Nigeria’s transport system has no doubt come a long way; especially 57 years after the country achieved her political independence from Britain, her former colonial master in 1960.

This sector, which has proven to be the catalyst for the growth of many economies including those of the developed and developing countries, has conversely had its fair share of the economic and political uncertainties 57 years after attainment of political independence in Nigeria.

Till date, the country is yet to come up with a clear-cut National Transport Policy, which would provide a roadmap for the development of transport infrastructure over the years. The lacuna created by this is currently taking its toll on the socio-economic fabric of the country.

What appeared to be such a policy, was included in the various national development plans put in place by the Military Government, which were abandoned as soon as the government was toppled.

At political independence in 1960, the two major means of movement of people and goods were the rail and the roads, with little or nothing heard of inland water transportation. This was also a function of the economic realities of that time.

Prior to independence, many of the economic activities were centred around agriculture, which provided basic source of raw materials for colonial firms such as the African Timber and Plywood, Palm oil and other firms owned by the colonial masters. So rail transport for instance provided veritable means movement of raw materials such as logs of wood and rubber, among several others.

Successive governments in the country have over the years not been able to develop the transport infrastructure beyond the point the colonial masters left it.

For instance, apart from recent efforts to rehabilitate the narrow gauge rail lines built by the colonial masters and the construction of a few standard gauge rail lines, the country is yet to achieve the multi-modal transport system involving a combination of rail, road and water transportation.

The direct implication of this is the over-dependence on movement of goods and people by road, as the other modes of transportation are almost absent, with the attendant inefficiencies.

For instance, statistics show that the country loses over 30 per cent of her Gross Domestic Product GDP, to the imperfections in her transport system. What this implies is also that 30 per cent of her agricultural produce are lost to poor transport infrastructure, a development that makes her exports uncompetitive at the internationals market.

It was gathered that in1993 the first National Transport Policy was presented the Federal Government, which still remains a draft till date.

Because of this lack of policy direction, none of the nation’s seaports is linked to the rails; just as the roads are not linked to the rails and so there is no integration of the various transport systems in Nigeria 57 years after political independence.

It was probably in realisation of the need for a clear-cut national policy on transport that the Nigerian Shippers Council, and some other agencies of the government put together a draft National Transport Policy Bill, which is currently at the National Assembly and when passed into law, is expected to create a National Transport Commission NTC, that would regulate the sector.

Another major victim of this poor transport system in the country remain her seaports, which she prides as gateway to her economy, which have become largely inefficient and uncompetitive, since only one means of movement of cargo in and out of the seaports remain the roads with the attendant gridlocks.

For instance in India, which has so much in common with Nigeria including large population, over 80 per cent of goods and people are moved by both rail and water transportation while in Nigeria, rail and water transportation constitute less than 20 per cent of the movement of goods and people.

Ironically, from shipping, rail and land transportation, the entire gamut of the transport sector in Nigeria has gone through one form of reform or the other. These major segments of the transport sector have also witnessed several policy summersaults as every other sector of the economy.

But in all these, the reform of the seaports, which came in the form of concession, though hurriedly done without the basic legal and institutional framework stands out and has achieved some of its desired goals and objectives.

One basic objective of the reform programme, which made the seaports adopt a landlord model of the Port of Antwerp, was to attract private sector investments to develop the ports, especially in terms of acquiring modern plants and equipment, which has also brought about a measure of efficiency in general terms.

But the absence of the needed transport infrastructure in terms of multi-modal transport systems is still taking its toll on port operations, and has also hindered the realisation of the objective of the reform in reducing cost of operation and making the ports competitive.

Chairman of Seaport Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria, STOAN, Mrs. Vicky Haastrup, while speaking on the poor transport system in the country and its negative effects on efficient port operation, noted that efficient transport system remains a major component of an efficient port system.

According to Haastrup, who is also the Executive Vice Chairman of the ENL Consortium, operators of the Terminal C and D of the Lagos Ports Complex, Apapa under the port concession agreement, no port terminal can be truly efficient without an efficient transport system.

“The terminal operators need efficient transport systems to evacuate cargo after examination and receive containers to be loaded on the ships, but a situation whereby container-laden trucks would be held up on the gridlocks for days in and out of the port does not make for efficiency”, Haastrup said.

She further argued that countries that achieve efficient port systems first address the problem of poor infrastructural base because both of them work together and so complement each other.

However, prior to the port reform era of 2006, the maritime industry has also more the road and rail transport witnessed infrastructural development. For instance, due to the ‘Cement Amarda’ of the post civil war reconstruction programme, the inadequacy of the Apapa and Port Harcourt Ports were brought to the fore. This led to the building of the Tin Can Island Port, also in Apapa to reduce the pressure on it. Since then other seaports like Calabar, Sapele, Brutu, Onne and Warri Ports have been built.

Particular mention must be made of the development of the Onne Ports Complex, which is a world-class facility comprising of the Federal Ocean Terminal and the Federal Lighter Terminal, specifically designed to handles Nigeria’s oil and gas activities, was developed through a public/private partnership.

There were also some policy frameworks introduced to address some of these issues as they arise.

For instance, with the demise of the Nigerian National Shipping Line NNSL, the government came up with the National Shipping Policy Decree of 1987, which created the defunct National Maritime Authority.

The Decree also created two capacity building schemes, which include the Ship Building and Ship Acquisition Fund, a revolving low-interest loan to enable indigenous shipping companies to acquire ships and further boost tonnage. The other scheme was the 40-40-20 cargo sharing formular.

NMA was basically created to administer the SASBF as well as the  cargo sharing formular created to bridge the gap between the more established foreign shipping companies and their fledging indigenous counterparts.

The SASBF has since been scrapped because the first batch of beneficiaries refused to pay back the revolving loan while the cargo sharing scheme was also scrapped.

The creation of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency NIMASA, following the NIMASA Act, 2007, which gave legal backing to the merger of the defunct NMA and the Joint Maritime Industrial Labour Council JOMALIC, remains the most visionary policy framework towards enthroning a regime of maritime administration, especially with the scrapping of the NMA.

NIMASA, whose broad mandates derive from the NIMASA Act 2007, Merchant Shipping Act 1962 the Coastal and Inland Shipping Cabotage Act, is charged with the responsibility of regulating shipping including port state and flag state control regulations, shipping development and capacity building, among others.

On building capacity for indigenous operators, efforts are on towards a review of the Cabotage Act to enhance the participation of indigenous shipping companies.

There however seem to be light at the end of the tunnel, as there are efforts towards developing transport infrastructure, especially rail.

Only recently, the Federal Executive Council approved the continued construction of the Lagos-Ibadan Standard Gauge Rail Double Track with Double Formation under the second addendum of the modernisation of Lagos-Kano railway project, which were initiated by the former administration.

The contract awarded to China Civil Engineering Construction Company Nig Ltd in the sum of $ 1,487,782,196.00 has a completion period of 36 months.

FEC, the highest policy making body had also approved the variation of the scope of the contract for design and construction of Abuja Rail Mass Transit Project from the initial work span of  60.67km to 45.245km. There are however still much work to be done given the level of technology that has evolved in rail transport system all over the world.

Experts however believe that there is the need for at least $10billion investment annually in the transport sector for the next 10 years to elevate it from its current state.

This is therefore why many stakeholders favour the adoption of Public-Private Sector Partnership PPP in the development of transport infrastructure in the country.

Perhaps, citizens, businesses would heave a sigh of relief when this is done, but till then only time will tell since this needs a lot of political will to achieve.