Future of Rural Road Infrastructure: Building Resilient Road Systems in Nigeria

Devdiscourse News DeskDevdiscourse News Desk | Updated: 03-06-2024 16:45 IST | Created: 03-06-2024 16:45 IST
Future of Rural Road Infrastructure: Building Resilient Road Systems in Nigeria
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  • Nigeria

In a recent study, researchers Umar Faruk Saleh and Zubairu Abubakar Ghani from Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University shed light on the significant challenges facing rural road transportation development in Nigeria. Despite various government efforts, rural road networks remain inadequate and inefficient, hindering socio-economic growth in these areas.

Physically, Nigeria's diverse and often harsh terrain is a major barrier. The country is marked by unavoidable hills, rivers, thick forests, and areas prone to gully erosion and flooding. These natural phenomena make road construction and maintenance extremely challenging. Most rural roads are unpaved, filled with potholes, and eroded, which worsens during the rainy season. The rugged landscapes in regions like Plateau, Nasarawa, and Bauchi states add to the difficulty. Moreover, the uniform construction methods used across different terrains result in quick road deterioration. The roads, often just graded with a layer of poor-quality laterite, become slippery and erosion-prone during rains, and dusty and sand-covered in dry areas, posing health and safety risks to rural dwellers and travelers.

Challenges in Dispersed Rural Settlements

The dispersed nature of rural settlements, with long distances between them and relatively low traffic volumes, further complicates connectivity. This scattered settlement pattern makes it hard to justify the investment needed for extensive road networks. Additionally, many rural areas lack bridges or culverts over streams and rivers, rendering roads impassable during rainy seasons.

Socio-economic factors also play a crucial role in these challenges. One significant issue is the inadequate mechanism for collecting and analyzing data to determine the transportation needs of rural communities. Reliable data on trips for farm operations, market activities, and other domestic needs is lacking, making it difficult to predict and plan for transport demand and supply accurately. This gap in understanding leads to poorly planned road networks that fail to provide the necessary connectivity for effective transportation.

Hurdles in Rural Road Maintenance

Poor maintenance culture is another major hurdle. Local governments, responsible for rural road maintenance, often lack the necessary funding and expertise. As a result, many rural roads fall into disrepair, making travel difficult and costly. For instance, despite short distances, travel time between rural settlements can be excessively long due to the poor road conditions. The study highlighted examples where journeys that should take minutes stretch into hours, significantly impacting the daily lives and economic activities of rural residents.

Furthermore, contracts for road construction are frequently awarded to non-professional and ill-equipped companies. This practice results in sub-standard roads that deteriorate quickly. Financial constraints and widespread poverty in rural areas further limit the ability of local communities to contribute to road construction and maintenance projects, compounding the problem.

Complacency and Reduced Community Involvement

Politically, the responsibility for rural road construction and maintenance often falls solely on local governments. This has led to complacency among rural communities, which expect local authorities to handle everything. Unlike during the colonial era, when community labor was mobilized for such projects, there was now less community involvement. Local governments, meanwhile, struggle with insufficient funding and a lack of professional or technical manpower to effectively carry out their duties. Poor policy frameworks and inconsistency in implementing rural road projects also hamper progress. Projects are frequently abandoned or poorly coordinated, leading to inefficiencies and stagnation.

Promoting Sustainable Road Maintenance Practices

To address these issues, the researchers recommend several measures. First, planning and construction should consider local ecological and topographical conditions. Priority should be given to identifying and improving critical roads in rural areas. An effective maintenance culture needs to be developed, with local communities actively involved in road upkeep. Public participation through community development efforts should be encouraged, particularly in maintaining culverts and side drains.

Contracts for road construction should be awarded to competent contractors who use standard materials and functional equipment. Prompt and appropriate payment to contractors is essential to ensure high-quality work. Increasing financial allocations for rural road projects and ensuring timely disbursement of these funds can also help address the financial constraints.

Furthermore, collaboration between federal, state, and local governments, communities, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) is crucial. A positive approach to road construction standards, with regular assessments and adjustments, is necessary to ensure the roads meet the required standards and remain functional. Consistency in implementing road projects is vital. Governments should avoid the frequent policy changes that lead to the suspension or abandonment of ongoing projects.

Need for Balanced Development Policies

Since 1960, there has been some improvement in rural road construction and maintenance in Nigeria. However, when compared to urban areas, it is clear that government development policies have favored cities over rural communities. The researchers emphasize that improving rural road systems should be a priority in transport policy. This would help boost agricultural production, promote rural industries, and improve transport links between rural and urban areas, fostering socio-economic development across the country.

Addressing the constraints to rural road transport development in Nigeria requires a multi-faceted approach involving better planning, increased funding, community involvement, and consistent policy implementation. By tackling these challenges, Nigeria can enhance the quality of life in its rural areas and drive sustainable development.

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