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Nigeria has Been the Economic Hub of the Sub-Saharan African Nations, but is it on the Road to Disaster?

By: Jenna Davis

Nigeria has long been the beacon of economic progress in the region and on the continent of Africa, boasting the largest GDP. It has a wealth of natural resources and a ballooning youth population; both of these can either be its downfall or its saving grace. It will depend on how the Nigerian government will invest in its own future. Nigeria must act now to increase its national education expenditure and incentivize healthcare positions.  

Nigerians are among the top migrant communities arriving in Europe and almost always illegally. They are the number one migrant from Africa arriving in the U.S. as well. Overburdened immigration offices struggle to keep up with demand and costly amounts of resources to recipient countries. Nigerians are not fleeing because of percussion but looking for work and a better quality of life. According to the World Bank, 30% of Nigerians live at or below the poverty line of $2.15 per day, while less than half of the population completes high school. Imagine the entire population of New York City is 14 years old or younger and not in school, then double it, and that is the current state of Nigeria’s education system. Having such a young population can be a blessing and a curse. A large labor force is beneficial for meeting the industrial needs of a nation, but tricky if available jobs do not match the need. In order to keep the nation moving forward economically, the national government needs to step in by incentivizing skilled healthcare jobs, training and ensuring more people have access to secondary at a minimum.  

Since 1999, when Nigeria became a democratic nation, it has experienced a long stretch of peace with a few skirmishes from Boko Haram and some separatist factions. There have been peaceful transfers of power during each election and no apparent voter suppression tactics. Without proper action by Nigeria’s government to reinvest in its education and healthcare sectors now, unemployment and poverty rates will likely drastically increase. Civil unrest and political violence are directly linked to poverty and income inequality. To avoid following in the footsteps of many Arab nations during the Arab Spring, Nigeria will have to readjust its priorities. The federal budget is made public so all citizens know how much is allocated to what sector. Knowing that education only accounts for 7% and healthcare for 10% of its national budget while 60% is spent on personnel, it is surprising that people have not protested yet! 

With the sheer size of Nigeria’s population, poverty and unemployment rates will quickly become an issue not only for the region but globally. Relative to the size of its national GDP, Nigeria took the lion’s share of the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund during the 2020 pandemic. If it had invested more in its healthcare sector, it could have had more doctors and nurses available; UN funds could have been distributed to less affluent countries. Proving that even though you may have the largest economy and labor force does not necessarily mean a nation is self-sufficient. Part of a successful recipe for economic development is boosting domestic savings and investment and expanding education and health facilities. One of the recurring factors why economic growth doesn’t happen is a lack of investment in public goods by a nation’s own government. 

As Nigeria’s economy bounces back from the slump it experienced from the Covid pandemic and its population steadily grows, the world waits to see its next moves. The UN has not remained silent. They recently published an article calling for Nigeria’s education budget to be tripled to meet education needs. And other international organizations have urged increased spending to improve healthcare infrastructure. Investing in human capital will be an investment that returns continual dividends in the form of better jobs, higher incomes, and overall sustainable economic development. Let’s hope the people of Nigeria demand this of their government, and we see Nigeria continue to be the economic powerhouse of Africa. 

About the Author:

I have just received my Master’s degree in Diplomacy and International Relations, specializing in economic development and foreign policy. While at Seton Hall, I was a graduate assistant at the Career Center, serving as a career advisor to business undecided undergraduate students. In my first year, I started with fellow student Fred Nilsson, the International Relations of Cuisine. Each month I organized events for all Diplomacy students to join to learn, taste, and experience a different culture through its food. I was elected Vice President of the Graduate Diplomacy Council in my second year. I collaborated with other e-board members to organize events for students to voice their concerns while also getting a chance to speak with a variety of faculty members outside of the classroom. As part of GDC, I designed new t-shirts that students could purchase, which funds went to the end-of-the-year backyard bbq. In the spring semester, I interned with the Hunger Project in their communications department and with the UNA of Northern New Jersey, assisting the president of that chapter.

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