Sustainable Transportation: Addressing Transport Challenges in Nigeria

In addressing infrastructural deficit, one of the challenges developing countries face is how to tackle major transportation problems of pollution, congestion, accidents, low quality public transport, bad road networks, and increase of personal vehicles on roads. Nigeria, a country of over 180 million inhabitants and an annual population growth rate of 2.6% (World Bank 2015), also faces these transportation challenges, especially as it works towards building sustainable infrastructure for sustainable development.

Lagos, Nigeria’s most populated but smallest state (land surface area) is home to over 50% of Nigeria’s transport problems; a population of over 18million people and 7 million passengers per day, who get the limited roads congested and the air polluted from transport activities. It is also the economic hub of Nigeria yet, suffers from limited transportation facilities and produces half of the country’s Green House Gas emissions.  If Nigeria is ever going to build infrastructures that would set the country up for sustainable development, there has to be an integration of sustainable transportation system into its infrastructural strategy.

Sustainable Transportation (also called Sustainable Mobility or Green Transport) is any means/mode of transport that does not impact negatively on the society or the environment but enhances economic growth, promotes trade opportunities, and improves access to basic facilities. The United Nations defines it as a transport means that better integrates the economy while respecting the environment. For a transport system to be reckoned with as sustainable, it must be economically, morally, socially, and environmentally friendly.


For Nigeria, the need for a sustainable transportation system is pivotal at this point because of the numerous challenges arising from the present transportation systems which are not in any way respectful of economic, social, and environmental concerns.

Threats of Climate Change: Although, Nigeria is not one of the highest emitters of dangerous gases, experts postulate that climate change combating efforts have to be from every country for the dangers of climate change to be averted. Moreover, already threatening droughts, flooding, and alteration of weather patterns which have increased heat and reduced rain and agricultural yields in the country are warning signals of the dangers of climate change. The effects of climate change are worldwide, irrespective of individual nations’ contributions; all countries must join the fight to avert the danger.

Transportation accounts for 45 to 50% of total emissions of nitrogen oxides, 40 to 50% of Hydrocarbons and volatile organic compounds (HC & VOC), 25% of particulates, 30% of total carbon dioxide emissions, around 5% of total sulphur-dioxide emissions, and about 20% of all CFCs emissions (The Geography of Transport Systems). These gases have been proven to be threatening to the earth’s climate.

Currently, the most prevalent mode of transportation in Nigeria is by road transportation-passenger buses, trucks, and taxi cars, which are high emitters of dangerous gases. In Lagos alone, two of the highest sources of dangerous gas emissions are from road transport and industries. Statistics indicate that if emissions of these harmful gaseous substances are to be reduced, the number of vehicles that ply the roads must be reduced even as public transport system is strengthened alongside. In highly populated countries, rail transportation which is a more environmental and climate friendly transport system serve as the most efficient and the backbone of public transportation whereas in Nigeria; the seventh (7) most populated country, road transportation, with huge emissions remains the main means of transportation. If Nigeria is going to join the fight against climate change and its impacts, there is an urgent need to clamp down on every source of Greenhouse Gas emissions and evolve to a more sustainable (cleaner) means of transportation.

Health Implications: As sustainable transport system does not endanger the environment, it also does not endanger public health. World Health Organisation (WHO 2012) estimate that around seven million people die annually as a result of air pollution. According to Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), lower respiratory infections, mostly from air pollution, are the second highest causes of deaths in Nigeria. Air pollution exposes humans to silent killer diseases such as stroke, lung cancer, asthma, chronic and acute respiratory diseases, to mention a few. Unfortunately, 94% of Nigeria’s population is exposed to air pollution (WHO – Little Green Data Book 2015), which comes from industrial and vehicular sources. In urban areas, vehicle emissions spread the highest pool of this pollution.

Accidents and Deaths: A transportation system loses every form of sustainability the moment it takes the lives of the people it should commute.  Due to the heavy concentration of movement on road transport in Africa and in Nigeria as compared to other transport means, the current transport system remains unsustainable. WHO reports that over 1million people die annually from road accidents with Africa having the highest fatality rates. The result of a survey carried out by NOI Polls on the leading causes of deaths in Nigeria records accident to be the third leading cause of deaths (16%).  Accidents in the country are caused mostly by bad road conditions and poor transport systems.

Although the 2016 budget recognizes the importance of road projects by incorporating over forty (40) road and bridge projects across geo-political zones, there is need to give same attention to all modes of transportation (vehicles, trains, ship, boats, aircrafts). It is not sufficient for good roads or rail systems to be built but, it is important to also put in place means and strategies to ensure that movements are with little or no danger on the environment, the people, and the economy.

