Dr. Kingsley Usoh is a former Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC). He recently launched a new book proffering solutions to teething problems in the Nigerian Transport Sector. MMS was there to squeeze out this interview as Dr. Usoh explains the idea behind the book and what it requires to revamp transportation in Nigeria.
What spurred you to write the book, “Effective Transport Systems: A Catalyst for Socio-economic Growth”?
If we don’t have a good transportation system, whatever you harvest in your farms or solid minerals and crude extracted etc. It we be wasted as you won’t get foreign exchange to achieve other things. This effective transportation system is paramount and that is what I’m emphasizing. We allowed the railways to die, the inland waterways collapsed, road infrastructure decayed, etc. It is time for us remove politics from these things and look at the condition of the ordinary Nigerian person.
If we do the right thing in the transport sector, we are doing it for all Nigerians including ourselves. Let us stop behaving like foreigners in our own country. This was what led me to write the book “Effective Transport Systems: A Catalyst for Socio-economic Growth” to improve the standard of giving of Nigerians so that if a person has bananas to sell he can easily pluck it and transport it to wherever he wants to sell without any hindrance.
Which of the modes of transportation in Nigeria needs urgent attention in order to reposition the sector at the moment?
It all depends of emphasis we put on each investment because they are all very important national investments and they have to be viable. Transport is not an all-comers game.
When I left secondary school in 1964, I started as a tally-clerk. I went abroad and continued; then I came back to Nigeria and went into insurance and then shipping. I utilized all the knowledge I gathered from all these places to produce the book you are seeing today.
So every sector is important but the problem is that they are all competing for the availability of funds. However, for our commonwealth to grow we must take care of these areas because they are killing our economy. God endowed Nigeria with human and natural resources, so let us put them to the utmost use.
Nigeria once had good roads, effective rail systems and viable waterways. How did the nation’s transport sector degenerate to such an appalling state?
Nigeria got to this level because of politicking. The railway died because of trailer lobbyists. They killed the railway because it was impeding the profitability of their businesses.
Today, I still wonder if all the efforts the government is making toward transforming the transport sector would work because the same tanker lobbyists don’t want an effective railway system. They complain that they had acquired loans to go to buy tankers and we are not tasking them enough to move them to go to railway.
We ought to have laws on axle weight control such that if anyone wants to ply the road with heavy duty vehicles, they would have to pay for doing that. This is because the damage one container has on our road comes in multiple fold. One container on the road would cause damage, two would cause double the damage, three will cause three times damage and it goes on and on. The Americans did this research in the 1960s. The railway system was the only thing we had that could convey goods thereby reducing the burden on the roads.
Nigeria road were not constructed to carry the heavy axle vehicles that come into this country today. The road specification in Nigeria is quite different from what our standards are. For example, we use ECOWAS standard for roads which is less than 20tonnes but containers are 20tonnes and above, so the white man has developed his roads and created a system to move these cargoes. They don’t bother on some of these problems we have here, yet we copy them and feature in the world trade. We have gone to the World Trade Organization (WTO) to sign the agreement but we didn’t look at the damage some of these things cause because they have been imposed on us.
Our institutions and civil engineers ought to come together to do the needful and ensure the university students and all stakeholders learn these things. For example, about two years ago Nigerian trailers were crossing to Cameroon but the Cameroonian authorities stopped them at the border because they said the trailers would cause more damage to their roads. They had to stop there and reduce the weight of what they were carrying before they continued the journey. That is what the Cameroonian law states. We have to copy them. We have to make such laws and ensure that they are adhered to, especially as it affects our infrastructure.
There is commensurate progress in several modes of transport in Nigeria. An agreement has been reached with china for the development of railways a private driven national carrier is set to cu me onboard, the roads and aviation is also expected to witness drastic developments. Is there something Nigeria is missing in the bid to transform the transport sector?
The infrastructure isn’t the major problem but the negligence of due process by the players in the industry. If he law says ‘A’, instead of doing thing the right, people would rather do it the wrong way ‘the Nigerian way’. If Nigerians can decide to change their wrong approach to things, then those will work.
These processes have worked abroad and it produced the desired result. Why is it that when we try to replicate the same thing in Nigeria it doesn’t work? The leaders, practitioners and everyone in the transport sector should look inward to find how he or she adds to the problem in the sector. We can get a new national carrier, fix the roads and railways but if we don’t change the way we do things, we would go back to square one.