Nigeria: The Political And Economic Superpower Of The Future – Analysis
By Matija Šerić
The Federal Republic of Nigeria is a country of extraordinary opportunities which, when considered more thoroughly, leave no one indifferent. It is located in West Africa, between the Sahel in the north and the Gulf of Guinea in the Atlantic Ocean in the south. It borders Niger to the north, Chad to the northeast, Cameroon to the east and Benin to the west. About 220 million inhabitants live on the surface of a large 923,769 square kilometers. Nigeria particularly impresses with its demographic and economic potential.
It is currently the most populous country in Africa and the 6th most populous country in the world. It is leading the growth of Africa’s population, which is expected to double by 2050, and by 2100, Africa will be home to 50% of the world’s young population and 33% of the total population of planet Earth. Nigeria’s demographics are literally exploding, especially in the north of the country where the Muslim population predominates: the fertility rate is seven children per woman. By 2050, Nigeria is projected to have a larger population than the US (more than 400 million). By the end of the 21st century, it will be the second largest nation in the world (791 million), just behind India, and the most densely populated large country. It will have more Muslims and Christians than any other country in the world.
Nigeria has Africa’s largest economy by nominal GDP (USD 504 billion – more than all other West African countries combined) and the 31st largest economy in the world, while it ranks 27th in the world by GDP PPP (USD 1.27 trillion). Nigeria is often called the “giant of Africa” because of its large population and economic potential. It is considered an emerging (developing) economy. Nigeria is a regional power in Africa and a middle power in the international community: the founder of the African Union, a member of the UN, OPEC, the British Commonwealth, the Non-Aligned Movement, the Economic Community of West African States, and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). Despite problems such as poverty, social inequalities, corruption, insufficient human progress and terrorism, Nigeria is not a failed state but a state whose potential needs to be unleashed. Although it sounds unreal, thanks to its huge population and economic resources, Nigeria has the potential to become a political and economic superpower in the decades to come. What is China today may be Nigeria in some future.
The country has a rich and complex history. Several native pre-colonial states and kingdoms developed there since the second millennium BC. The Nok civilization developed in the 15th century BC, when the nation was united for the first time. Since the 11th century, the country has become home to a large number of Muslims. During the colonization of Nigeria by the British Empire in the late 19th century, many traditionalists converted to Christianity thanks to Christian missionaries. The country assumed its current territorial form with the merger of the Southern Nigeria Protectorate and the Northern Nigeria Protectorate in 1914. The British established administrative and legal structures while practicing indirect rule through traditional local chiefs. Despite gaining independence from Great Britain on October 1, 1960, conflicts between ethnic groups continued, eventually leading to the Nigerian Civil War from 1967 to 1970. The secessionist state of Biafra, predominantly populated by the Igbo people, declared independence, which led to its destruction and the starvation of about two million civilians.
After the war, Nigeria experienced an oil renaissance in the 1970s, during which it joined OPEC and generated huge revenues. Despite these revenues, the military government did little to improve the living standards of the population, and little was invested in infrastructure. As oil revenues fueled an increase in federal subsidies, the federal government became the subject of political struggle. As oil revenues grew, the Nigerian government became increasingly dependent on them. Coups d’état were carried out in 1975 and 1976. Olusegun Obasanjo was at the head of the military regime from 1976. He agreed to some democratization, so after the elections in 1979 Alhaji Shehu Shagari was appointed president (he was overthrown in a coup d’état in 1983). Military commander Ibrahim Babangida was in power from 1985 to 1993.
Limited democratization began in 1989. The election results of 1992 and 1993 were not recognized, and in September 1993, General Sani Abacha took power. In late 1995, the authorities hanged a number of human rights activists (including writer Ken Saro-Wiwa) who opposed the pollution of the Niger Delta by Western oil companies. After Abacha’s death in 1998, democratization took place. His successor, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, enacted a new Constitution (Nigeria’s 4th Republic) in May 1999 that provided for multi-party elections. Retired General Obasanjo was elected president in April 1999 (he was re-elected in 2003), leading the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which became the leading political party.
