More Motor Transport Wanted.
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By "Home from Nigeria."
In making the statement, that in Nigeria there lies a vast field waiting for the extension of meehanical transport, I do so as an ordinary business man, and not as an expert on motor matters. Figures may be obtained from the Government blue books, from time to time, showing the valuable trade which now exists between this country and Nigeria, and that trade has now got to a stage where it is being held back for want of inland transport. A new era has dawned upon Nigeria : a few years ago, any white man setting out for that country was looked upon as almost certainly going to his grave. Now, thanks to the excellent work done by the medical profession, especially with regard to sanitation amongst the natives, and to the advance in civilization generally, the white man can live there with little if any more risks than he takes in Ceylon and India. Labour is usually abundant and cheap. En such a vast country, it is quite impossible to know the conditions existing everywhere, but from my own experience I should say that the prospects for a motor-transport company in the colony are illimitable, and that the competition is nil. Horses do not exist as beasts of burden, owing to the presence of the tsetse fly, and the native carrier may be dismissed as too slow and unreliable.
The most-important question in connection with the introduction of motor transport is, of course, the condition of the roads. As far as out-country work is concerned, there are already many hundreds of miles of well-metalled and rolled roads, and the Government is increasing the mileage rapidly ; but, one need not be tied to those roads already made. There are certain trade routes which have been in existence for centuries, and which would need very little adaptation for motor use, and in those cases the small amount of work required could be undertaken after application to the District Commissioner. who is always anxious to assist a forward movement, and who might do so, by allowing the use of convict labour where available. With the exception of the mining district in Northern Nigeria, there are practically no serious hills to consider, and in the neighbourhood of the coast and port, where perhaps most of the work would be done, it is absolutely flat.
As to the class of work to be done, it is naturally varied. Take, for instance, such a town as Lagos for a centre. Here is really a large population, not only in the town itself, but in the near neighbourhood, and in addition there is an enormous itinerant. class always coming and going, Lagos being the goal cf practically all the traders. For public service, passengers and freight, Lagos would undoubtedly find work for a considerable number of large cars, and here I may say that the native is quite prepared to take advantage of any means of carriage rather than to walk.
There are sufficient resident Europeans in Lagos to employ a few taxicabs to advantage, and also there is always a large number of visiting Europeans, some going up country and making their final arrangements and purchases, and some on their way home. For these, at present, the rickshaw is the only alternative to walking, and one knows how little comfort there is in either.
Again, there is the contract work which might be obtained in such a centre. Each of the large European trading firms may be said to have at least three establishments in the town, and some have more. There is the head office, where the European is generally catered for, there is the native shop in the native quarter, of which some firms have more than one, and there is the produce warehouse, where oil, kernels, hides and other produce are brought from the native trader and stored. It will be readily understood that between these various establishments there is considerable merchandise to be moved.
While I was in Lagos, the first two motor lorries arrived and were soon busy for their respective owners, running backwards and forwards between. their shops, warehouses and offices, and the opinion was expressed by the buyers that they did not know how they got on before without them. For various reasons, some firms will not wish tu run their own lorries, but, if they could contract with a reliable source, they would eagerly take advantage of what a motor lorry could do for them. From the foregoing, it must not be concluded that motor vehicles are a novelty in Lagos. On the contrary, one is rather surprised at the number of pleasure cars there, several of whkh are owned by natives, while commercial vehicles may be said to have been neglected—except by the Governor. Up country, the transport to be dealt. with is mixed ; in most cases, it would consist in a crosscountry service from a town to the railway. In such cases accommodation for passengers is almost unnecessary, but an ordinary lorry would meet the requirements, the native passengers being quite content to find a resting place on the top of the goods. There are so many oppoitunities for such services, that to quote any particular one is unnecessary. In the mining district of Northern Nigeria, there is so much to be done that one does not know where to start. At various stations on the Bauchi Light Railway, for instance, goods of all kinds, heavy mining machinery, building materials, provisions, etc., have accumulated to an enormous extent, it being impossible to obtain sufficient carriers to meet the new requirements. So badly are provisions wanted, that in many instances the staffs of the mines have had to leave them and to go into the nearest town where they could get supplies to live upon. In such circumstances as these, a few good motor lorries would be welcome and assured of sufficient work. Supplies will always be wanted, and regular services in the different neighbourhoods would be an immense boon to an enormous tract of country which is being rapidly opened up and developed. To the possibilities on land may be added those by water as far as Lagos is concerned. Lagos is situated on a lagoon, which gives access by water to towns sonic hundred miles away, and forms a high road for produce coming yet many miles beyond that. In a westerly direction, it is possible to run through into French territory, and there is an existing large traffic in this direction, which is increasing, whilst to the east it is possible to travel by water through to the Benin district. In this direction, there are several large markets which serve Lagos with produce for export, and a constant stream of goods and passengers, all of which have at present to be dealt with by canoe, passes up and down the lagoon between them and Lagos. I had the opportunity of discussing the possibilities of a quick service by water to and from Lagos with seine of the leading native traders and chiefs, and they were all of opinion that there would be enough support for a daily service into Lagos. The Government, at present, run a mail service once a week in each direction, but the launches are quite small, and are intended for the conVeyance of mails only, although they always carry as many passengers as they can hold. In conclusion, I would say that the extra cost of freight on tires, petrol, spares and so on. should be more than ccunter-balanced by the very cheap rates of labour in force.