With over a
dozen national elections in Africa in 2019, the Nigerian presidential election
on February 16 is one of the most consequential. The expectation, since the
country’s independence in 1960, has been that the giant of Africa would emerge
as a dominant world player and join its global peers.
Many had hoped that by the 21st century, reform-minded leaders would have built and sustained the institutions of governance, diversified the economy, created jobs for the burgeoning and youthful population, and reduced abject poverty.
That expectation was spectacularly dashed. But elections offer hope and a moment for reflection, and Nigerians should think about the past as a way of charting their future when they head to the polls.
Today, of the 420 million people living in extreme poverty in Africa, 89 million live in Nigeria, almost half of the country’s total population. Indeed, while poverty rates have declined across much of the continent, rapid population growth and low economic performance have conspired to wreak havoc on living standards, making Nigeria the country with largest share of extreme poverty. With projections as the world’s third largest country by 2050, poverty in Nigeria will continue to worsen unless expeditious actions are taken.
The World Bank’s newly launched Human Capital Index shows that investing in the education and health of the people is the key to the attainment of better development outcomes. Indonesia and Nigeria are ranked 87th and 152nd, respectively, out of 157 countries.
Though lower than the average for East Asia, Indonesia is however higher than the average for its income group. Conversely, Nigeria is both lower than the average for sub-Saharan Africa and remarkably lower than the average for its income level.
Other recent global indices lend credence to the widening chasm between the two countries—see for instance, the World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2019, the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness 2018 Report, and Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index 2018.
The dramatic difference between the two countries reflects the strong public policy actions taken by Indonesia to diversify its economy, the policies and regulatory framework to boost local investments and to attract foreign direct investments, and investments in infrastructure and in people that helped to improve children’s health, education, and learning.
The differences show that though resource abundance is vital to success, even more important is political leadership and the quality of the institutions of governance, the lack of which seem to have conspired to push Africa’s giant further behind its peers.