Cablegate: Nigeria's Road Network Is Crumbling and Dangerous

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E.O. 12958: N/A

1. Summary. Road travel in Nigeria is challenging for private
citizens and commercial drivers. In 2004, at least 34,000 persons
were killed on Nigeria's roads. The cost of failing to improve road
safety is about 2% to 3% of GDP annually. Many drivers are not
licensed and many vehicles are poorly maintained. Nigeria's poor
road network imposes a major cost on Nigeria's citizens and
businesses in terms of high accident rates, as well as
inefficiencies and higher shipping costs for raw materials and
finished products. This drives up prices for businesses and
consumers while hampering employment and industrial production. End

2. Road travel in Nigeria is challenging for private citizens as
well as commercial drivers. The State Department's travel warning
for Nigeria cautions, "Road travel is dangerous. Robberies by armed
gangs have been reported on rural roads and within major cities.
Travelers should avoid driving at night. Because of poor vehicle
maintenance and driving conditions, public transportation throughout
Nigeria can be dangerous and should be avoided." Embassy Abuja's
policy for road travel within its area of responsibility in Nigeria
requires all official vehicles and travelers to be within a city's
limits by dusk. Night travel by road outside of cities generally is

3. Nigeria, whose land area is slightly double that of California,
has roughly 195,000 km (121,250 miles) of roads - more than
two-thirds of which remained unpaved in 1999. California's public
road network in 2004, in contrast, consisted of nearly 170,000 miles
worth of roads.
Statistics for road accidents in Nigeria are incomplete, but the
state of road travel is not good. A January 2006 Lagos newspaper
editorial termed the country's road network "deplorable." The piece
charged even federal highways were "virtual death traps" and
asserted that some Nigerian road networks' "abject condition"
existed only otherwise in "war-ravaged countries." Another Lagos
newspaper editorial noted the same month, "Nigerian roads are raging
and sloshing with blood - human blood." The editorial criticized
the Government of Nigeria for its lack of funding for roads,
corruption in awarding road contracts, and the poor construction
work certified by "crooked public officials."

4. The Federal Road Safety Commission reported that 14,271 road
accidents occurred in Nigeria in 2004 in which 16,857 persons were
injured and 5,524 were killed. Burned-out vehicles at the roadside
are common across Nigeria, and these figures are implausibly low for
the country's estimated population of 132 million. More
realistically, Nigeria's Minister of Works said in January 2004 the
country's bad roads cost it 85 lives lost daily, or 31,025 annually.
Prompt Assistance to Victims of Road Accidents (PATVORA), a Nigerian
nonprofit agency, cited the Standards Organization of Nigeria's
director general as reporting 34,000 persons died on Nigeria's roads
in 2004. To compare, a preliminary U.S. Department of
Transportation report concluded that 43,200 persons died on U.S.
highways in 2005 and 2.68 million were injured, in a country of
about 300 million inhabitants and with far more automobiles. Under
reporting of accidents likely is common due to Nigerians' distrust
of officialdom, and citizens' common belief that their government,
at whatever level, likely will not act on their complaints or

5. Nigeria's Minister of works said in January 2004 the country's
bad roads cost it about 135 billion naira ($1.055 billion) annually.
PATVORA estimated the yearly cost to Nigerian society of failing to
improve road safety at about 2% to 3% of the country's gross
domestic product and reported that traffic accidents' annual cost to
Nigeria exceeded the development aid the country received each year.
The economic impact of road injuries is severe, because the
economically active are the most vulnerable to such injuries and
many accident victims are primary breadwinners. PATVORA, citing a
2003 Central Bank of Nigeria study, noted that more than 8% of
hospital patients in Nigeria were road-crash victims. Although
Nigeria has for its population a relatively small number of
privately owned vehicles, this means crashes often involve
overloaded buses and passenger vans with high casualty counts.

6. PATVORA concluded the human error was responsible for 58% of
accidents; environmental factors, 22%; mechanical reasons, 15%; and
"other," 5%. More than 60% of Nigerian drivers did not take any
type of practical driving test before obtaining a license and 90% of
motorcyclists did not take a formal test. Nigerian vehicles often
do not have working headlights and/or tail lights, and drivers
commonly do not use their headlights in the mistaken belief this
will prolong a car's life. Urban passengers rely heavily on okadas
(motorcycles taxis) for cheap transportation, but okada drivers and
passengers rarely wear safety helmets. PATVORA reported in 2005
that the majority of road journeys in the country were made in
"dilapidated vehicles."

7. Other Nigerian road dangers PATVORA observed were an absence of
road signs, poor night visibility and bad weather, especially during

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the rainy season and the dusty harmattan dry season. Many major
roads in Nigeria are unlit, making after-dark travel more dangerous
because of traffic accidents and armed robbers. Nigeria has "poor
facilities" for road-safety control measures, a "non-existent"
emergency trauma care system, an underfunded national road-safety
agency, low rate of insurance coverage, and limited road-safety

8. The consequences of a poor road network are magnified because
Nigerians' other transport options are limited. Nigeria has six
major airports, but air travel has own safety problems and only a
tiny portion of Nigerians can affird air travel. The country has
about 3,500 km (about 2,190 miles) of railroads, almost all of which
has limited narrow gauge carrying capacity, but there is virtually
passenger rail service. Cargo service is very limited again pushing
most overland shipping onto the road networks.


9. Nigeria's poor road network imposes a major cost on Nigeria's
citizens and businesses in terms of high accident rates, as well as
inefficiencies and higher shipping costs for raw materials and
finished products. The lack of access to markets and supplies
drives up prices for businesses and consumers while hampering
employment and industrial production. A lack of law and order on
roadways, and extortion by policemen demanding bribes for vehicles'
passage, also increase the cost of doing business in Nigeria. As
poor farmers move to the city and redundant industrial workers
migrate to other cities in search of jobs, this increases Nigeria's
need for the economic benefits an improved road network could

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