The evolution of the transportation of Nigeria has had a really exciting and storied trajectory, right from pre-colonial times down to our modern era. We are going down a memory lane as we explore how our modern-day transport system evolved, from the simplistic systems of the old days to the complex machines we have today.
The study of human civilization has generally pointed to human porterage and animal hauling systems as the earliest forms of transport to emerge. The history of transportation in Nigeria obviously was no different, as we usually trekked more and had beasts to help us do long-distance journeys, as was noticed with the use of camels to travel towards Mecca by the Muslim North.
Camels offered the easiest means of transport across the northern deserts
Down towards the south, the Atlantic offered a sustained source of easy seafood and the thick forest meant human transport was mainly by trekking. But that soon changed as the Europeans, mainly the Belgians, the French, and the English began voyaging into lands around the Atlantic and started claiming territories as they moved. The very first form of advanced transport system other than the animal aided systems to reach our side of the world arrived sometime towards the end of the 15th century and early 16th century when European ships arrived the coast of old Calabar. From then onwards, things began a sustained change to what we have today.
Types of transportation in Nigeria
1. Sea Transport
Sea transport was the very first form of mechanical and advanced means of transport to reach our end. As the Europeans arrived, they set up camps around the coast and gradually made incursions inwards to explore what laid in those thick forests. As they advanced into the hinterlands, conflicts ensued and relationships with the locals were forged. Exploration of the hinterlands resulted in the discovery of immense natural resources that will be of great value as raw materials for the needs of their economic sectors.
From exploring the lands, the exploitation of natural resources became inevitable. Consequently, ships offered the best means of hauling these natural resources across the Atlantic to the other side. That was how seaports sprang all along the coasts, from the channels of Calabar up to canals of Lagos.
The construction of the Apapa port began as early as 1913
Calabar port served as the main exit port for evacuating these natural resources, but gradually it became increasingly difficult to move most of these products from deep in the hinterlands along the eastern coasts and western hills down to Calabar ports. Consequently, the need to established ports around the Lagos canal and Portharcourt channels became inevitable, especially as the Lagos channels provided easy entry to the Atlantic Ocean. Before long, Calabar Port which was famed as the Port of slaves saw less -and-less Freight with virtually every major shipping operation heading over to Lagos Apapa Port.
A view at the Tin-Can Island Port in Lagos
So the Calabar port, Port Harcourt ports, and other smaller ports will further become evacuation ports for local resources, which were moved to Lagos, the main exit port for the British. The British made sure to organize their main form of commodity transport system, which culminated in the establishment of the Nigerian Port Authority sometime in 1955, highlighting the importance of transportation in Nigeria at that time. The NPA was under the direct supervision of the minister of transportation in Nigeria.
With an established sea transport system, it made sense and was a lot easier to establish regulatory institutions and build Transport infrastructure to further entrench British power on the colony. Before long, heavy-duty equipment was moving across the Atlantic back into Nigeria, leading to the establishment of two other major forms of transportation, Rail and Vehicular transport system.
Check out a brief video of General Yakubu Gowon's visit to the Apapa port in 1970 below
Gen. Gowon Visiting Apapa Wharf
2. Land Transport
Initially, land transport was mainly dominated by human porterage and animal aided transport, but the establishment of a functional intercontinental shipping system bolstered by a number of seaports in the country allowed for the introduction of other forms of land transport namely Railway system and Motor transportation system in Nigeria.
In a bid to effectively exploit the vast natural resources of the land, the British introduced the rail transportation in Nigeria to help in the evacuation of these resources to the seaports. Thus several rail lines were built to connect the major evacuation seaports in the country as early as the 1900s.
The rail transportation system in Nigeria was conceived to connect Lagos Port with the major production areas for palm oil and cocoa, especially, Abeokuta-Ibadan-Illorin Axis. Also with the discovery of coal in the Enugu axis, the region had a railway line built to connect it with the Portharcout port sometime in 1916.
Enugu-Portharcourt Rail Line connected Enugu Axis to the Porthorcourt Seaport
Also, in a bid to connect the northern protectorate with the south, a linkage railway line was built by the British. Before long, the Railway lines were the predominant transport system around, moving both cargo and humans across the land. In fact, most human traffic from Lagos to Otta and Abeokuta was done by rail.
