Transportation in Eastern Nigeria

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18 September 1963
Nigerian drivers are miserable. On our trip down here we had what is considered a good driver. He would have been good were there no other people or cars on the road. But the paved roads are only one lane wide, and an oncoming driver is reluctant to put his two wheels off the pavement. They drive right thru thick people traffic with their horns blasting and many of the people, chickens, and goats just get out of the way in time.

In fact, many don’t, and the traffic fatality problem is huge and growing fast. On all roads I would say our driver drove a constant 20 miles/hour faster than I would have done. On straight roads we ran 50-60 mph. The Eastern region has the best roads in the country because the people are thicker and more evenly spread. Arochuku will have a paved road by Xmas if all goes well. It is now about 15 miles from here where the paving ends, but the rest is graded and very muddy. There are two other roads to here, both impassible in the rainy season. Mr. Ikoku and the football team went to Aba today and may not be able to return as it rained for about three hours and made the roads and paths all mud.

26 Feb 1964
Shell wanted to drill a new well near Ahoada, but the bridge wouldn‘t hold their heavy trucks so they worked all night and built a new bridge—one of those portable ’Bailey bridges’ which just require slipping in pins to tie sections together. Pretty nice of them. It opened on Saturday, about half and hour after I got to the bridge. Sunday I returned by way of Owerri, to see some new country end learn that it is a shorter way.

[Of all the many weekend trips to visit other PCVs, this is one of the most memorable.] Yenagoa is the most isolated province in the Eastern region. It has one "road" now under construction, of 17 miles length. This province is located in the delta of the river Niger—soil much less manageable than the Mississippi delta, according to a Louisiana pipe-line engineer. I crossed the ferry at Mbiama at 1:30 and got 8 miles down this road before I could go no further on my Honda. [The clay stuck to the tires and jammed between tire and fenders.]

Abandoning the motorcycle by the side of the road, I decided to trek the remaining 10 miles, as a Nigerian trader was passing, and said he could reach the town by dark. About two miles down the road a rain started, and we ducked into a village for an hour. By then the road was like glue, and it was easier to walk in bare feet than sandals [which were sucked off my feet]. After eight miles of trekking, and trekking, and...my feet were too tired to walk much farther, so I borrowed a bike and half pushed, half rode into the college there. It was 6:45 when I arrived. [My hosts said they had heard I was coming. Amazing to me!]

23 May 1964
Over the holiday I worked on Peace Corps cars and tried to get some visas in Lagos. Lagos is really a city, with rich and mediocre suburbs, a good bus system, and a changing central city. Transport to and from there, is, thru the Western region, is bad, not so much because of the roads, which are few, but sufficient, but because of the lack of organization of the taxi drivers. For instance, Onitsha is the main trading city of the Eastern Region. The taxis for Lagos leave from there. Before they get out of the city they have to cross a long, expensive, and corrupt ferry. They could better work it like Calabar, which has another motor park across the water, and passengers go across the ferry, then look for a taxi.

Motor parks in the east may look like a mess, but they are the epitome of organization. The drivers going to a particular city wait their turn and each one car is filled up and leaves before passengers enter another car. That way the customers get a good deal. The rates are fixed by a drivers’ union, and the rates are very low. Lorries and buses follow the same procedure, and in the same_motor park, so you can pick the service you need.

In Lagos, there is no motor park organization. When I wanted to return, there were four buses for Onitsha filling simultaneously, with no guarantee that any would leave that day. There were two taxis filling, and the price was high and strictly between you and the driver or his agent. There are also private cars, not insured to carry passengers for hire, filling just outside the gate, and no union to drive them away. The union insures that no car is overfilled.

Most of the transport in the Western Region is by truck or crowded bus. The roads are not so good and the people not so mobile that they have Peugeot 404 taxis, as we do in the East. Anyway, most of the owners and drivers in the west are lgbos flrom the East.

October 1964
Some of our roads are gone. The one which has been under 18“ of water for a month now has a twelve foot gash in it where a culvert washed out. The rains have been subsiding and the flood is gone, but the river is rising again; I don't think it will come very high, but it only has about an inch to go before it covers the road again in places. The natives have put palm logs across the washout and it is possible to use it with the motorcycle. Another road has slumped down the hill, and it will be a while before any motor traffic can use that way. We still have the tarred road.

14 November 1964
It is a five hour drive to Onitsha [from Arochuku]. If I stay there on Monday nite, it is only 275 miles by fairly good road to Lagos. It will take eight hours, [it took 13] which is too long. So I will take a leisurely trip, stopping to see all my old training friends, and stay somewhere along the way. That means I will have to get my visas in two days, or two-and-a-half, return Sunday and Monday, perhaps staying in Onitsha again to settle plans more. Life isn't long enough to do all one would like. Pity.

16 May 1965
I embarked on a four-day delivery trip of sea freight and books to volunteers over half the region. For four days l bounced on the hard wooden bench which serves as a seat in the trucks around here. We worked 12 hours a day and I had a hard time stopping the driver after dark. Supposedly this next week I will go to Cameroon to check out those Jeeps. While there I get $12 per diem! I won't know the details until tomorrow when I go into the office. Then l have to get a visa and my International driving license renewed. No telling how long that will take.

See also: Jeeps in Eastern Region Peace Corps

Jim Ludden

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