Abstract: Examination of the Impact of the Second World War on the Nigerian Railway, 1939-1955

Tokunbo Ayoola


The Nigerian Railway system on the eve of the Second World War comprised more than 2,500 kilometers of single-track railroads, and was one of the longest in Africa. The main railroad networks were first constructed by the British imperial government and the Nigerian colonial government between 1898 and 1930. The network was essentially constructed to facilitate economic exploitation and general administration of the African colony. The main priority of this particular mode of transport was the evacuation of export crops and mineral resources. This was therefore why the railroads ran in a perpendicular way—that is, originating from the southern part of the colony and moving up north. The lines ran from the harbors of Port Harcourt and Lagos into the hinterland, the location of mines, agricultural production areas, and large population clusters. In essence the railway network, especially before the late 1950s, when road transport caught up with and overtook it as the main transporters of goods and passengers, was the bedrock of colonial Nigeria's political economy. However, during the Second World War the capacity of the railroad industry was severely tested, its infrastructure was stretched to the limit, and there was lack of spare parts, locomotives, and rolling stock for the industry. The paper therefore seeks to analyze the role and impact of the Second World War in the management of Nigerian Railways from 1939 to 1955, when the Nigerian Railway Department, a unit of the colonial bureaucracy, was reorganized and transformed into a statutory public corporation, the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC).