Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Progress in the midst of stasis

I've been studying Nigeria for fifty years. It was that long ago that I met Joaquim Nwabuzor and began being fascinated by the country. Joe and I lost touch with each other after he returned to Nigeria, but he's now Dean of the Faculty of Art and Education at Benson Idahosa University, Benin City. (The wonderful things you learn by searching the Internet.)

Over the years I've marveled and despaired over the state of affairs in Nigeria. Every time there's something like the apparently honest election in 1993, there's something like the awful dictatorship of Sani Abacha.

Here's a hopeful story.

A slow but steady new chug
Train to Kano
[A]fter a ten-year absence this revamped [railroad] link between Nigeria’s two biggest cities is a welcome relief. Travelling the 1,126km (700 miles) at an average speed of less than 50km an hour with endless stops, it is no wonder the trip takes so long. But for most Nigerians the low fares are worth it. A second-class ticket from Lagos to Kano costs around $12, roughly a quarter of the price of a more treacherous bus ride…

The service was relaunched last month after improvements costing $166m. Nigeria’s railways, started in 1898, have deteriorated in the past 20 years owing to those old engines of decay, corruption and mismanagement. Nigerians’ domestic travel options are limited. Most cannot afford to go by air, so take to the roads. Overfilled lorries, usually packed with dozens of passengers sitting on cargo, precariously negotiate crater-sized potholes…

As well as being dangerous, Nigeria’s woeful transport network slows the economy. A rejuvenated rail network could unplug one of the biggest business bottlenecks. In the short run, freight trains are the priority…

The success of the Lagos-Kano route, however slow, indicates the demand for a modern rail network. There are plans to invest in rehabilitating lines along the eastern corridor between Port Harcourt in the south and Maiduguri in the north-east. There is even talk of monorails in a couple of cities. As people scramble on board the new train, it is clear that the Nigerian Railway Corporation will be puffing hard to keep up with demand.

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