Nigerian Public Transport: Efficiently Inefficient

I am about to tell you the story of Nigerian public transport. But how will you relate to this piece if I do not help you acclimatize? To do that, I will visually take you to a nightclub in Lagos at around 11.00 pm.

By now you must have heard a few tunes that made you understand why Nigeria is considered the home of Afropop music. Some of the country’s finest musicians are now global superstars including Tiwa Savage alongside Grammy Award-winning duo Burna Boy and Wizkid.

At the start of this article, we will focus on Wizkid and his hit record Ojuelegba which has racked up 46 million views on YouTube by the time of publishing this article.

In the song, Wizkid sings about the tough environment in Ojuelegba and how that setting makes it hard for young people from the area to make something of themselves. In the music video, Nigeria’s signature yellow minibuses can be seen in the background giving an accurate picture of how transportation is like on the ground.

The song is omnipresent in Nigerian nightclubs. Here goes part of the lyrics.

Ni ojuelegba o
My people dey there
My people suffer
Dem dey pray for blessing eh

Ojuelegba is a district in Lagos and one of the busiest places in the former Nigerian capital. It is also known to be overcrowded.

Although he is now a household name, Wizkid was an unknown artist before 2009 studying at Lagos University and depended on public transport to move around until he penned a lucrative record deal with the Empire Mates Entertainment which drove him to his eventual breakthrough in 2009.

Wizkid represents the story of millions of young Nigerians who have big dreams which would be accelerated if Nigeria had an efficient public transport system in place.

Unfortunately for them, public transport in Nigeria today is characterized by traffic congestion, parking problems, accidents, and environmental pollution.

A number of yellow minibuses danfos parked at a bus stop in Nigeria. The danfo is the most common form of transport in Nigeria. {Image Source: Fab Magazine}
A number of yellow minibuses danfos parked at a bus stop in Nigeria. The danfo is the most common form of transport in Nigeria. {Image Source: Fab Magazine}

State of Nigerian Public Transport

Digging through a research report dubbed Challenges of Urban Transportation in Nigeria authored by M.O Solanke, an evidence-backed picture of the public transport sector in Nigeria begins to emerge.

The paper also observes that public transport policy is biased in favour of road transportation leaving other modes of movement in the cold.

Vehicles caught in traffic in Lagos. Transport policy in Nigeria is biased towards road transport. {Image Source: The Guardian}
Vehicles caught in traffic in Lagos. Transport policy in Nigeria is biased towards road transport. {Image Source: The Guardian}

This is demonstrated by the dominance of road transport in the country which accounts for 90% of both passenger and freight transport which defies the nation’s natural advantage of being ideal for short to medium-distance freight haulage.

Only two ports, Port Harcourt and Apapa Port have waterway or rail connections against a total of six seaports in the country.

The report notes that rapid urbanization has put immense pressure on existing facilities and infrastructure.

The issue, therefore, remains how to use available urban space to meet the conflicting and ever-increasing demands for infrastructure and services and the overall development of the city

Report: challenges of urban transport in nigeria

Poor Infrastructure

Another research report titled A Review: Nigeria’s Transportation System and the Place of Entrepreneurs authored by C.N Oyelola, Ajiboshin I.O, and Raheem S, observes that Nigeria’s poor public transport infrastructure contributes majorly to the country’s perennial low rankings in the World Bank Ease of Doing Business report.

One of the poor roads in Lagos, Nigeria. Motorists have complained of bad roads in the State for the last decade. {Image Source: Punch Nigeria
One of the poor roads in Lagos, Nigeria. Motorists have complained of bad roads in the State for the last decade. {Image Source: Punch Nigeria}

In the latest report, Doing Business 2020, Nigeria was ranked position #131 out of a possible 190 countries assessed and compared in the survey.

In the same fashion, the last time the World Economic Forum (WEF) ranked Nigeria in the Global Competitiveness Report (2016-2017), the country ranked position #125 out of the 137 countries that were assessed.

Metrics such as an inadequate supply of infrastructure, access to finance, and insufficient capacity to innovate contributed massively to the low rank.

Socio-Economic Characteristics

A research report titled Public Transportation in Metropolitan Lagos, Nigeria: Analysis of Public Transport Users’ Socioeconomic Characteristics authored by Taofiki Salau gives insight into Nigeria’s socio-economic characteristics.

The report notes;

  • Lagos has a population of over 20 million people.
  • 80% of passenger trips are made via public transport
  • More than 75% of public transport users are in the active working age bracket of 25-65 years. Majority of them are male (60%).
  • Vehicle ownership is low. 52% of all households do not own a vehicle while 26% of the households only own one car
Lagos is home to some 20 million people. The city keeps on growing. {Image Source: BBC}
Lagos is home to some 20 million people. The city keeps on growing. {Image Source: BBC}

While these aggregate statistics confirm the extreme low auto dependence of metropolitan Lagos, they mask important variations by density areas of the city and among socioeconomic groups.