Resource Conservation: A sustainable transport system makes use of more efficient alternative fuel systems in order to conserve energy.  Trains, Ship, Electric cars, solar cars, are more resource efficient sources of transport than fuel-powered or diesel-powered cars. Furthermore, walking, cycling, and sailing are more sustainable means of transportation, especially in urban areas. These efficient means of transportation are however still lacking in Nigeria which makes the need for sustainable transport expedient to the country. Besides, as fuel prices keep plunging and Nigeria’s economy is on the verge of recession, the country must join the league of countries working towards smart transportation. Experts say that an efficient transport sector is capable of propelling Nigeria’s GDP (APTCON).

Productivity: One other reason Nigeria must embrace a sustainable transport system is the need for more economic productivity. Heavy dependence on road transport in the country is the cause of congestions and traffic hold-ups that lead to the loss of productive man-hours. A typical 20-minutes commute in Lagos could take up to 4-hours in traffic, which leads to lateness or affects performance and impedes productivity. The more cars and restrictions on the road, the more traffic is caused, the more man-power is lost, and the more the risk of losing goods and services.


Total Paradigm Shift:  This is the first step to achieving any form of development and particularly transport sustainability. Nigerians must first accept the dangers and inefficiency of the present transportation system before any progress can be made. This can be achieved through an analysis of the direct and indirect/cost-benefit effects of current living style on transportation decisions. An effective model to this paradigm shift is the principle of transportation prioritization. The principle of transportation prioritization is such that trips with higher values have lower cost while trips with lower values have higher cost. By this, people are discouraged from embarking on ‘unnecessary’ trips.

Furthermore, smart transportation choices should be embraced above inefficient choices; walking, cycling, and sailing are better choices than driving, especially for short distances. As these choices are better for the health, they are also more sustainable transport means. Federal, State, and Local Governments need to give more attention to sustainable transport options in their various infrastructural plans. The creation of special cycling and pedestrian walking routes would also encourage more efficient means of transport, especially in new infrastructural designs. The cost of not having a sustainable transport system is higher than the cost of putting it in place.

In addition, there should be a strict enforcement of the 2011 Federal Government’s National Environmental (Control of vehicular emissions from petrol and diesel engines) Regulations, which bans the importation of non-fuel efficient vehicles and ones without approved emissions reduction technology. More importantly, the nation should give more attention to the development and access to more sustainable means of public transport such as trains; which transport a larger number of commuters and reduces road congestions and water transport; which encourages more international trade that can improve the country’s economy. An investments in smart electric and solar cars is another potential sustainable means of transportation for Nigeria as is done in developed worlds.

Nevertheless, some progress has been made so far in developing the transportation sector in Nigeria. The new face of Lagos (Oshodi Transport Interchange) project to improve intra and inter-state transport, the Calabar rail project, 4th Mainland Bridge, Airport expansion in Jos, 2nd Niger Bridge, and the five rail line projects and several aviation projects that the 2016 budget makes provision for.  Yet, ensuring that all transportation projects are sustainable is the key to overall success.

Community and Grassroots Actions: Attaining sustainable transport is the responsibility of every level of government. Notwithstanding a country’s national actions, the place of community and grassroots involvement cannot be side-lined. Every level of government and community leadership should take responsibility to ensure that every means of transportation in their immediate community is economically friendly, socially acceptable and environmentally safe.

Research: As transportation investment cannot be solely carried out by the public sector, research is needed to justify and increase the interest of the private sector in investing in sustainable transport systems. There is a need to know the practical approaches to developing national and local level sustainable transport infrastructure plans, models of private sector investment that work, reconciling the availability of private sector finance and worthwhile sustainable transport infrastructure projects, thus, setting out an approach for enhanced project preparation facilities.

Numerous developed and developing countries have embraced and are still embracing sustainable transport.  Major recent laudable inventions towards it include the “straddling bus”, “electric cars,” “electric trains” and “self-driving cars.

In conclusion, if Nigeria, as a global village is to attain Sustainability in 2030, sustainability must be incorporated into every sector of its affairs; in infrastructure and specifically in its transportation system.

Editor’s Note: This is the concluding part of the Sustainable Infrastructure series.


Ministry of Budget and National Planning: Overview of the 2016 Budget and the Strategic Implementation Plan for 2016 Budget of Change:

NOI Polls (2015), Nigeria identified sickness, poverty, and motor accidents as leading causes of death: Voices Vol. 22, No 1, March 2015:

Website of Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

Website of the World Health Organization (Nigeria):

WHO (2015), Little Green Data Book 2015: WHO


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