The Nigerian situation

Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country and the 9th most populous country in the world. With an estimated population of 150 million, one in every five Africans is a Nigerian.

The country has been undergoing explosive population growth and has one of the highest growth and fertility rates in the world. By UN estimates, Nigeria will be one of the countries responsible for most of the world’s total population increase by 2050.

Nigeria is home to four large ethnic groups: Fulani, Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba and there are as many as 350 languages spoken across the country.

Officially called the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the country has a federal system of administration with a Federal Capital Territory (FCT), 36 States and 774 Local Government Areas. The capital city is Abuja.

Nigeria has one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Petroleum and oil resources plays a large role in the Nigerian economy. The country is the 6th largest producer of petroleum in the world; it is the 8th largest exporter and has the 10th largest proven reserves.

While the revenues made from oil provide the largest source of income for Nigeria, the country has become overly-dependent on its oil sector whereas other areas of the economy such as agriculture, palm oil production and coconut processing are in decline.

Nigeria possesses a stark dichotomy of wealth and poverty. In spite of the country’s vast oil wealth, the majority of Nigerians are poor with 71 per cent of the population living on less than one dollar a day and 92 per cent on less than two dollars a day.Although the country is rich in natural resources, its economy can not yet meet the basic needs of the people. Such disparity between the growth of the GDP and the increasing poverty is indicative of a skewed distribution of Nigeria’s wealth.

The 2007 United Nations Human Development Index ranks Nigeria 158 out of 177 countries; this is a significant decrease in its human development rank of 151 in 2004. About 64 per cent of households in Nigeria consider themselves to be poor while 32 per cent of households say their economic situation had worsened over a period of one year. Although National statistics report that the trend in poverty is on the decline, it is painstakingly sluggish and progress towards meeting the Millennium Development Goal of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger is slow. Poverty still remains one of the most critical challenges facing the country and population growth rates have meant a steady increase in the number of poor. Life expectancy remains low and is estimated to have decreased from 47 years in 1990 to 44 years in 2005.

Years of military dictatorship, corruption, political instability and poor governance have meant insufficient investments in the country’s infrastructure and basic services. Corruption is one of the principal challenges in Nigeria, raising the cost and risk of doing business in the country and making the country unattractive to investors. The Government has been exerting conscious efforts to combat corruption, first with the passing of the anti-corruption bill and then via establishment of the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.

Health, health care and general living conditions in Nigeria are poor, especially for children and women. Infant and under-five mortality rates are high. The weakened Public Health Care (PHC) system with low coverage of key interventions has resulted in the persistence of high disease burden.

HIV/AIDS remains a major issue of concern among children, young people and women in Nigeria with a prevalence rate of 4.4 per cent. An estimated 2.9 million Nigerians (mostly females) are living with the virus. The epidemic is also increasing the population of orphans in the country, which is already estimated at 7 million.

Nigeria’s education system is also in a state of neglect largely due to decaying institutional infrastructure. Sixty-six per cent of the population is literate, and at 75 per cent, the rate for men is higher than that for women which is 57 per cent.

Children at play
© UNICEF Nigeria
Nigeria needs to make progress on poverty reduction to ensure its people enjoy improved quality of life.
As part of Nigeria’s plan for overcoming poverty and generating national wealth and employment, the Federal Government developed the National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy (NEEDS) in 2004. NEEDS has four elements: re-orientating values, reducing poverty, creating wealth and generating employment. It also set out public reforms necessary to achieve this and the support required from the international community. NEEDS was cascaded in all 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory as well as in local governments with equivalent action plans called SEEDS and LEEDS respectively. NEEDS I, the first phase of the development strategy was implemented from 2003-2007. The Government is working on implementing the second phase, NEEDS II.

In 2005, Nigeria successfully negotiated US$ 18 billion worth of debt relief from the Paris Club of creditors. It was the largest debt relief in Africa and the second in the world. The deal released approximately US$ 1 billion per year which the Nigerian Government directed to pro-poor projects that would help the country achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Each year, in addition to the pro-poor spending, an equivalent sum is set aside in the budget for MDG-related projects including renovating and equipping dilapidated primary health centres, building rural roads and recruiting teachers for rural areas that are in the greatest need.

In order for Nigeria to make appreciable progress on poverty reduction and ensure that the majority of its people enjoy improved quality of life, there has to be an increase in national expenditure allocated to social services; an increase in the capacity to deliver public services and better utilisation of resources. In addition, development projects implemented at the Federal Government level need to be continued and replicated across the States and Local Government Areas.