Sustaining Nigeria’s Transport Sector Using Technology

An efficient transportation sector facilitates exchanges that result in the improvements of lives and economies globally. Every day, transport stakeholders develop new ways that support the sustainability of this sector. This stems from the knowledge that the movement of humans, goods and services remains a fundamental part of a country’s economy, and extensively, global economic growth.

In the third-quarter economic performance report for 2021 released by the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics (NBS), the growth in the non-oil sector cannot be overlooked, with the transportation sector also making significant leaps in the quarter, making it one of the fastest-growing sectors in Nigeria in Q3 2021.

The modes of transportation that made these impressive contributions to the economy were rail transport and pipeline (59.93 percent), air transport (33.31 percent), road transport (21.11 percent), and water transport (16.30 percent). For a country with over 200 million people, the need for a robust means of transportation cannot be overemphasized.

And this guides the Federal Government’s decision to put initiatives in place to close the gap in the transportation sector through a multi-modal transport system. Although these initiatives are yet to be unveiled, the Lagos State Government has embarked on its own ambitious multi-modal transport system in a bid to upgrade the state to smart city status.

According to the state government, there is fund available to complete the various projects, including the creation of rail lines for intra city trips and other works that will put the proper infrastructure in place for an efficient transport system in the state. To further drive this conversation on the importance of building a sustainable transport system in the metropolis, the Lagos Transport Fest, held on December 13, 2021, drawing stakeholders from both the public and private sector to discuss the way forward in improving Nigeria’s transport system.

The event focused on every aspect of transportation including road, rail, logistics, and ports, noting the importance of a cross-sector partnership to develop the transport sector. In the outline of the event’s agenda, one element made a repeated appearance: technology.

This highlights the fact that technology can bring about changes in the operations of businesses within the rail, maritime, aviation, and road modes of transportation. Technology has continued to prove itself a force to reckon with, evident in the unprecedented changes it has produced across sectors, and the transport sector in Nigeria is not any different.

These perceived and observed changes have led to a steady rise in its utilization, as digitization of processes in various economic quarters has become not just widely accepted but even encouraged. Speaking along these lines was one of the event’s sponsors, Interswitch, Africa’s leading digital payment company, who noted the effect of innovation on the country’s transport sector would increase accessibility to safe payment methods and the attendant ease for commuters.

The need for digitization in the transportation business became notable during the heat of the pandemic, as innovators devised new ways to conduct their businesses without the need for physical contact between individuals. This was especially observed in the logistics sector that saw more companies adopting technological solutions while minimizing physical contact.

In developed countries, other solutions such as robotics, drones, the Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) swiftly became a replacement for humans to reduce human contact and by extension, the spread of the virus.

Transportation and the AfCFTA

It would almost be remiss if there was no mention of Intra-African trade through the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), which is expected to facilitate stronger trading relations between countries on the African continent. With this in view, experts have highlighted the deficits in the transportation sector that could hinder Nigeria – Africa’s current leading economy – from accessing its full potential, relegating it behind other smaller African nations with better systems in place.

However, giving reassurances of the country’s readiness to participate in this monumental intra-continental trade, the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, said, at a 2-day conference, that the Federal Government had taken seriously the business of transportation.

He noted that “The transportation sector is the most critical in implementing trade facilitation, enhancing regional integration is key to every other AfCFTA protocol. Hence, the Nigerian government has embarked on huge transport infrastructure investment across the country to ensure efficiency in the transportation sector.”

He also highlighted the importance of digitization in the sector as one of the major elements that requires a sturdy infrastructure for a successful intra-continental trading. The minister noted that his ministry was dedicated to improving digital services in the transport system through the automation of services.

In the same vein, analysts are projecting a boost in free trade in Africa through digitization. With about 36 countries ratified onto the AfCFTA, it is estimated that over 1 billion consumers on the African continent, with a growing Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of $3.4 trillion will be integrated.

However, the ever-fluctuating, dollar-reliant exchange rate system on the continent remains a challenge to trade within the continent. To address this, the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank), in collaboration with the West African Monetary Institute (WAMI), developed the Pan-African Payment and Settlement System (PAPSS) to facilitate cross-border payment between traders in Africa, which would involve participating central banks.

Interswitch, through some if its brands, has continued to enhance cross border payments – Quickteller, a borderless digital payment solution service and Verve card, a payment card issued in 8 African countries with acceptance in over 22 countries on the continent. These services and products are aiding payment between African traders, removing transaction barriers.

To take full advantage of this untapped market, countries would need to develop better transport infrastructure and systems and fortify payment systems to lessen the stress that comes with it, which will help to properly connect markets across the continent and achieve the overarching goal of a prosperous continent.

Enormous opportunities abound in the transport sector, but to tap into these there is the need for a concerted effort from stakeholders in both the public and private sectors to ensure that consumers have seamless experiences while moving goods, services, people and payments across borders.

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