Owing to its pivotal role in economic development, transportation issues in Nigeria continue to get attention to facilitate progress in commerce.
In whatever angle it is looked at, local and international trade cannot be complete without an effective transport system. And this has engendered policy formulations for its support and to avoid drawbacks.
The sector has however not been without many setbacks, especially with the rail system going moribund in Nigeria for about two decades, except for skeletal and irregular operations within some towns like Lagos.
It could be recalled that up until the late 1980s in Nigeria, the rail system served as great support to commerce as traders moved their wares by rail from Lagos to Kano, Kaduna and from Maiduguri to Lagos and other towns.
As population grew in a place like Lagos and several traders having the need to move their wares from place to place, transportation by road alone got worse since the rail system virtually died.
Besides spending so much on transportation, commuters spend long hours in traffic gridlocks, which are a regular feature. It is not uncommon to see traders on top of their wares in open trucks, travelling very long distances for days and with attendant risks.
While this worrisome situation persisted, transport experts argued at the 2014 Africa Intermodal Conference that held in Lagos in March, that a policy already existed to ensure a proper link of the different modes of transportation to ease movement of persons and goods, in order to promote commerce and manage time.
It was therefore like the moment everyone had been waiting for when on June 9, the Federal Government inaugurated two Diesel Multiple Units (DMU) train sets and six 68-seater air-conditioned passenger coaches at the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) Terminus in Iddo, Lagos.
On that occasion, President Goodluck Jonathan said it was the beginning of government’s commitment to boost rail transportation on its planned 25-year transport sector development in Nigeria.
Due to failure of earlier promises on rail projects owing to different factors, President Jonathan assured that the new projects would not suffer financial set-backs as it would be adequately funded from both the regular budget and the SURE-P intervention.
On that note, the minister of transport, Sen. Idris Umar, also gave an assurance of dedication to the projects, saying that a number of such rail projects nation-wide would be completed by the end of the year.
The government’s promise recognises the fact that economic development relies greatly on an efficient transport sector, making it imperative to improve infrastructure of the NRC.
In spite of the expected increase in number of passengers from 16,000 to 22,000 to be moved within Lagos daily, some Nigerians however condemned the new rail project and described the diesel engine trains as archaic and one that served the transportation needs of the 1970s.
They were of the opinion that the rail transport system should be developed with high-speed trains fit for the 21st century transportation needs and for the purpose of actually improving commerce across the nation.
In line with the argument, maritime experts, during the Intermodal conference, called for the development of a modern intermodal system to offer modern solutions in transportation, as a vital part to trade promotion and sustainability.
Part of the development ideas shared at that conference emphasized the need and showed the importance of working toward and achieving interconnectivity of modes of transport.
Although the newly-commissioned trains may not be as modern and as fast as what may obtain in some developed countries, reviving the operations at all gives a hope that it would be improved upon.
However, government must not throw aside the need for monitoring and evaluation for effectiveness and achievement of set goals. It is only then that it can build on the little it has started with.
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