4th Nigerian Republic – an imperfect democracy
According to the current Constitution of 1999, Nigeria is defined as a federal republic consisting of 36 states and the territory of the capital city of Abuja, which forms a separate federal unit. The presidential system is in force – the president of the republic is both the prime minister and the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. He is elected in elections and has a mandate of four years. It can be chosen at most twice. At the federal level, executive power is vested in the Federal Executive Council (government). The National Assembly is a bicameral parliament consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Senate has 109 senators, 3 senators are elected by 36 states, and one by the capital city. The House of Representatives has 360 representatives. At the federal level, judicial power rests with the Supreme Court and the Federal Court of Appeal.
Contemporary Nigeria is home to three major ethnic groups: the Yoruba, Hausa and Igbo peoples. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, ethnic and religious violence between Muslims and Christians became frequent, and several rebel groups operated in the oil-rich Niger Delta. It is estimated that more than 10 thousand people died in the riots between 1999 and 2004. The 2007 elections were marked by unrest. Umaru Yar’Adua (PDP) became president, who was replaced by Goodluck Jonathan due to illness and death in early 2010. He won elections in 2011 and ruled until 2015. Jonathan’s tenure was marked by a successful fight against Ebola and an economic recovery that made Nigeria Africa’s leading economic power. On the other hand, big problems were caused by the radical Islamist group Boko Haram. In its attacks between 2009 and today, several thousand were killed, and around 2.5 million were displaced. Jonathan’s mandate was mostly marked by the misuse of state finances. The Nigerian state lost $20 billion as a result of corruption.
The presidential election in March 2015 was won by Muhammadu Buhari, the candidate of the united opposition (in 1984–85 he led the military regime). He won the elections again in February 2019. Buhari won because he was a “clean man” untainted by corruption scandals. Following the example of the American Black Lives Matter movement, in 2020, young Nigerians protested against police violence. The Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) was particularly criticized. The government dissolved the unit. However, during protests in October 2020, security forces shot dozens of people. The security situation improved in 2022, when Boko Haram, whose factions terrorized entire regions for years, was largely disbanded. About 40,000 fighters surrendered. At the time of writing (end of February 2023), new presidential elections were taking place.
The President of Nigeria is elected by a two-round system. To be elected in the first round, a candidate must receive a majority of votes and more than 25% of the votes in at least 24 of the 36 states and the Abuja Capital Territory. If no candidate achieves this, a second round will be held between the two leading candidates. In the second round, a candidate must receive the most votes and more than 25% of the vote in at least 24 of the 36 states and in Abuja to be elected. If no candidate achieves this, a third round will be held in which a simple majority is needed to win. Nigerian democracy may be imperfect but it is a democracy nonetheless. Since the end of military rule in 1999, Nigeria has had few elections that were legal. Successive civilian governments have moved to protect democracy by reducing what has traditionally been the greatest threat: the armed forces. Governments deliberately protected the country from a coup by weakening the military and retiring its senior leaders. According to the Global FirePower portal which measures military strength, the Nigerian military is ranked a high 36th in the world.
Challenges facing Nigerian society
Ethnic and religious tensions remain a major challenge, along with widespread corruption. According to the 2022 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), Nigeria was ranked 150 out of 180 countries. This level of corruption, combined with ethnic and religious tensions, makes it easier for corrupt politicians to steal. Despite its challenges, Nigeria has a talented population, including a thriving Nigerian community in the US that has the highest college degrees among immigrant groups. Most Nigerians are most concerned about the security situation. On average, seven oil field workers are kidnapped for ransom every day. Just a few years ago, most people made the short journey from the capital Abuja to Kaduna by road. Now most go by train. In Nigeria, you should always be on your guard because, unfortunately, crime is omnipresent.
Nigeria prides itself on being the most religious nation in the world. In 2014, a man was sent to a mental institution for admitting to being an atheist. Nigeria has a number of traditional religions, such as Islam, Protestantism and Catholicism. There is also a growing sector of “evangelical prosperity” whose pastors preach in the style of rock stars. Numerous agreements have mostly successfully kept the peace between a multi-ethnic and multicultural population: over 250 ethnic groups roughly evenly divided between Muslims and Christians. In practice, it is difficult to make political changes due to diversity. The bill on increasing transparency in the oil industry has been stuck in the National Assembly for about 20 years.
