The state of Nigerian roads poses an economic emergency because transportation of goods and services from producer to consumer constitutes the lubricant of the economy. And since more than 90 percent of transportation in Nigeria is done on roads, good roads are sine qua non to economic growth and development.
But it is obvious that the attention given to roads is not adequate to oil the economy. Many Nigerian roads are still not paved, which makes it harder to boost the transport industry.
Depending on the source of statistics, Nigeria can boast of between 193,000 and 195,000 kilometers of roads, segmented into Trunk “A”, Trunk “B”, and Trunk “C”.
According to the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC), Nigeria has about 195,000 km of road network out of which a proportion of about 32,000 km are federal roads while 31,000km are state roads; local government roads make up 132,000 kilometers, divided into 774 areas.
Out of this, only about 60,000km is paved, constituting 30.7 percent. Yet, of the paved roads, large proportions are in a very poor, unacceptable condition due to insufficient investment and lack of adequate maintenance.
It is this large portion of dilapidated roads, which make many impassable that inform other sources to contend that barely 28,980km (15 percent) is paved.
Considering the fact that Nigeria has ratified the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), the state of the country’s roads has implications for competitiveness as the entire continent evolves into one market. The poor quality of Nigerian roads acts as a stumbling block to development in the country.
A World Bank assessment showed that road users bear the true cost of poor road maintenance in Nigeria. Essentially, bad roads mean that drivers spend more on their cars and road users spend more on transport fares. Transporting goods across the country also becomes more expensive, contributing to Nigeria’s long-term inflation problem. The effect is lower consumption of goods and services, especially in rural areas; and with a little over 50 percent of the population situated in rural areas, the effect on trade cannot be favorable.
Further afield in the AfCFTA market, the bad roads situation in the country may engender reduced competitiveness for Nigerian goods, especially agricultural products consequent to transportation cost implications, as well as wastage consequent to long hours conveying perishable goods from farm to market.
So, increased investment in paving and maintaining roads would help mitigate high transport costs, which will trickle down to the effect of lower prices in the economy, particularly in hard-to-reach rural areas, and by extension, the wider AfCFTA market.
A World Bank working paper points to this precise effect, showing that by upgrading the primary road network connecting major cities, countries in Sub-Saharan Africa can increase regional trade by $250 billion in 5 years.
A highway network can be likened to the human cardiovascular system. Good pavement and minimal construction zones keep a local economy moving, healthy, and growing, but potholes and slow-moving construction projects are like plaques that render regional commerce sclerotic.
When interstate highways are pockmarked by rough, vehicle-ruining roads, it takes longer to deliver goods in and out of the region. Delivery vehicles will be damaged more often (flat tires, bent tire rims, broken axles, etc.) and need more repairs.
Labour and fuel costs increase when traffic moves slowly, due, simply too bad conditions, or lane closures during extended resurfacing projects – causing drivers, their goods, and passengers to endure more time per trip. For a promising and competitive AfCFTA market, slow delivery and high cost of goods owing to high transportation costs would easily put Nigerian businessmen and women out of competition.
Many rural areas are already hard to reach because they are far away from central cities and state capitals. Such areas are usually cut off because of the distance needed to cover to reach them, and also because the roads leading to these areas are not paved thereby making it much harder to access them. Consequently, these areas have challenges and limitations in getting essential goods, commodities, and services delivered to them. The difficulty in accessing these areas also reduces their chances for commercialization and industrialization.
When rural China was made accessible by improved road conditions, for example, it resulted in lower transport costs, which in turn resulted in increased household income. Rural areas saw increases in per capita consumption as a result of increased road investments which opened rural areas to domestic and international markets.
Imagine how many years of manhours, goods, and services have been wasted on the Lagos/Badagry road or the Mokwa-Bida-Lambata road that connects the South-west to the North due to neglect over the past decade.