The lack of internal transport links in Nigeria has long hampered the development of a truly national economy and increased the cost of moving basic foodstuffs and building materials around the country.
As a result, President Olusegun Obasanjo and his ministers have announced a series of initiatives aimed at binding the country together and speeding up transport times for both people and goods. The Nigerian Ministry of Works seems to have adopted a realistic policy with regard to road improvements. Rather than drawing up a list of ambitious new multi-lane highways--as previous administrations have done--the ministry has admitted that it is way behind schedule on existing projects and intends completing these before starting work on anything new.
Outlining his plans for 2004, Minister of Works, Senator Kingsley Adeseyi Ogunlewe, told the National Assembly that only N19bn of his N55.3bn approved budget for 2003 was actually released. He has therefore drawn up spending plans equivalent to only N29.5bn for 2004 and state authorities have been instructed to concentrate on road maintenance at the expense of road construction.
Although other parts of the economy and national infrastructure suffered during the 1970s, Nigeria's road network received a great deal of investment during the decade and was regarded as one of the best in Sub-Saharan Africa. However, vehicle numbers have mushroomed over the past two decades, while budgets have been cut.
Some progress has been made on improving cross-border road links. In particular, work on stretches of the Trans-Sahara Highway (TSH) to Niger and on to Algeria has been speeded up, as has the construction of branch roads to Chad, Mali and Tunisia.
Trucks using the completed road could cut transport times between Western Europe and West Africa by over half and perhaps by up to 70% between Northern Nigeria and Europe.
After talks between Algerian and Nigerian government representatives last year, the Nigerian Minister of Commerce, Idris Waziri, revealed that work on the TSH is to be stepped up after many years of limited funding.
ROAD SAFETY TAKES PRIORITY
The ease of road transport in the country could also be improved by improving safety standards. Although major road accidents resulting in 20, 50 or even more deaths have long been an almost weekly occurrence, the issue of safety has recently been discussed in the Nigerian press because of the imposition of new safety regulations in...