Many of the problems are related to the oil industry. Approximately $100 million worth of oil is pumped out every day. When the total population is taken into account, this is an income of about 50 cents per person. Such a calculation does not allow everyone to live decently, but it is more than enough for some to get very rich. It is estimated that 80% of oil revenues went to 1% of the population. Once again, it has been shown that having one profitable economic sector actually destroys the entire economy. Like Venezuela, Nigeria also “suffered” from the Dutch disease. Petroleum and petroleum products account for approximately 95% of Nigeria’s exports. Other exports include ships, fertilizers, cocoa, gold, oilseeds, zinc, lead, aluminum, aerospace, tobacco, etc. High oil prices have fueled irresponsible fiscal policies such as excessive public spending, botched public works, currency manipulation (Nigerian naira) and a high level of protectionism.
In good times, Nigeria used oil money to host international events such as the 2003 All-Africa Games. The money was spent on grandiose projects such as the Moshood Abiola National Stadium in the capital, Abuja, and Nigeria’s space program, which has so far launched four satellites. During the period of low oil prices, Nigeria was forced to borrow money from foreign creditors. In addition to having a negative impact on other branches of the economy, the oil industry has often been disastrous for the environment. Natural gas was being burned as a result of irresponsible oil exploitation. There have also been oil leaks into the environment as a result of attacks by criminal groups or entrepreneurs operating illegally. And the situation in the oil sector is not the best, because four oil refineries are in a bad state and have been distilling oil with problems for years.
Large countries have enormous advantages over small ones, both in terms of economic efficiency and the ability to attract foreign investment. The potential of huge domestic markets and cheap labor were factors that attracted foreign investment to China and India in the 1980s and 1990s. According to some analysts, Nigeria is “the last big open market in the world”. As was the case with China and India, much of Nigeria’s potential comes down to its demographic capacity: 220 million people. Nigeria has 10 times the population of the average African country and almost twice that of the second largest, Ethiopia. One out of every seven black people on the planet is Nigerian. The population of Nigeria is already larger than the population of Russia and will exceed the population of the USA in 30 years. According to UN data, Nigeria will have 733 million people by the end of the century.
The country has a small but growing middle class. Government policies often stifle small and medium-sized enterprises. The government has excessive control over the economy and provides too little support for infrastructure and other public projects. Apart from some exceptions, local governments have difficulty collecting taxes and insufficiently provide basic public services. It happens that some areas go without power for weeks, so generator sounds are preferable to afrobeats. However, due to the character of the Nigerian people, there are numerous advantages that produce results in the economy. The country has a functioning stock exchange and capital market. Parts of the country are thriving. Lagos State provides an excellent model for what Nigeria could be. It has a dynamic economy and things work, partly because the government collects taxes and invests them in improving infrastructure and public services.
Nigeria’s most valuable export is people, not oil. About 5 million Nigerians live abroad, mostly in the UK and the US. The diaspora is highly educated. Almost a third of Nigerians in America have college degrees. The Nigerian diaspora is passionately loyal to the mother country. Namely, every year Nigeria receives more money from remittances from its expatriates working abroad than from foreign aid. Estimates say that formal and informal remittances could amount to as much as 40 billion dollars. However, the diaspora gives their homeland more than money: a real-time opportunity for Nigeria to gain access to Western know-how and technology.
Nigerian soft power
In addition, Nigeria is experiencing progress in the arts and entertainment industry which brings profit and pride to the nation but is also an indicator of soft power. Nigeria is home to an astonishing number of first-rate novelists, including Nobel Prize winner Wole Soyinka, Chinu Achebe (whose book The World is Falling Apart has been translated into 57 languages), Biyi Bandele and novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The Nigerian film and television industry, aptly named Nollywood, is considered the third largest in the world, after American Hollywood and Indian Bollywood. It produces about 50 films of all genres every week. Nigerian films are shown not only in the homeland but also in the rest of Africa. They are enjoyed by all levels of society, from those rich enough to have cable television to those poor who flock to collective viewing centers. Television stations in many African countries are buying Nigerian series. It is common to come across Nigerian soap operas and comedies on coffee shop TVs across Africa, even in Francophone countries. In African countries, it is common to see street vendors selling Nigerian movies on DVDs or USB sticks.
