Nigeria: Shall the African Sleeping Giant Wake Up Now?

Human Wrongs Watch

By Holly Reed* – Think Africa Press

Approximately 160 million people live in Nigeria, making it the most populous country in Africa and the eighth most populous country in the world. Nigeria’s annual GDP per capita, however, is only about $1,100, placing its economic ranking squarely in the global bottom third.

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Nigeria is a global population leader but, oil wealth notwithstanding, it remains an economic laggard. Despite declining fertility, Nigeria’s population is expected to continue to grow to 210 million by 2025 and 289 million by 2050. 

To expand its economy, Nigeria must put its vast human and natural resources to work. According to UN projections, most of Nigeria’s demographic growth will be in people of working age (15-64).
This means that the dependency ratio – the number of children and elderly divided by the number of working age adults – will decline from 83 dependents per 100 workers in 2010 to only 50 dependents per 100 workers by 2050. This working age bulge could become a potential demographic dividend when this large cohort of children grows up….

A Demographic Dividend

The rapid economic growth of the so-called Asian Tigers of Taiwan, South Korea and Hong Kong during the 1980s and 1990s was at least partially attributed to their demographic dividends. [The demographic dividend is a rise in the rate of economic growth due to a rising share of working age people in a population].

A demographic dividend cannot be realised, however, in an economy which is not creating enough jobs or which suffers from high unemployment rates.

Because those outside the labour force consume part of what is produced by the currently employed, this influences the amount of surplus that is available for investment after consumption. A larger surplus can lead to increased investment and increased economic growth. If productive jobs are available, a lower dependency ratio is an advantage.

The Challenges Ahead

Yet, according to the best available data, Nigeria is not making much progress towards capitalising on this potential dividend.

The Nigerian Demographic and Health Survey shows that despite a decline in unemployment since 2003, unemployment rates remain high across nearly every region and every subgroup of the population.

Nigeria’s fertility rate also remains quite high, at approximately 5.7 children per woman. Although fertility is projected to continue its decline, there are questions about whether this decline is inevitable and whether it will continue apace.

The average age of women at marriage is only 17 years, and many women cannot access family planning even if they want to space out and limit births.

Women Education

Without investment in women’s education and an overall focus on improving their status, fertility will not fall as rapidly as expected. There will then be larger numbers of children to support, and the potential demographic dividend will decrease.

Even if adequate investment in family planning is made and fertility does continue to decline, the population of children and youths will still make up 28% of Nigeria’s total population by 2050. Investment in schooling must therefore be at the forefront of any development agenda.

Nigeria’s mortality and health indicators continue to lag as well. Life expectancy is extremely low, at an estimated 49 years, due to the HIV/AIDS epidemic as well as other infectious diseases.

This suggests a need for investment in public health infrastructure, especially in immunisation and preventive care. Educational investment can have huge benefits in the health arena.

Rapid Urbanisation

As a diverse and rapidly urbanising country, Nigeria also needs to be careful that investments do not reproduce existing inequalities within society.

Muslim and rural populations, primarily in the northern regions, are in need of increased resources and infrastructure development in the areas of family planning, education, and health. Investments should not exclude other areas, however, such as major cities like Lagos, Ibadan and Port Harcourt in the South.

Supporting change in underserved areas and among underserved groups without alienating those who are somewhat better off will require stronger governmental and civil society institutions.

Continuing urbanisation means that urban labour markets will need more jobs and better infrastructure over time. Even if urban fertility declines without policy interventions, and even as Nigeria’s rural population declines as a percentage of the country’s total, the rural population will remain large and rural fertility change may require significantly more intervention.

Massive Potential—Population, Oil, Gas…

Nigeria’s demographic trends are of particular importance because Nigeria is expected to make up 3% of the total world population and 14% of Africa’s population by 2050. Nigeria is poised to be a major player in the global system and a particularly important actor on the African continent if it can develop its human capital.

Nigeria’s oil and gas resources represent a further potential development boost. Nigeria holds 37 billion barrels of proven oil reserves and 5 trillion cubic metres of natural gas reserves.

But Still Lagging Behind

In 2007 it produced 34 billion cubic metres of gas, exporting 21 billion, and it is already ranked among the top 13 oil producers globally. Yet despite these tremendous resource advantages, Nigeria continues to lag behind on many development indicators.

To date it has not properly invested in its current and future labour force, or developed its oil and gas industries to produce long-term economic growth. Nigeria’s population and resources are vast, but its challenges loom equally large.

The country is on the verge of reaping a substantial demographic dividend. If Nigeria adopts the most appropriate and effective policies, it can capitalise on its natural advantages and address current challenges while promoting future economic growth and social development.

It has the potential to become not only an African leader, but a global one. Investments must be made in the current labour force, as well as in future generations of workers, to ensure that the Nigerian course of development proceeds in a positive direction.

*Holly Reed is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Queens College, City University of New York (CUNY), and Faculty Associate of the CUNY Institute for Demographic Research. Her research interests include internal migration, urbanisation, international migration, social networks, forced migration and demographic dynamics in sub-Saharan Africa.Her article was first published by ThinkAfricapress. Go to Original.

2011 Human Wrongs Watch 

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