After Nigeria lifted the lockdown on economic activities due to the coronavirus pandemic last year, the expected boom in road transport has not materialised as Nigerians are running scared of roads fast morphing into hunting grounds for kidnappers, new data show.
Declining road transport in an economy struggling with sluggish growth in a country with a poorly developed transport system has serious implications on trade and services.
Rising insecurity is showing up in local trade statistics as the sector contracted 2.43 percent in the first three months of 2021, making it the eighth consecutive quarterly contraction since the second quarter of 2019.
The quarterly Gross Domestic Product (GDP) estimates for the four quarters of 2020, the annual figure for 2020 and the first quarter of 2021 released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) shows a decline of -23.75 percent in Road Transport GDP in the first quarter of 2021 from the previous quarter.
The Federal Government began a phased opening of the lockdown measures from May 4 last year in Abuja, Lagos and Ogun states, and proceeded more slowly in other parts of the country towards the end of the year.
The restriction on interstate travels outside curfew hours was lifted from July 1, 2020, and by the end of the year, any pretence of enforcement was all but gone. Yet, this has not translated into a boom.
The NBS data show a drop in road transport to -23.75 percent in the first quarter of 2021 from the previous quarter after all restrictions to road transport have been lifted.
Contrast this by a drop of -51.17 percent in the second quarter of 2020, when the government announced a ban on all travels in the country.
Road transport moderated slightly to -46.64 percent in the third quarter, then it rose to -1.37 percent and by the fourth quarter of 2020 only to enter abnormal territory, falling sharply to -23.75 percent.
Analysts attribute this dip to the impact of pervasive insecurity in the country marked by violent kidnappings, robberies and banditry across major highways.
“Security has a big role to play with this decline,” notes Confidence McHarry, a Lagos-based security analyst at SBM Intelligence, a geopolitical intelligence platform.
Some of the most notorious routes in Nigeria include the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, Kaduna-Abuja Expressway, Katsina/Ala – Wukari Road, linking Benue and Taraba states, Birnin Gwari-Kaduna Road; Kaduna-Saminaka-Jos Road, Enugu-Port Harcourt Road, among others.
Moses Ojo, Lagos-based economic analysts, also points to pervasive insecurity in the country that culminated in the ENDSARS protests, which led to many buses leaving the road due to the burning and vandalising.
Attacks on private and commercial buses in the night used to be a feature of road transport on notorious highways but has since morphed into blood lust by criminal gangs who get a vehicle to stop by mowing down the driver with a hail of bullets. Then, they kidnap whoever is left alive helping to turn kidnapping into an industry.
On March 13, Muhammed Usman took a bus from Gusau, the capital city of Nigeria’s north-west state of Zamfara, to see his family in Dangulbi, a small farming community about 50 kilometres away.
Half an hour into the trip, the bus came under heavy fire. An armed gang shot at the travellers from the front and rear end of the vehicle for several minutes. Usman grabbed a child who sat next to him and crouched down beneath the seat, covering him with his body.
In January, 30 people were killed and possibly 100 kidnapped in a single incident on the Kaduna-Zaria highway in Kaduna State. The perpetrators were dressed in military uniforms. Among the wounded was the Emir of Potiskum.
“To travel by road in Nigeria is now an extreme sport,” Owamninaemi says.
The NBS data further reveal that while road transport was falling, air transport, which has slowed since the pandemic, moderated by about 40 percent in the first quarter of 2021, while rail transport also saw a similar uptick.
However, these modes of transport are not well suited to trade in a country that largely depends on its 195,000km of sketchy road network of which about 60,000km are paved. Their limited freight capacity still makes roads the most effective in facilitating trade.
Travellers on these roads report higher fares as transport companies price security risk into the fare. For example, transport fare from Lagos to Benin City, which used to be around N3,500, has risen to over N7,500. Similar routes have also seen over 100 percent rise in fares.
Analysis by the Council of Foreign Relations notes that kidnapping for ransom, once largely confined to the Southern part of Nigeria, has now spread throughout the country.
“Militant and criminal groups, including Boko Haram, resort to kidnapping for ransom to raise funds,” the group states.