• 30 April 2021
  • Covid-19

  • by

Covid-19 – Fighting Corona in Transport with Emmanuel John

How Nigeria should support its transport sector during and after Covid-19

We spoke to Emmanuel John, a dedicated road safety and transport expert, about the state of public transport in Nigeria during the coronavirus pandemic, and how Nigeria could focus more on investing in urban sustainable mobility.

When the pandemic reached Nigeria and the country went into lockdown, public transport ceased to a halt. As in most countries, when restrictions began to lift months later, transport measures were announced to guide how people should use public transport and ensure that transport, both via vehicles and mass transit, wouldn’t become a means of spreading the virus.

The Nigerian government mandated public transport to operate at only 50% capacity with no standing passengers, told all residents to wear face masks when using public transport, and expected operators, transport companies, and vehicle owners to sanitize their respective vehicles every morning. Hand sanitizers were to be provided at each terminal entry point. These measures might sound familiar, as virtually every city in the world adopted similar ones. However, the problem in Nigeria has been, and remains, that compliance to these measures has been very limited and there has been little enforcement.

“Only in major cities do we find compliance because of the presence of enforcement officers,” Emmanuel John, road safety and transport expert, told TUMI. “There is a concern that [Covid] cases came through Lagos and other major hubs and spread to other cities. Transport was a contributory factor because certain measures were not taken or adequately complied with.”

According to John, the presidential task force assigned to handle Covid-19 management and provide public information briefings did not include the transport sector as part of the committee. As a likely consequence to not having a seat at the table, government subsidies meant to keep the economy running during the crisis never found their way to the transport industry.

Transport has not historically been a focal point to Nigeria’s national development, even at a city level. Some states don’t even have ministries of transport, but in those that do, funding tends to go towards building more road infrastructure, rather than cycling paths or better mass transit.

Many governments around the world are supporting creative solutions to address the problem of mobility during the crisis, while also establishing more environmentally friendly and cheaper mobility norms, like cycling and walking.

“We must move away from this traditional transport development synonymous with building wide roads at the expense of the public transport system,” said John.

We’ve broken down some of John’s potential solutions to help Nigeria adopt more urban sustainable mobility.

  • Intervention funds that are targeted towards Covid-19 recovery must include public transport enhancement and cycling provisions.
  • Long-term projects, like pop-up cycling lanes, need to be taken on to open up certain areas and routes for safe cycling.
  • In Nigerian cities, the light rail is underutilized because terminals are often located in unpopular locations. Building cycling infrastructure and bus routes to connect the terminals would create greener, more accessible modes of transport.
  • Presently, cities use transport funds to buy vehicles to be used as taxis as a way to empower individuals economically. John argues that that money should be redirected to Bus Rapid Transit system, which will employ the same people the taxi scheme would employ.
  • Current funding schemes for road expansion within cities should be repurposed for the public transport system, which will create jobs, expand the scope of the public transport system, decrease pollution, and most importantly, reduce the traffic congestion that building more roads is meant to solve anyway.
  • Transport knowledge, among the public, transport operators, and policymakers, needs to be upgraded. Transport should be featured prominently in discussions on poverty reduction.

“Economic sustainability cannot be discussed without noting that up to 60% of Nigerians who live in cities spend up to 51% of their income on public transport,” said John. “There’s no discussion of recovery without discussing transport.”

Listen to the full podcast here.