‘Efficient Transport Sector, Key To Nigeria’s Economy’

A university don and head of transport management at the Ladoke Akintola University (LAUTECH), Ogbomosho, Dr. Bambo Somuyiwa is conversant with the country’s economy and problems. He has over 40 research publications mainly on transport, logistics,supply chain management in books, conference proceedings as well as in learned international and national journals. In this interview with AMAKA IFEAKANDU, the consummate academic advises on bolstering the transport sector to drive the country’s economy forward
What is your assessment of the Nigerian economy and the transport sector?

Basically, the Nigerian economy could be likened to the verse in the Bible which says, “if the foundation is shaky or faulty, what can the righteous do?” The pivot of the economy is supposed to be the transport system, but unfortunately, it is receiving little or no attention. This is why there is so much pressure on other areas of the economy. The transport sector is not developed and this is why Nigeria keeps on having galloping and all sort of inflationary rates. Although, there have been slight improvements in the country’s economy in recent times, they are far from remarkable and substantial. These improvements are due to innovations and some level of attention paid to the economy, making it buoyant.
There is so much concentration on the oil and gas industry, particularly the downstream section of the sector.
Little attention is given to agriculture which used to be the back-bone of the national economy. Today, young and agile men are migrating to the cities. This has led to unemployment, congestion, friction, apathy and other socio-economic vices. It is interesting to note that if transport, for instance, is well developed and harnessed, the congested cities and areas that are over populated will be decongested.

Why, in your opinion, is the sector neglected by the federal and state governments?

For decades, the sector has been neglected by both the federal and state governments. The reason is not far-fetched: it is due to a lack of political will which can be attributed to the unimpressive politics and policies of most governments at the two tiers of governance. You discover that some states do not have the blueprint of what should be done, when it should be done, and how it should be done. In other words, the desire and aspirations, as well as the plans that will metamorphose into reality have not been conceived. Also, some state governments embrace ideas from unqualified professionals. This is why you see a square peg occupying a round hole. Some of these stooges occupy the seats of transport parastatals,but succeed in doing nothing. We have had series of professionals whose expertise are not related to transport industry. This is why it is impossible for them to implement and hatch any policy proposed by the government on transport.
In Nigeria today, the transport sector has not been prioritised like other sectors of the economy where professionalism, intellectualism and capability have all come to play. For instance, a trained sociologist can not be appointed minister for health, talk more of an engineer occupying the top seat in the ministry of justice. However, in the transport sector, because of the nature of the discipline (multi-dimensional), you see a pharmacist, linguist, medical doctor and every Tom, Dick and Harry who never studied the nitty-gritty of the subject matter occupying the seat. The big question is, what do you expect from such a person?
Until professionalism and intellectualism are incorporated into the ministry of transport at any tier of government, our transport situation at any level will continue to deteriorate, wobble and remain uncoordinated. In other words, government must effectively utilise professionals in this area.

What are the potentials in the transport sector?
Transport is a catalyst to economic development, a pivot of every sector of the economy. No sector of the economy can grow without transport; be it sea, land, air or rail. Like I said earlier, transport is all encompassing. It’s output is multi-dimensional. In other words, it has a multiplier effect on the socio-economic, political, and environmental state of the country. For instance, it creates job opportunities, enhances foreign exchange earning, and fosters national development and interaction, thereby making the economy buoyant. These and many others have remained untapped, harnessed and unexplored by various governments at all tiers. This is as a result of some factors mentioned earlier.

In your opinion, how do you think the sector can aid the country’s economy?

Basically, there are transportation areas that have remained untapped and unexplored as a result of negligence and improper policies, due to the fact that each well developed mode of transport has auxiliary and allied job creation opportunities. For instance, in the area of maritime, we have crew, clearing and forwarding agents, customs, immigration, ship-yard, dockworkers, terminal operators, ships chandlers, maritime lawyers, ship surveyors and so forth. In the aviation industry, we have inland waterways, road transport, pipeline and other modes of transport. It is important to stress that each of these sectors highlighted would employ people who would not only generate income, but increase the gross domestic product of the economy, causing everyone to live peacefully.
Again, an idle hand is the devil’s workshop. A person who is gainfully employed will not think about any evil and this helps to reduce the number of miscreants and criminals in our society, such that the money voted for security will be reduced and ploughed back into other areas of the economy for effective, more profitable ventures.

