Nigeria has released new funds to protect the transport sector in the wake of COVID-19 across both the formal and informal transport systems. They are:
- A N10b ($26.m) intervention fund to compensate the formal private sector road transport operators for losses sustained due to the pandemic. A committee has been set up to work out the disbursement modalities.
- A N75b ($195,292,200) survival fund to support the more informal, small scale operators in a range of sectors. This includes providing 333,000 artisans and transport business operators (drivers, mechanics, conductors, vulcanizers, etc.) with N30,000 ($75) monthly (equivalent to the Nigerian minimum wage) for three months to cushion the impact of income losses due to the pandemic. The application process for this started on 21st September 2020 and is ongoing (www.survivalfund.ng).
The Government is also investing in 2,000 high capacity CNG/ LPG buses for major cities as part of a comprehensive low carbon fuel policy.
These measures may have been propelled by a report into the consequences of COVID-19 on the transportation system in Nigerian cities which called for investment in urban mobility. The report published by Ochenuel Mobility, an Abuja based transport advocacy organisation also noted that there is currently very little planning for sustainable transport initiatives as part of the pandemic response and the post pandemic development agenda.
Emmanuel John, author of the report said: ‘These new interventions geared toward saving transport businesses and cushioning the impact on the operators are commendable. However, there remains a need to pay more attention to the accelerated development of sustainable urban mobility systems to not only bridge the gaps noted in the report but enable green recovery and enable affordable, safer, more resilient, environmentally friendly urban mobility systems post pandemic.’
By 7th October 2020, there were 59,841 cases affecting every important city of Nigeria and 1,113 deaths. The impact of COVID-19 in Nigeria may have been less pronounced if there had been more timely transportation measures that were adequately followed – and, perhaps, if the transportation systems were different.
Inter-city transport restrictions limited access for farms and villages to get supplies to markets and stores and there were no commercial transport services for essential workers during the lockdown. This may have impacted service quality and contributed to a rise in the cost of food, drugs and other essential products and services, as well as drastic increases in transportation fares. The resultant hunger, depression and other mental health problems arising from the lockdown complexities is believed by some experts to have been of greater negative impact on citizens than the pandemic itself.
COVID-19 measures for public transport services currently require operators to run at 50% capacity, check passenger’s temperatures before boarding and ensure all passengers wear a face mask. Hand washing facilities or alcohol-based hand sanitizers should be provided at terminals and stops and used before boarding by all commuters. Vehicles must be sanitized after every trip and the terminals and stops must be deep cleaned daily.
However, there is substantial non-compliance to these measures chiefly because the current transportation systems are not designed to respond to situations such as COVID-19 efficiently and to allow for adequate enforcement of measures. The few exceptions include Lagos, with its established BRT service, and Abuja, with the recently opened metro, though this is currently underutilised.
The Ochenuel Mobility report expands on these COVID-related issues as part of a thorough examination of transport systems and services in Nigerian cities. It includes a review of previous efforts to transform the public transport system and how they performed and climate change mitigation. It provided 26 recommendations for national government and/or city level activation.
The report has been presented to the Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, Chairman of the COVID-19 Presidential Committee on Economic Sustainability Plan (ESP), and the Ministry of Transportation and the Ministry of the Federal Capital Territory Abuja, amongst other government agencies. It now forms a working document on the transport implications at these governmental levels.
The High Volume Transport (HVT) Applied Research programme welcomed the new initiatives in Nigeria. The programme, funded by the UK’s FCDO, aims to make transport greener, more accessible, more inclusive and safer in Low-Income Countries (LICs). It recently issued an Action Agenda which identified a lack of attention to the specific challenges relating to COVID-19 and transport in LICs. This Action Agenda concluded that there is a need for dedicated knowledge and guidance to tackle the local challenges – from hygienic measures over food supply to the governmental recovery programs and with that, the current opportunity to shape a transition towards sustainable mobility.
Holger Dalkmann, Senior Adviser to the HVT Programme said: ‘The report in Nigeria provides an example on how to fill knowledge gap and provide the government with the evidence with which to act. A clear lesson learnt from the past half year in LICs, is that the lack of involvement of experts in the decision-making process on transportation over the years have created gaps, evident in the COVID-19 responses and perhaps the post pandemic recovery agenda.’