There are important differences in travel behavior by income, age, and gender among others. Auto-ownership, mobility rates, means of transport, trip distance, trip purpose, and time of day of travel vary from one group to another. Such differences can be crucial in designing equitable transport policies at all government levels


Report: Public Transportation in Metropolitan Lagos, Nigeria: Analysis of Public Transport Users’ Socioeconomic Characteristics

Getting Around Nigeria

Although Abuja is the Nigerian Federal Capital, Lagos is still the commercial hub.

Lagos embodies Nigeria as a nation making it the State with the widest range of public transport options which include minibuses, buses, taxis, and ferries.

Minibuses

As captured in the Wizkid example, the most popular mode of public transport in Lagos is the minibus also known as “Yellow Bus” or “Danfo” in the local dialect.

The Danfo performs the same function and targets the same market as the matatu in Kenya or the minibus vans in South Africa.

Danfos are found everywhere in Lagos. They travel to every part of the state including the suburbs that BRT buses and taxis do not cover.

It is easy to identify which direction a Danfo is headed to because the destinations are written on a notification board normally placed on top of the vehicle plus touts are always available, shouting the destinations that their individual minibus is scheduled for.

Fare payments are usually made in cash.

A tout standing on the entrance of a danfo in Nigeria. This is the most used mode of transport in Lagos. {Image Source: Auto Josh}
A tout standing on the entrance of a danfo in Nigeria. This is the most used mode of transport in Lagos. {Image Source: Auto Josh}

Because a huge population relies on Danfos, they tend to be crowded especially during peak hours. The majority of them are also old and rackety.

Danfos have developed a notorious reputation for harbouring pickpockets which breeds insecurity.

While locals have adapted to this and learned how to keep safe, non-locals tend to be easy targets for pickpockets and thieves.

Fare prices are irregular and depend on the state of traffic, distance to be covered, the weather, and the owner of the minibus.

Due to safety concerns, the government has attempted to ban Danfos before but the move faced stiff resistance and Danfos are still sitting pretty as “The Bad Sheriff” of Lagos.

Having absorbed that, how can we use the lemons to make lemonade?

A research report authored by Ojijo Odhiambo and Fatima Umar titled Harnessing Big Data for Sustainable Development in Nigeria published in the Journal of Sustainable Development in 2019 helps us answer this question.

The discussion paper observes that the Nigerian government has over the years crafted development plans in an attempt to reduce poverty levels in the country but more recently, the authorities have underscored the importance of digital-led growth.

The paper notes that Big Data is central to Nigeria’s plans of realizing the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

As far as public transport is concerned, the paper stresses that Big Data could help hack SDG #9 Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure stating that Data from GPS devices can be used for traffic control and to improve public transport.

One of the ways that could be achieved is through guiding passengers on the best times to board a Danfo to avoid getting caught up in heavy traffic in Lagos.

Drivers could also benefit immensely if a system to guide them on the best routes to use in peak hours would be put in place.

Bus Transport

Nigeria boasts of an extensive bus network that connects all cities with long-distance services.

Every city has its own set of public transport buses which provide residents with an affordable way to move around.

However, as mentioned before in this article, traffic congestion is a major problem in Nigeria meaning that passengers have to account for time to be spent on traffic when planning for even the smallest trips.

Bus Rapid Transit

BRT buses replaced the older Molue buses in Lagos, a move that went a long way in helping to ease congestion.

However, because of high demand and limited supply, they tend to be overcrowded during rush hours. Passengers also have to queue to wait for them.

BRTs have their own lanes in several parts of the state which means they are not delayed or caught up in traffic like other modes of transport. They are comfortable and more affordable than other buses. The BRT system is regulated by the Lagos State Government.

BRTs are either red or blue in colour.

BRT buses in Lagos. They are reliable and usually in high demand. {Image Source: Bellanaija}
BRT buses in Lagos. They are reliable and usually in high demand. {Image Source: Bellanaija}

The red ones operate in major roads in Alagbado, Iyana-Ipaja, Ajah, and Ikeja which are predominantly residential areas.

The blue ones are always in better condition compared to the red ones in addition to being air-conditioned.

The blue ones travel from Ikorodu (A suburb in Lagos) to Tafawa Balewa square and CMS (location of the country’s oldest church). The blue BRTs make stops at Fadeyi Stadium and Mile 12.

Now that there is more demand than supply for Nigerian BRT buses, what can be done to maximize the current resources to help as many commuters as possible before further improvements can be made?

A feature article published by The World Bank dubbed: How ICTs Can Help Transport Systems Evolve observes that Big Data can help commuters plan smart journeys by integrating all necessary transport information in an orderly and easy-to-understand fashion on apps in their mobile phones.

This is very applicable in Nigerian bus transport.

