Nigeria is one of the few – and certainly the only country of its size in the whole world – without a functional railway system. The cost of this deficiency is huge, as tens of millions of commuters and travelers who would have used more efficient and cost effective trains have to depend on cars, buses, motorcycle and practically anything on wheels.
Apart from creating chaos on our roads, the sheer numbers of Nigerians who depend on road transport invariably multiplies the numbers of crashes and road accidents, leading to hundreds of deaths daily. Records indicate that Nigerian roads have one of the highest fatality rates in the world, with some roads like the Abuja-Lokoja highway being particularly notorious for claiming lives almost daily.
In addition to the human costs, there are others costs related to the lack of railways. Firstly, the pressure on the roads from millions of cars using them almost round the clock decreases road life spans, resulting in constant wear and tear and the need for constant maintenance, usually at huge cost to the public. Extremely heavy construction materials like cement and iron rods that are better transported trains have to be moved by road. The result is that resurfaced roads do not last beyond one rainy season (though that can be a function of shoddy contracts).
Another needless danger on our roads is the transportation of fuel and other volatile and inflammable chemicals by trucks that are forced to jostle and maneuver along with smaller vehicles in heavy inner-city traffic, or on pot-hole ridden and dilapidated highways. It is a miracle that more accidents and fires do not occur on our roads, but whenever any fuel-tanker is involved in an accident, or crashes on its own, tragedy always results.
Clearly, traveling by road in Nigeria is a very dangerous undertaking. The problem, too, is that for the 5 percent of Nigerians who can afford traveling by air, our aviation profile is one of the most dangerous in the world. Compared to the relatively few flights that take off and land in Nigeria, boarding any plane in this country requires a leap of faith, a devil-may-care attitude or simply resignation to fate.
For the over 90 percent of Nigerians who have no options but to travel by road, what are the tricks of survival? How do you travel in Nigeria? A few tips may be useful.
First of all, before embarking on any road trip in Nigeria, it is of utmost importance to obtain a security report from all the states you will be travelling through. Find out what the security situation is: Has there being any form of communal clash? Are unwary travelers being attacked and killed simply for being on the wrong road at the wrong time? Have any acts of terror, or any terrorist activity been reported close by? Have kidnappers being busy of late? To get this information, it is important to have friends or contacts in the Department of State Services or what we call SSS.
If the security reports are positive, that is not to say armed robbers have not been busy: Every major road in Nigeria has dangerous spots where armed robberies occur on regular basis. This information is critical in charting which roads to follow, which to avoid and indeed, whether to postpone the journey to a more auspicious time. To get this information, it is useful to have friends in the police.
However, even with favourable security and police reports, you cannot embark on traveling without calling your contacts with the National Emergency Management Authority (NEMA). This is important because unexpected disasters occur daily in Nigeria, so it is important to find out if any has occurred at any point along your proposed route. The twenty or so hapless bus passengers that plunged to their deaths from a collapsed bridge in Katsina state probably did not have this critical information.
Another important thing to know before traveling is whether the roads along your route are free or not: All too often, accidents, especially those involving articulated vehicles are known to block major roads, delaying commuters for hours or even days. To be up to date on this aspect, it is imperative to have contacts at the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC). If the accident or blocked roads happened after you’d already started out, call immediately to determine which roads are free, and what alternatives routes exist.
Once you get the all-clear to travel, it is imperative to settle all outstanding family and personal matters: Update the list of those you owe or who owe you money; indicate the banks with which you have obligations, tidy up all pending legal matters and write your will, then say long goodbyes to your family as they may never see you again. After that, say your last prayer and then commit your soul to your Creator.
Unfortunately, much like traveling on our roads, life and living in Nigeria is becoming alarmingly cheap, brutal and unpredictable.