But soon though, worthy competition for the railways arrived, a transport system the British felt will serve to complement the railways rather than compete with it. However, this became one of those problems of transportation in Nigeria the British could not handle.
Modern-day Railway station in Rigasa, Kaduna State
In a bid to move more products from the hinterlands, the British discovered that the railways were grossly inadequate and thus required other means of transportation in Nigeria to help feed these lines, resulting in the birth of road transportation in Nigeria. Consequently, motor transport systems, which predominantly consisted of light-duty lorries and buses were put to use to connect the settlements located far away from the rail lines and thus evacuate more commodities from the hinterlands to the trains station.
As early as 1905, the very first motor transport service was launched to service a specific route that covered the cocoa, palm oil axis of Oyo-Ibadan and by 1927, the eastern corridor also had its own motor transport service operated by the Weeks Transport Company.
Before long, the motor transport system with their lorries and buses had taken away a good portion of business from the rail lines, as the British colonial masters began an intense drive towards building roads required for this form of transport. In fact, the British would successfully build up to 6160 km of road network from when it began its efforts in 1925 compared to just over 3000 km present before then. By 1938, G. O. Ogunremi in his article "The Nigerian Motor Transport Union Strike of 1937" estimated that there were as many as 3500 lorries on our roads. And most of these numbers were running parallel to the rail lines, posing intense competition to this mode of transport. Slowly but steadily, the Railway system was overtaken by motor transport and the latter would become the go-to transport mode for the movement of goods and passengers.
As traffic volume increased, the need to establish loading and departure terminals became pressing, leading to the establishment of arrival/departure terminals or what you will call the bus parks all over the country. As a direct result of this increased traffic flow transportation companies in Nigeria would see a sustained increase.
Major automakers would begin the assembly of Passenger transport including passenger cars and light-duty trucks in the country, the most notable being Peugeot, which assembled most of their brands like the Peugeot pick-up, the famous 404, 504 and 505 models. 504 and 505 Peugeot models became the most popular cars in the country and were the official Nigerian government car for decades.
Soon the government would open up the automobile transport industry by issuing licenses for the importation of more auto brands into the country, with the likes of Toyota and Mercedes-Benz finding a path into the country. Today, there are well over 10 automobile brands being sold in the country, even as an increase in road networks available throughout the country has fully entrenched the motor transport business as the number one transportation system in the country.
A modern-day motor transport terminal
Note: Bicycles were another means of transport that was basically in the background, effectively overshadowed by waterlines and the railways. But it offered easy private transport for the movement of individuals as well as commodities from the interior settlements hardly reached by the Motor transport services.
In fact, as early as the 1920s, bicycles were already in use in the Eastern part of the country and would even overtake the lorries as the to-go transport option for the evacuation of oil palm and other commodities to the seaports and train stations. However, that trend was halted sometime later, when passenger vehicles and pickups became more widespread in the country.
3. Air Transport
Air transport did not make it here until towards the end of 1925 when 3 British Royal Airforce owned De Havilland DH 9A aircraft landed on a dirt track Polo field in Kano. That maiden flight marked the beginning of what would become the robust Aviation industry we have now, with well over 25 airports spread across the country. An industry that grew from the operations of the British Overseas Airways Corporation to a national carrier, the Nigerian Airways, which would later fold up in 2003.
At the moment, there are a good number of privately owned and multinational air transport operators including helicopters operators in the country, servicing both local and international flights to and from the nation's major airports.
The De Havilland DH 9A Aircraft was the first airplane to land in Nigeria in 1925
The modern-day airport in Kano
The evolution of transportation in Nigeria has followed a similar growth pattern with every other modern society and has progressed from the simplistic systems of the old days. These were mainly dominated by the use of animals, canoes, and other watercraft, to the complex mechanical systems that dominate our modern transport system. The arrival of the automobile industry in Nigeria in the early 1950s meant that the predominant mode of transport in Nigeria will remain the motor vehicle transport system.
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