The 2018 film Lionheart was nominated for the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. However, the film was disqualified for having too many dialogues in English. This is a heavy irony since English is the official language of Nigeria. The Nigerian art industry is so dominant on the Black Continent that artists in other African countries have paid it the highest compliment: they complain about “Nigerization”. Nollywood is important as a source of jobs and income, but even more than that, it is a reminder to Nigerians of what they can become. The soft power of Abuja works most of all through the film industry. And we should not forget about the music industry. Nigerian musicians are traveling the world and winning awards due to the global Afrobeat craze. New music stars including Wizkid, Davido, Jidenna and Tiwa Savage are proving to be some of Nigeria’s most recognizable exports. Their popularity has forced global music giants such as Universal Music Group and Sony to open their offices in Nigeria. Davido’s single “Fall” released in 2017 is the most popular Nigerian music video ever – it has more than 250 million views on YouTube.
The Yaba neighborhood of Lagos is Nigeria’s version of Silicon Valley. It has attracted international entrepreneurs such as Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. Yaba is one of the prime spots for the tech renaissance in Africa, with tech startups such as Hotels.ng, Andela, Cc-Hub and many more. The neighborhood is home to one of the busiest markets in Lagos, known as the Tejuosho Market. The old market was demolished in 2008 and converted into a modern shopping complex by the end of 2014. The high-tech explosion isn’t just happening in Lagos. Technology entrepreneur Amal Hassan built Outsource Global Technologies into a world-class outsourced call center operations company. Her company is located in the north, in Abuja and Kaduna. There are thousands of startups in Nigeria, and they do not only produce high-tech products for the upper and middle class, but also deal with other areas such as waste collection and disposal. Some entrepreneurs juggle between profit and taking responsibility for solving major social problems. Overall, Nigeria is particularly developed in the financial technology and telecommunications sector.
The spirit of entrepreneurship is present throughout the country. The sector of the economy made up of street vendors, local businesses and small traders is also experiencing a real boom. Nigerians have a work ethic that Germans or Scandinavians might envy. Nigerian streets are always extremely lively and no one is standing still except maybe foreign tourists. It’s impossible for tourists to walk down the street without street vendors trying to sell them something from food to high-tech products. In Kaduna, the governor turned part of the market into a “recycling program” to provide employment to the youth. The program has no shortage of applicants, many of whom are less interested in acquiring the basic skills the program provides and more interested in earning money to pay tuition fees in order to get better jobs. Nigerians are passionate about education and self-improvement. Investors are not coming to Nigeria en masse yet, but they could soon. Although BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) has been a popular economic organization for the last ten years, in recent years there has been more and more talk about MINT (Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey) as a group of countries with the potential for rapid economic growth. Nigeria is a country that should be the leader of Africa in the future and should put the whole continent in its sphere of interest. Certainly, the (geo)political power of Nigeria should be felt more strongly in organizations such as the UN, OPEC, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation because Nigeria is a country that has something to say when it comes to geopolitics, natural resources and religion.
To unleash its full potential, Nigeria must find unity among its ethnic groups and address the corruption that plagues the country. The country has the talent and resources to become a superpower, but it will take a concerted effort by its political leaders and citizens to overcome the challenges and reach its full potential. Nigeria is a country with enormous potential, and superpower status is well within reach in the coming decades. Economic transformation will require solving problems in key sectors of the economy such as oil and manufacturing industries and agriculture. It is necessary to make them more efficient and competitive in the global market.
One of Nigeria’s greatest strengths is certainly its democratic order, which helps to restructure the country for the better. According to the opinion of numerous economic experts, it is precisely the democratic character that helps countries to achieve economic development without slowing down over the long term of several decades. For example China’s lack of democratic freedoms related to the economy is a key disadvantage, which is why the Chinese have not been able to make economic progress as much as they would like in recent years. Nigeria has no problems with democracy, but it has yet to start using all the advantages brought by the free market, such as deregulation, strengthening of private initiative, opening to international trade, attracting massive foreign investments. She should definitely succeed in that.