Nigeria is an extraordinary country. Formed by combining 3 Protectorates from the British Colonial rule, located on the Bay of Bight in West Africa, Nigeria is home to over 200m people (officially), combines 3 major tribes and 250 smaller tribes, over 500 languages, immense physical beauty and topography that ranges from the lush tropical forests of the south, the Shebshi Mountains rising over 2,000m between the Taraba and Benue Rivers, and the majestic Sahara desert. The Niger River snakes over 4,000km through Guinea, Mali, on the Benin border before becoming truly awe-inspiring in Nigeria, emptying eventually into a vast delta (the Niger Delta of course), and subsequently into the Atlantic Ocean.
The Niger River drains over 2 million square km of West Africa. Nigeria gained its independence on Oct 1, 1960, amid tremendous optimism about the future of Nigeria and the future of Africa. The discovery of oil in 1951
was widely viewed as a great boon for Nigeria’s economy and people. However, despite this optimism, the road since independence has been long and difficult. A coup in 1966 took Nigeria from democracy to military dictatorship. A brutal civil war from 1967-70 resulted in the deaths of up to 2 million people. The 1970s gave some economic respite, as the Yom Kippur War of 1973 drove up the price of crude oil dramatically, and the so-called ‘7 Sisters’ (the world’s
private international oil company titans) all pitched their tents in Nigeria. GDP per Nigerian was over USD 1,000. The military leader then Gen. Yakubu Gowon quipped “the problem is not money but how to spend it.” There was massive investment in infrastructure – the so-called cement Armada had over 20 million tonnes of imported cement in the Lagos port at one time.
In 1976, Nigeria hosted one of the most lucrative tennis tournaments in the world at the Lagos Lawn Tennis Club, headlined by the remarkable Arthur Ashe, reigning Wimbledon Champion. Unfortunately, the tournament came to an abrupt end on the semi-final day during an Ashe match with an attempted coup. Nigeria by the numbers
1976 perhaps marked the high-water mark for the economy, as oil prices never again attained their 1973 peak (in real terms). Until the mid-1980s, Nigeria’s currency – the Naira – was worth more than the GBP. However, since then, the Naira has continuously devalued – today over 600 Naira to the GBP – a powerful signal of the economic decline of Nigeria.
Overall, since 1966, Nigeria has had 5 successful coups, 3 unsuccessful coups, the horrific civil war, and a return to democracy only in 1999, a democracy that remains very much a work in progress. Despite the painful post-colonial period, both Nigerians and those from outside the country agree on one thing: Nigeria has enormous potential. In addition to unrivalled natural resources (oil, but also, gas, every mineral known to humankind), enormous quantities of arable land, and scenery that could create many of the world’s great future tourist destinations, the success of Nigeria’s music and Nollywood on the global stage highlight the vibrancy and creativity of her people.
However, achieving this immense potential remains elusive and, on many dimensions, Nigeria is an outlier and not in a good way. On a strict GDP basis –using the Purchasing Power Parity approach, at USD 1,075.69 billion Nigeria
does not appear to be doing too badly. This PPP GDP per capita of USD 5,363 is ahead of India, and most other African countries.
However, this seemingly reasonable PPP GDP per capita performance masks extremely worrying official numbers:
● GDP per capita has in fact been declining every year, with GDP growth since 2015 less than population growth.
● Official unemployment statistics from the NBS show 27.1%.
● Nigeria has the most people of any country in absolute poverty, approximately 100m.
● Nigeria has the most children out of school (13.5m United Nations).
● On the Human Development Index (HDI), Nigeria scores very poorly, with 0.539, behind African countries like Ghana (0.611) , Kenya (0.601), Cameroon (0.563).
● Embedded with the HDI, Nigeria has a very low life expectancy of 54.8, compared to India and 69.7 and China at 76.6 years.