Transportation Systems in Nigeria: Old and Modern Forms

The evolution of transportation systems in Nigeria over the years has been well-documented and remarkable, to say the least. For a country with a large land mass and an even larger population, it goes without saying that transportation is an important part of the country’s infrastructure.

For this reason, it is impossible to tell the story of Nigeria without mentioning the evolution of routes and modes of transport over the years. Traditional forms of transport span land and water routes so the corresponding modes include walking, animal-drawn carts, bicycles for land routes, and canoes for water routes.

Transportation Systems in Nigeria

Old/Traditional Modes of Transportation in Nigeria

To highlight the relevance of these traditional modes of transport to Nigerian history, it is interesting to note that Islam reached Nigeria through the Bornu Empire between (1068 AD) and Hausa States around (1385 AD) during the 11th century through men on horseback while Christianity came to Nigeria in the 15th century through Augustinian and Capuchin monks from Portugal who came through the ports in Ships.

From the 15th century, European slave traders arrived in Nigeria in Ships to purchase enslaved Africans as part of the Atlantic slave trade, which started in the region of modern-day Nigeria; the European slave Merchants used the coast of Badagry as the premier port in Nigeria where local merchants provided them with slaves who were rounded up and transported to the points of sale on foot(trekking/ walking).

Lagos was occupied by British forces who came in Ships from 1851, formally incorporated into the British commonwealth by in 1865, and became a protectorate after the amalgamation of the north and south by Lord Frederick Lugard in 1901.

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British governance extended from 1901 up till the independence movements and struggles which resulted in Nigeria’s 1960 independence

New/Modern Modes of Transportation in Nigeria

During this period of British rule and occupation, roads were built to enable the British to complete the colonisation process and properly govern Nigeria. It was during this period that modern modes of transport began to coexist and gradually phased out the traditional modes of transport.

The primary difference between old and modern forms of transportation systems is the addition of the aerial route (as made possible by the invention of aircraft) and the rail system.

The invention of automobiles ranging from private cars to commercial buses and Trucks to cruise, luxury, and cargo ships are secondary differences.

The main point in all this is that modern systems of transportation are characterized by faster and more efficient infrastructure to keep up with the modernisation of the Nigerian economy as the country pivoted from an agricultural-based economy to an oil-based economy.

Air Transportation

Tracing the origins of air transport in Nigeria further back, the British transported mails in aircraft that routinely landed in The northern states of Maiduguri and Kano en route to Lagos.

Basic landing strips which were the products of an official landing in 1925 and a feasibility survey in 1930, were essential during the second world war as Britain utilized armed forces mobilized from her colonies in fighting the second world war on the North African front.

Flights manned by British pilots were used to transport these military men to and fro while the landing strips facilitated their smooth operations from landing to take-off.

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After independence, Nigerian airways Ltd preceded the privatization of the aviation sector thereby creating options and consequently improving the quality of the air travel experience.

Rail Transport

Rail Transport like aviation was kick-started by the colonial government with the construction of the Kano-Baro railways in the early 1900s. Poor management post-independence lead to present government efforts to privatize the rail transport system.

This is also the plan for ports with strategies in place to allow private companies to take a share of profits from the revenue generated at Nigerian ports in exchange for rejuvenation and renovation of the ports.

Water Transportation

Second to road transport in importance is water transport. The National coat of arms bears the Y sign prominently in the center signifying the confluence at Lokoja.

The two major rivers of Niger and Benue have acted as a navigation tool spanning the majority of the country as they constituted the basis of the establishment of trade routes from the slave trade to the vegetable oil trade down to colonial conquest.

The second world war necessitated the development of automobile-type water vessels ranging from speedboats to luxury and cargo ships.


With respect to automobiles, the successions of Nigerian governments over previous civilian republics and military governments have all prioritized road transport due to its particular relevance to Nigeria’s economy and geography.

When it comes to the road system of transportation in Nigeria, it comprises two components namely the roads and the automobiles.

The history of road development in Nigeria can be traced from the construction of the Oyo-Ibadan road in the early 1900s to the eighty-three percent completed Trans-West African Coastal Highway or TAH 7 which according to Wikipedia, is a transnational highway project to link 12 west African coastal nations from Mauritania in the north-west of the region to the eastward located country of Nigeria, (this is in addition to already existent feeder roads connected to a landlocked country like Mali

According to Wikipedia, the automotive industry (consisting of the production of passenger cars and commercial trucks) dates back to the 1950s while significant development began in the 1970s. In The 1980s, locally manufactured cars had higher costs compared to their imported counterparts and by the 2000s, the Nigerian automobile industry was heavily impacted by the market domination of affordable used foreign cars.

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Collaboration between the government and two major foreign car makers was the single most important factor in deciding the common passenger cars found in Nigeria from the 1970s to the 2000s.

These two major companies included Volkswagen whose imported parts from Germany were assembled at its plant situated along the Lagos-Badagry expressway producing vehicles popular among the Nigerian middle class including the Volkswagen beetle, Audi 100, Golf, Kombi bus, Jetta, and Passat. The other major foreign car maker was Peugeot Citroen.

For commercial trucks, the Nigerian government signed agreements with four foreign manufacturers with one of the agreements berthing Anambra Auto Manufacturing Company (ANAMCO), a partnership between the Nigerian federal government and Daimler Benz for the production of trucks.

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