20 years of unbroken democracy in Nigeria: Challenges and prospects (2)

Nigeria is a difficult place to live in. Ayo Sogunro has written a book titled Everything in Nigeria is going to kill you. I have also heard it said that Nigerians in the diaspora should stop asking Nigerians living at home to speak truth to power, because the mere fact of living in Nigeria, by itself, constitutes speaking truth to power.

Living in Nigeria, and maintaining your sanity, means refusing to give in to the daily frustrations that come from living in this difficult environment. This environment in which all available circumstances seem to conspire to frustrate you and make you lose hope. This environment in which it is very easy to get angry, particularly as there can sometimes appear to be a reluctance, or in some cases an outright refusal, to do so many things that could be done relatively easily for the benefit of all. Living in Nigeria, without falling into despondency and hopelessness, is indeed speaking truth to power. It is speaking truth to the power of avoidable dysfunction. It is speaking truth to the power of despondency. It is speaking truth to the power of hopelessness.

Nigeria displays all the characteristics of what the Economist Terry Karl describes as “The Paradox of Plenty.” The Paradox of Plenty is better known in the literature as the “Resource Curse.” It is the paradox that countries with an abundance of natural resources like oil and solid minerals, such as Nigeria, tend to have less economic growth, less democracy, and worse development outcomes than countries with fewer natural resources. As if the Paradox of Plenty is not enough, Nigeria additionally has many other characteristics that appear to exponentially increase the level of difficulty the country faces.

A population of about 200 million that is growing at a rate of nearly 3% means that any encouraging macroeconomic growth tends to mask wide income inequality, with a very wide gap between the haves and the have nots. An economy that is currently growing at a slower rate than thepopulation growth rate also means that per capita income is falling every day, while poverty is growing. As far back as 1798, Thomas Malthus propounded a theory in his seminal work called “Essay on Population.” Essentially, he argued that if population is left unchecked, one day people will have nothing to eat. His theory is that when this happens, nature itself will control the population by killing off a number of people through famine, disease and natural disasters. This is a frightening prospect.

More frightening is the fact that Nigeria has the 6th largest youth population in the world, with about half of them unemployed or underemployed. The median age in developed countries like Japan, Germany and Italy is over 40, while the median age in Nigeria is under 20. A lot of the youth are migrating to urban areas, which means that many young people have no interest in Agriculture.

Additionally, Nigeria has 371 ethnic groups that speak 520 languages. Nigerians have often argued that one of the reasons for the difficulties we have is that we are not a homogenous society that belong to a single ethnic stock and speak the same language. Religion is also an issue. Nigeria has a population that is about 50 percent Christian and 50 percent Muslim, which can be a recipe for tension. To make matters even more interesting, nearly 100 percent of those claiming to be Christians or Muslims believe in Juju and witchcraft. Indeed, some have argued that if public officials were to take their oaths of office by swearing on a traditional deity, rather than the Bible or Quran, they are more likely to honour their oaths.

More frightening is the fact that Nigeria has the 6th largest youth population in the world, with about half of them unemployed or underemployed. The median age in developed countries like Japan, Germany and Italy is over 40, while the median age in Nigeria is under 20

From everything I have said, you can probably see that all the ingredients for dysfunctionality exists in abundance in Nigeria. Yet, I will argue in this paper that there are opportunities within each of these challenges that I have identified. I will now proceed to set out some of them, starting with population. High population growth can have both negative and positive influence on economic growth. We have already outlined some of the negative benefits of high population growth on economic growth. On the other hand, where high population growth is matched with high productivity, it can actually become an advantage, as it has in the case of China.

With large, productive populations, Gross Domestic Product goes up, consumption grows and poverty falls. By focusing on increasing productivity, China has been able to lift 600 million out of poverty in 30 years. If Africa was to do what China has done, it would mean that the whole of Africa can be free of poverty in less than 50 years. Beyond the deliberate efforts that China has made though, there appears recently to be a clear correlation between large populations and macroeconomic growth. The so-called BRIC economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China all have large populations. Brazil has 211 million people; Russia has 146 million; India has 1.3 billion; and China has 1.4 billion. It will be imprudent to claim that large population, without more, results in economic growth. Nevertheless, it is interesting to note the correlation between recent high economic growth and large population size.

With regards to the Malthusian Theory of Population Growth, there is actually no consistent correlation between high population density in countries and real income per capita. Sub-Saharan Africa has much lower population density than prosperous Japan. Malaysia was much poorer when its population was lower than now that its population has risen by more than 300 percent. Densely populated places like Hong Kong and Singapore are actually quite prosperous. The point to make though is that these are countries with very high productivity rates. If Nigeria is to turn its population size to an advantage, it must focus more on increasing productivity, rather than representation and the sharing of increasingly scarce resources.

Globalisation and digital technology also mean that there are clear opportunities to turn what has been described as our youth timebomb into explosive growth. India took advantage of globalization and technology to position its youth as some of the leaders in the technology space. Technology giants like Google, Microsoft, Nokia and Adobe are all run by Indians. A lot of the leading lights in America’s Silicon Valley are Indians. It is worth pointing out that the Indian technology revolution did not start with government but was driven by the private sector, with government jumping on the bandwagon much later. Government cannot employ every unemployed Nigerian youth. It can, however, provide an enabling environment for their talent and industry to thrive. Providing such as environment would mean making it easier to register small businesses, removing multiple taxation and providing incentives for innovation.

JOE ABAH

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