Cycling Cities: The Aba Experience


Palm Oil Cyclist—Edward H. Duckworth, a British expatriate officer and founding editor of Nigeria magazine, took this photo in the 1940s near Calabar, Nigeria. The image showcases a trader laden with metal drums full of palm oil on a riverine road. It highlights the critical economic role bicycles played in linking remote rural producers with urban markets in colonial Nigeria. Photo E. H. Duckworth.

Aba, nestled in Nigeria’s oil-rich Niger Delta, thrives on its deep-rooted palm oil trade, significantly shaped by Christian missionaries like the Cookey brothers and the entrepreneurial Igbo community. Local Igbo cyclists transported barrels of palm oil from remote groves to vibrant urban markets. The British facilitated the importation of bicycles. This greatly maximized the extraction and export of palm oil in areas where trucks frequently got stuck in the flood-prone delta.




Local palm-oil traders fostered economic resilience and cultural vitality by founding bicycle unions and Isusu cooperatives. In Aba, bicycles are more than just a mode of transport; they are symbols of freedom and collaboration. They reflected a city driven by community and commerce, deeply rooted in its evangelical legacy.

Door-to-Door Service in the 1940s? This 1940s postcard titled “A Lady Carrying a Passenger” features two African women, in modern clothing, on a bicycle in a rural setting. Is this an early example of a bicycle taxi where one woman serves as the driver, or could it simply depict a moment of camaraderie with one woman carrying another, showcasing mutual support among friends? Photo E. H. Duckworth.

While local cyclists managed intra-regional trade by navigating the challenging delta terrains, European traders, including Greeks, extended the palm oil trade from urban centers to the global north via rail and sea networks inaccessible to the locals.


In the Aba chapter of the Cycling Cities: The African Experience, Uche Ukonkwo analyzes and investigates this history to understand the difficulties in bringing back the rich cycling heritage of this Southeastern Nigerian city.