“The third issue is focused on the integrated transport information services to be put in place on people’s mobile phones in developing countries, which is called “Mobile All Transit.” This integrated information might be able to provide people with a networked smart journey or trip planner services according to their daily schedule of business and life. It would be able to integrate reservations, payments, information on public transport, and – in some cases – green transport mileage points on their handheld devices,”

FEATURE: HOW ICTs CAN HELP TRANSPORT SYSTEMS EVOLVE

Ferries

Although Nigeria has a wealth of waterways at its disposal, ferries are not commonly used compared to the different modes of road transport. This is the classic case of a resource being underutilized because road traffic could be avoided if commuters chose water transport.

There are normal ferry routes between Victoria Island, Lagos Island, and the mainland.

Ferry in Lagos. Nigeria is currently underusing its waterways. [Image Source: Tarzan Marine}
Ferry in Lagos. Nigeria is currently underusing its waterways. [Image Source: Tarzan Marine}

Lagos residents can catch a boat or ferry from the Five Cowries Terminal which is a jetty souped-up with modern facilities complete with a waterfront bar.

Private boats offer services to passengers on the lagoon and some creeks.

The Lagos State government has for years “explored” the idea of building several jetties as a means to relieve pressure on road transport.

Although Nigeria is yet to fully take advantage of its waterways by laying the necessary infrastructure, Big Data can still be used to some considerable extent as captured by a white paper dubbed: Big Data’s Implications for Transportation Operations to monitor transport systems in real-time and predict impending conditions.

Taxis

Various taxi companies operate in Lagos using the traditional model (non-digital).

Most taxis in Nigeria are yellow, red, or painted in a mix of colours.

Metro Taxi Nigeria cabs parked in a single file. The traditional taxi business is still big in Nigeria despite the entry of digital ride-hailing apps. {Image Source:  Trip Advisor}
Metro Taxi Nigeria cabs parked in a single file. The traditional taxi business is still big in Nigeria despite the entry of digital ride-hailing apps. {Image Source: Trip Advisor}

It is common practice for taxis to be metered in Lagos but it is wise to negotiate the fare before entering or make sure that the meter is working.

Like any other country, commuters hail taxis by beckoning taxi drivers on the street.

The entry of digital taxi apps like Uber helped streamline the taxi sector in Nigeria as prices stabilized.

Okadas

Okadas as they are known in Nigeria are motorbike taxis that are common across Nigeria- in cities and in rural areas. In East Africa (Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda) they are known as boda bodas.

In Nigerian cities, they are preferred for shorter distances and are ideal to beat traffic congestion or where maneuvering is required.

Okadas are supposed to carry one passenger but the riders are serial violators of this regulation and carry two passengers regularly.

Motorcycle riders in Nigeria wait for potential customers at a stand in Lagos. Okada riders are serial traffic regulations violators. {Image Source: Techpoint Africa}
Motorcycle riders in Nigeria wait for potential customers at a stand in Lagos. Okada riders are serial traffic regulations violators. {Image Source: Techpoint Africa}

Kekes

Kekes, as known in the local dialect, are rickshaws that are a very common means of transport in Nigerian cities.

The rickshaw’s nicknames vary in various African countries. In Nigeria, they are kekes while, in Kenya, they are known as tuk tuks.

They provide an alternative means to get around. They also operate in suburban routes that are not covered by other modes of transport.

The Nigerian government has tried to ban kekes and okadas before but that plan backfired as operators protested the move.

A female passenger poses next to a rickshaw in Lagos, Nigeria. They are a common means of transport in Nigeria. They are especially useful in places {Image Source: Kemi Filani}
A female passenger poses next to a rickshaw in Lagos, Nigeria. They are a common means of transport in the West African nation. They are especially useful in places not served by the major modes of transport {Image Source: Kemi Filani}

How can data improve taxi transport in Nigeria?

A research paper titled Using Data and Technology to Integrate Mobility Modes in Low-Income Cities authored by Dana Yanocha and Jacob Mason states that GPS-enabled taxis and ride-source cars provide large tracts of data that cities can use as evidence to manage traffic demand and to determine the pricing.

“GPS data from taxis on trip distances, time, average speed, and spatial distribution have also been used to better understand human mobility and the interoperability between taxis and public transit,”

REPORT: USING DATA AND TECHNOLOGY TO INTERGRATE MOBILITY MODES IN LOW INCOME CITIES

Modernizing Nigeria’s Transport Culture

I do not have to reiterate the fact, some aspects of Nigerian transport are ingrained in the country’s culture.

The Danfo in particular is a mainstay in Lagos.

This brings us to the next thought. Can the different modes of Nigerian transport be optimized to better serve its people particularly in Lagos where most economic activities take place?

Millions of Nigerians carry smartphones everywhere they go creating a large pool of data that goes untapped.

That data can be used to streamline public transport in Lagos and all other states in the country.

As captured by the report authored by Ojijo Odhiambo and Fatima Umar, authorities know that data will be key in transforming public transport in Nigeria.

They just have to walk the talk.

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