Benin sometime in 1996 where a commercial driver cruising at about 100Km/hr suddenly started hard braking because he being a regular on the road knew that the paved surface was missing for the nest 50 or so meters. Any first time driver will need more than luck to avoid a crash at such a site. We do not believe that it should be considered “looking for trouble” to drive a stretch of road for the first time in our country.
The current state of our road infrastructure has limited most keen drivers to make only the absolutely mandatory or unavoidable journeys. This is very inimical to the development of both the road transport sector and local tourism. It is our considered opinion that any administration that has economic development of Nigeria at heart, not to mention respect for the life of every human being within our national border, will pay urgent and adequate attention to the goal of providing safe roads and massive improvement in the infrastructure as well as institutionalize an apolitical structure for maintaining and continuously improving them.
We strongly believe that the local economies of many communities in Nigeria remain atrophied because of the poor or missing road infrastructure around them. Many of the older ones around us can recall how much many of our towns and cities thrived because they had railway stations or were major railway junction towns. As people who love road travel, we know for certain, that improvement of our roads, as required, will give a major boost to the road travel sector and encourage local tourism and road based educational trips significantly which will in turn bring along many benefits to the local economies of communities along the way.



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