Dos you think that the public private partnership system can assist in developing the supply chain system in the country?

The supply chain system in Nigeria is new and it is being propelled by an effective and efficient information system. Perhaps, the main thing in the supply chain is information transfer which can be more handled by private companies. What we are looking at here is a situation in which there is cooperation among public, professionals and the private sector. In the case of the public, they are to provide an enabling environment in which other stakeholders need to interact and function very well while the private sector, on the other hand, will provide the required resources in terms of finance and personnel. The professionals must have intellectual and technical capabilities. However, these ‘four ps’ (public, private, professionals partnership) can only come to play the proper role if we have safe political climate, non-stringent economic conditions and docile social terrain.
In developed countries, there is mutual understanding and participation among private, public and professionals, such that each has his or her own responsibilities and obligations to fulfill, thereby making it possible for government to concentrate on governance. The same thing can be achieved in a developing economy like ours.

How do you think the railway system can work effectively Nigeria?
The ultimate objective of transportation is safety, efficiency and effectiveness. The Nigerian rail system can only work effectively if we adopt a type of privatisation that can best be handled by the ‘4ps’ (public, professionals and private partnership) concept. This is as a result of the fact that rail system in Nigeria is experiencing multiple problems, both technical, management, operational, corruption, political will and others. In order to eradicate all these problems, there is need to vote in a percentage from the budget. The six geo-political zones have socio-cultural and economic organisations. For instance, in the south-west geo-political zone, we are having Odua Investment. There is something close to that in the South-south. Each state in each geo-political zone, irrespective of political colouration, must pull their resources together to establish an effective and efficient rail system that will cut across all the states in the geo-political zones. The idea of coming up with buses under the disguise that they want to eradicate congestion in our cities cannot solve the problem. The rail system is the best option for mass transit, because of the mass movement of people at a particular point in time. If there is collaboration among all these stakeholders with the support of foreign and private enterprises, the country will be a good place to live in, because rail transport will not only be effective but efficient.

Can you explain why the logistics’ sector is not well tapped into?

The answer is simple and it is due to over-reliance on a particular mode of transport without a corresponding development of the rail sector. Logistics can be fully tapped in a situation when we have inter-modalism. That is when there is integration of various modes of transport. Another reason is the lack of political will, as a result of inexperience or other environmental factors. Similarly, information technology is a vital factor in logistics and everybody knows that information technology is powered by electricity. In a situation where we have epileptic power supply, information technology can not be functional, neither can logistics be efficient. When all these are being harnessed or probably tackled, we can begin to talk of effective logistic activities that will ultimately enhance our economy.

What are the challenges of the rail, sea, land and air transport in the country?

The challenges of all these modes of transport are similar and they range from technical, socio-economic, cultural and political. It is only in Nigeria that you field people under the disguise of making up the quota to the detriment of a sensitive and vital sector of the economy. Little wonder most of the states do not have separate transport ministries, rather, they are being sandwiched with the ministry of works or at best the ministry of infrastructure. This gives them the leverage to put someone with little or no experience or knowledge about the semantics of transport at the helm of affairs. It is the greatest problem, because any policy planned and programmed will not be effectively implemented by this person, thereby making the government in that area to record losses and ultimately affect the performance of other sectors.

In what way can the issue of unemployment be tackled in the sector?

It is multi-disciplinary in nature and multi-dimensional in effect, in that it affects all other sectors of the economy. If all modes of transport are developed, this will usher in allied and auxiliary agencies capable of employing hundreds of thousands of able-bodied men and women. In the maritime industry the need for dockworkers, crew, clearing and forwarding agents will be there. Same can be said for other opportunities. There will be need for an agency that will be responsible for the free-flow of commuters in the city, such that friction will be reduced, congestion eliminated and pollution will be abated. In all, a friendly environment will evolve. These agencies will be manned by respective personnel, thereby unemployment rate will be reduced.