By Toyin Falola
It was in Benue State University, Makurdi, on October 26, 2023, when many students wanted to speak with me after my lecture. Two of them persisted, including Fabian Owoicho Ocheke, who is organizing an Essay Writing Contest. The other one asked me a question: “Is Nigeria still the giant of Africa?” I was frank: with all the staff who wanted to have lunch with me, I told him I could not give a “No” or “Yes” answer. I collected his address and promised to engage in a dialogue with him. The exchanges have been productive, and Benue State University is lucky to have such a talented young man as one of its students. I have encouraged him to publish his robust response to this piece. As I told him, I began my writing for newspapers in Makurdi in 1976.
This question rings the phrase ‘old glory’, and a typical example of the case speaks for itself. On what basis does one classify a giant? Is it on the basis of its formidable military power, remarkable economic strength, educational and scientific advancements, infrastructural developments, global influence, innovation and technology, cultural unity, or just on the basis of its size? If a giant is all big and empty, does that mean it is not a giant? Technically, it is still a giant, but what kind of giant is too weak to beat David? Should such a giant be celebrated in the face of defeat? Nigeria celebrated its independence sixty-three years ago, and since then, its economy has been crumbling under corruption, economic instability, political instability, security tensions, ethnic and religious tensions, and all decaying fractions of society.
A move down memory lane shows that Nigeria was not impressed with the name Giant of Africa on a ceremonious event with celebration and food; however, the name came to be because of the impeccable exploits of the country not only in developing its home but also in helping other African country in developing theirs. Apart from its geographic size of about 923 768 square kilometres and population size of over 200 million, Nigeria was an economic powerhouse that flourished in oil and agricultural production, being among the top suppliers of oil in the world and the top supplier of agricultural produce in Africa. The country boasted of natural resources that made it the centre for foreign investments; through this, it amassed wealth to comfortably cater for its needs.
Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa and the most populous Black Country in the world. With over 250 ethnic groups and more than 500 languages, she has a cultural diversity that is matched to no other African nation. Its regional influence in keeping the peace of other African countries has further spread her recognition as the giant of Africa. As a prominent member of the African Union (AU) and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), it has contributed to mediating crises in other African countries, including Liberia and Sierra Leone, as well as providing financial support. Nigeria’s military strength ranks fourth in Africa, one of the best in the continent.
These are among the few reasons it was conferred with the title giant of Africa. Now, it seems she is only referred to by its name because of its over 200 million population. How the mighty has fallen. Nigeria’s characteristics for being referred to as the giant of Africa have been classified majorly based on its geographical land mass, population, military power, economic strength, infrastructural development, security, technology and innovation, and foreign investments. These characteristics have given the impression of Nigeria being first among other African nations based on this requirement. However, results and statistics have shown otherwise. According to the 2022 Global Innovation Index released by the World Intellectual Property Organization, Mauritius, South Africa, Morrocco, Tunisia, and Botswana ranked far above Nigeria by being in the top five list of innovative countries in Africa. Nigeria takes a comfortable position among the bottom five countries on the innovation index.
Innovation, the process of creating new technologies, ideas or opportunities, is lower compared to the population of the country. The reasons for this are not farfetched, as the scale of research, programmes and infrastructure that drive innovative activities in the country is smaller than expected. The country’s infrastructure deficit is 30%, which is below the 70% benchmark standardized by the World Bank. With a population of over 200 million and an infrastructure index 40% short of international standard, the resources to be innovative is non-existent. Infrastructure is an essential social service that is needed for the economic growth of Nigeria; without it, those who try to be innovative are easily frustrated, leaving the inventions half-baked or useless.
Over the years, Nigeria’s budgetary allocation to education has not been higher than 7%. This humiliating budgetary allocation has tagged it, according to the United Nations Children Fund, as the country with the highest number of school children in the world. Eight out of a hundred pupils who attend primary school come out of the University yearly, not minding the poor and irrelevant quality of education that is not sufficient to teach innovative spirit in these graduates, being job seekers rather than job creators. Nigerian Universities were constantly one of the best in Africa, but now they are in a sorrowful, depleting and ill-equipped shape. Kenya, a country with a population of over 55 million, allocates 17.58% of its budget to the education sector, while Nigeria, with a larger population, has not allocated more than 7% to education. An innovative mind is only developed with the necessary relevant education that allows one to create competitive ideas and opportunities.
How ironic it is to call oneself a giant when statistics show otherwise! Data from the United Nations Conference on Trade Development (UNCTAD) show that Nigeria is not among the top ten African nations with the largest foreign investments. The security situation of the country does not encourage foreign investors. Insecurity in the country has always been on the rise with the Boko Haram insurgents, the herdsmen and the now increasing kidnappers who seem to have taken their inspiration from successful banditry. Even the thousands of security personnel in Nigeria are not enough to keep the country safe because they are either understaffed, not well paid, do not have adequate working equipment or are the perpetrators of this insecurity. The volatility of the naira is also a major turn-off to foreign direct investment in the country.
How reasonable is it to invest in a country whose currency is more volatile than the stock market? The exchange rate is expediently crashing; not only is this affecting foreign investment, but also the cost of living in the country, chasing many abled hands out of the country. According to the Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), the number of doctors who left in the country is now in the thousands. According to a report by the National Association of Nigeria Nurses and Midwives, no fewer than 75,000 nurses and midwives have left the country in the last five years. This is the grappling reality of the so-called giant of Africa, whose health care system is ranked sixth among the countries in Africa. For how long would Nigeria hold on to the sixth position without falling? With the current exodus of healthcare personnel, low infrastructure, and low innovation coupled with inadequate education, it might be sooner than later. Currently, the country has a ratio of one doctor to 1800 patients, which is below the World Health Organization standard of one to 600 patients.
If the assessment of the status of a giant nation is based on substantial evaluation, then Nigeria’s performance in the last years is ample evidence that the country is a giant without substance. Nigeria has been lacking in several aspects that would improve the nation’s development, while it is wallowing in poverty and ignorance of being the giant of Africa, other smaller African nations are paving their way to cement the glory of being the pride of Africa.
Albeit some of the beautiful things this country still celebrates is its creative and entertainment industry. Nigeria has and is still producing some of the best creative, including Wole Soyinka, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, etc., while Nollywood is the second largest film industry in the world. Its political influence on other African nations, its military standing, its oil production and agricultural developments, and its sports industry are among the best in Africa. Regardless, some of these tributes are on shaky grounds; oil money is quickly depleting, and Nigeria is largely operating subsistence farming. Even the sporting achievements in Nigeria are not enough to put the country on the radar of hosting global competitions, while other African nations have been given the privilege because of their facilities, sporting policies, show of commitment and level of organization.
However, Nigeria can reclaim its status with positive, deliberate actions. Corruptions, being the root of Nigeria’s undoing, can be addressed by good governance, effective leadership, and moral and patriotic values taught not only at the grassroots level but also in the family. Education is the cornerstone of a nation’s development. It shapes individuals into skilled, knowledgeable members who are essential in the workforce of the country to drive technological advancements and solutions to societal challenges. Investing in education equals investing in the future of the country; as such, more budgetary funds should be allocated to education in the country. Reduced over-dependence on oil and intense focus on the agricultural and technological sectors would promote sustainable economic growth
Without a doubt, the country was once the giant of Africa; its exploits spoke for itself, but now this recognition is being overshadowed by the ill results produced by the country. Other smaller countries with better quality of life, such as Tunisia, South Africa, Kenya, etc., are thriving better than the country.